Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The tentative utility cyclist gift guide: Fenders

When I drive, I don't wear any automobile-specific clothing. No flame retardant racing suit. No driving moccasins. And since Bike Year was conceived as an attempt to replace car trips with bike trips, I don't wear any bicycle-specific clothing either. No tights. No jersey. The clothes I wear at the office and in the supermarket are the same clothes I wore on the way there on my bike.

That's why fenders are important to me. They keep what's on the road from being on me, which is helpful since I don't make a costume change once I arrive at my destination. Unfortunately, fenders don't come standard on many bikes these days. Fortunately, almost any bike can be retrofitted with them. Plus, I think bikes look almost naked without fenders.

I've tried two varieties of after-market fenders. First I bought Planet Bike Freddy Fenders. Then I tried Zefal CAB fenders. Then I went back to the Freddy Fenders. The main advantage of the Freddy Fenders is their adjustability for different frame sizes and geometries.

Planet Bike even makes a fender for bikes that lack the eyelets for mounting fenders, called the SpeedEZ. One word of warning about these, however. When you unpack the fenders, throw away the rubber straps that are used to mount the fenders to the forks and seat stays. Use some zip ties instead. The rubber straps on my fenders began cracking after 30 days and had completely deteriorated within 60.

If you can't get with the plastic fenders, check out these beautiful things.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The tentative utlity cyclist gift guide: Where to buy

In response to my Nashbar-centric rack and pannier recommendation, Jim pointed out that you're more likely to talk to living person and maybe even the owner of the joint when you call a smaller outfit. And he's right. If I had remained on hold with Nashbar to learn the fate of the LDT rack, how much information could the operator have provided? Would he or she be able to talk knowingly about factory retooling in Guangdong Province or whatever it is that's disrupted the supply chain? Probably not.

In my defense, I aimed to provide suggestions that would get folks into utility cycling on the cheap. Nevertheless, I understand the arguments against spending money at a big national mail order house. If you are fond of your community and wish it to prosper, it makes sense to trade at a locally-owned bike shop. Your dollars will hang around instead of splitting town. Plus, this late in the holiday shopping game, it's probably easier to walk into a brick and mortar store instead of praying that the UPS delivery bicycle will pull up in front of the house with your gifts by Friday.

Unfortunately, at many local shops, bicycles are regarded as toys, exercise equipment or sporting goods — not vehicles. It's the nature of the business, I'm told. The real profit is in expensive bicycles with polonium frames, 802.11g wireless derailleurs and tires no wider than a human hair. While they must be good for something, these light, fast and expensive machines make lousy utility cycles. A dealer whose bottom line depends on moving high dollar machines isn't going to devote much floorspace to utility cycling accessories. If a customer drops $2,000 on a bicycle, better to have a boxes of $400 cycling shoes nearby rather than $20 panniers.

I'm lucky that the folks at my LBS understand that I use my bikes to haul groceries and commute to work. If you're not so lucky and can't spend your money at home, consider sending it to Minneapolis or West Newton.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The tentative utility cyclist gift guide: Rear rack and panniers

I could be wrong, but the ability to safely transport cargo is what separates the utility bicycles from, well, the bicycles. Sure, people can carry cargo in backpacks or messenger bags, but that would make them utility humans. Their bikes would remain bikes.

I see a lot of bikes around town equipped with rear racks. I don't see much carried on these racks, however, because a rear rack by itself is of limited usefulness, unless your tentative utility cyclist has a pocket full of bungee cords handy. Mating a rear rack with panniers drastically increases its capacity to haul stuff. But first things first.

There are some really amazing racks out there, but for a person just starting out in the exciting world of utility cycling, I would enthusiastically recommend the Nashbar LDT Rack. Only problem is, I just checked and it seems to have disappeared from the Nashbar Web site. Not wanting to disappoint you and the tentative utility cyclist on your shopping list, I called Nashbar to find out if LDT was gone for good. After about five minutes on hold, I gave up and that's why I hesitantly recommend the Bor Yeuh Urban Rear Rack, currently on sale for $12.99. I selected this rack because of its low price and the fact that it is fully adjustable and should fit a wide variety of aspiring utility bicycles. Also, the words Bor Yeuh sound tantalizingly exotic.

If your cyclist's bicycle does not have fittings designed for accepting the rack, here's the workaround: March into your local hardware store and ask for some insulated "P clamps." With the proper sized clamps, the rack will be secure.

Now you'll need panniers. How do you pronounce "panniers"? I have no idea, so I try not to say the word out loud. There is really beautiful bicycle luggage out there, but for a new utility cyclist, you can't go wrong with the Nashbar Townie Basket. As I type this, they are priced to move at $ 16.99 each. My townies have served me well over the last 18 months. They fold flat against the bike when not in use. The Townie does not feature a carrying strap or an internal frame, like some of the more expensive grocery bag panniers. Still the Townie has a hidden feature that's apparently too secret for Nashbar to publicly reveal: the hi-vis yellow rain hood that stuffs into a zippered compartment on the bottom of the pannier when not in use. Neat!

There is one design flaw to mention. The zippers of the rain cover pouches mentioned above are on the wheel-side of the panniers. This allows the zipper pulls to make contacts with the spokes. The pulls are not long enough to become fully involved in the spokes, but the sound is kind of annoying. Luckily, the situation is easily remedied by tucking the zipper pulls back into the pouch.

I welcome any comments from others who have used these products. Did they work for you? Do you have alternatives to recommend?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gifts for the tentative utility cyclist

Has reading this blog inspired you to try utility cycling? I didn't think so. But humor me and pretend you've entertained the idea of using a bicycle for short errands and trips that currently put you behind the wheel.

Too far fetched?

OK. Try this: Imagine a family member, friend, coworker, or someone you saw on TV, who dreams about leaving the car in the driveway. Could this person be looking to get a little exercise without having to pay for a health club membership? Maybe he or she is troubled by the idea of financing both sides in the "War on Terror." Perhaps this person simply wants to become less car dependent. Does that make it easier? Good. I thought it might.

Next, let's imagine he or she already owns a bicycle that could be used as a utility cycle. It could be a mountain bike, a road bike or even a beach cruiser. It's your choice. Are you picturing the bike? Excellent. What color is it? Red? Mine too!

But now we have a problem. No matter what kind of bicycle you've chosen to imagine, it's probably like most bicycles sold in U. S. and A, in that it's not equipped for utility cycling. Since it has no lights, it cannot be legally ridden at night (at least not in my state). It cannot transport cargo, unless you count plastic shopping bags hung from the handlebars (I don't). In wet weather, its tires will spray the rider, fore and aft, with an undiluted coating of road grime (Good luck getting out those stains).

So how can this bike, designed for recreational rides on scenic thoroughfares, be transformed to perform practical purposes on city streets? We need a holiday miracle! This sounds like a job for Santa Claus you!

In the coming days, this blog will feature items I've used over the last 18 months in my utility cycling endeavors. You may consider them road tested and Bike Year approved. There's plenty of wonderful cycling gear out there, some of it handcrafted to last a lifetime. With this kind of equipment, utility cycling can be efficient, stylish and fun. Maybe even a little addictive.

But let's ease into this thing, shall we? Better to make sure your cyclist catches the bug before you spend bike-loads of bread on gifts that could wind up on eBay by March. If he or she is still at it by this time next year, it's probably safe to give the really nice stuff. Maybe next year I'll present "Gifts for the committed utility cyclist." But for now, we'll explore some of the more affordable, but still viable, utility cycling products. Stay tuned for tomorrow's exciting episode: "Rear Rack and Panniers."

Photo credit: MSU Bike Project

Monday, December 11, 2006

Scenes from my commute (Part 1)

Here's a photo from my morning commute route. It's 46th Street between Atlantic Avenue and Habersham Street. The fall color is provided by the sweetgum trees. The live oaks don't participate in autumn (but they do tend to eject lots of leaves in spring).

Friday, December 08, 2006

Where the 'P' stands for pedals

Via Bicycle Fixation, here's a story from "Vermont's Alternative Web Weekly" about the Burlington UPS distribution center using trailer-equipped bicycles to make deliveries in "in flatter sections of towns." There are interesting angles in this story.

First, the Bicycle Fixation gang suggests that UPS is, in a way, returning to its two-wheeled roots. And sure enough they're right. Bicycles are part of the company's genetic code. Here's information on the American Messenger Company, which later became known as the United Parcel Service, from the company's Web site:
In response to telephone calls received at their basement headquarters, messengers ran errands, delivered packages, and carried notes, baggage, and trays of food from restaurants. They made most deliveries on foot and used bicycles for longer trips.
Next (pun intended), a distribution center employee, who is described in the story as a "avid cyclist," dissuaded the bossman from purchasing bicycle-shaped objects from Wal-Mart and steered him toward some refurbished bicycles at a local shop. Bonus points for that.

But even the avid cyclist suggests some parcels just can't be dispatched by bicycle.
Not every package is suitable for delivery by bike, Lutz adds. “We’re not going to make a bike person haul around some big Pottery Barn box.”
I bet this machine could handle it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My MacGyver moment

On Friday, as I was getting ready to go home, I couldn't find my front light. I looked in my bag and in my office. No luck. I figured I had left it attached to the bike, which in my town is the same thing as leaving a sign taped to the handlebars that reads, "Please take this light home with you."

I found a flashlight in a desk drawer and lashed it to the handlebars with a bungee cord. Every time I hit a bump, the flashlight's beam would swing up into the trees. It was a constant struggle to keep it aimed toward oncoming traffic.

When I got home, I found my light in a deep, dark corner of my bag.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Square tactics

According to Savannah's Code of Ordinances, riding bicycles through the squares of the National Landmark Historic District is prohibited. The ordinance, I presume, is aimed at preventing bicycle vs. pedestrian collisions. I'm not sure if these types of encounters were actually happening. Perhaps there were simply fears that they would. At any rate, the ordinance was decried by some cyclists, who claimed riding through the squares was safer than riding the perimeter, which they said put them in danger of being smeared onto the sides of parked cars by moving ones.

At the time the ordinance was passed, I was also a critic, mainly because I thought it placed at odds two constituencies that ought to be allies. After all, pedestrians and cyclists have much more to fear from motor vehicle traffic than they do from each other. When I started my utility cycling experiment, I researched best practices and learned that the perceived safety of sidewalks is an illusion. I realized that cyclists, who ride on the sidewalks through the squares, risk being hit when they rejoin the street on the other side.

The ordinance is sporadically enforced, unlike all other bicycle-related laws, which are never enforced. Every so often, the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department will make an example out of a Savannah College of Art and Design student. If you believe letters to the editor of the Savannah Morning News, SCAD students are all perpetual square abusers.

I conducted an observation yesterday in Monterey Square. For 30 minutes I counted cyclists and wound up with a total of 12, with only two riding through the square. The two, who did ride through the square, were moving slowly. Any potential collision with a pedestrian could have easily been avoided by either party. Nonetheless, had they been ticketed, each of these cyclists would be $100 poorer.

I must point out two obvious flaws in my methodology. First, SCAD is on winter break, so my sample did not include as many students as it normally would. Second, about halfway through my observation, an interesting character sat down on the bench next to me. He launched into a monolog that began with a description of his ability to resist the charms of both New York and international supermodels, moved on to an explanation of the pagan origins of wedding rings, and concluded with a description of the type of churches that "make God puke." He also provided detailed summaries of the results returned when he Googled the words tribal, spew, spell and italic.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot to count bikes. I'll try again next year.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More about the weather

Savannah experienced an uncharacteristic episode of cold temperatures and even snow last week, although all I saw was rain. I actually enjoyed riding in the rain and (relative) cold, except for my hand parts, which needed some handsocks or gloves, as they are sometimes called. All last week I was really interested in what was happening in the atmosphere. There are instruments designed for this purpose, including thermometers, barometers, psychrometers and anemometers. Then there's the Weather Channel and the local television news. All good ways to determine the current weather conditions.

I've discovered another instrument for determining the current weather conditions. It's called a bike rack and here's how you read it: As the temperature rises to 60 degrees, the number of bicycles attached to begins to increase. When the air temperature reaches 80 degrees, the number of bikes attached to the rack begins to decrease. So, if you examine this photo of the bike rack outside my office, you can easily see that the temperature was 75 degrees.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Reporting from the danger zone

A story from the University of Florida's Independent Alligator newspaper uses that state's status as the national leader in bicyclist fatalities to frame a thorough and thoughtful examination of local bicycle safety issues. It's doubtful that the Gainesville Sun or any other general circulation newspaper would have devoted so much ink to the issue. As a student newspaper, the Alligator's readership probably includes a substantial contingent of transportational cyclists and I consider Drew Harwell's piece a fine example of a newspaper serving its audience.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Signs of life

I recently exchanged e-mail with Atlanta Larry, who is pondering a utility cycling experiment of his own. I'm a two-time former resident of Atlanta and I sometimes wonder if I would have eventually started utility cycling and/or bicycle commuting had I stayed there. My bicycle hibernated in a friend's basement for all but a couple days of the 18 months I lived there in 1999 and 2000. I suppose I found the hills and the traffic a little intimidating. I wonder how I'd make out now. On my last visit I noticed an abundance of Atlanta Bicycle Campaign "Share the Road" yard signs. I don't ever remember seeing those when I lived there.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Grocery getting

From the very beginning of Bike Year, shopping for groceries has been one of my favorite bicycle errands. Grocery bag panniers, either store bought or homemade, make the job significantly more enjoyable. Some folks prefer using a large messenger bag or backpack.

I'm still pleased about discovering a back route into Twelve Oaks Shopping Center, which sits near the confluence of two five-lane rivers of asphalt. Penetrating the exclusive domain of cars and seeing the surprise on motorists faces as I pedal through the parking lot remains satisfying. They look at me as if to say, "I wonder how he got in here."

The novelty of a bicycle appearance at the Twelve Oaks Publix store probably explains the absence of a bicycle rack. The idea of providing a bike rack probably never occurred to the store's managers. It doesn't occur to most, it seems.

To my knowledge only two grocery stores in the city of Savannah offer bicycle storage facilities. Both are located within a mile of each other, but they occupy opposite ends of the retail grocery spectrum. Brighter Day Natural Foods is a locally-owned, independent store located in a historic building on Park Avenue at the southern end of Forsyth Park. The Gwinnett Street Kroger is one of five local manifestations of the nation's largest supermarket chain. Yet both stores have seen fit to provide bicycle parking for their customers. Bike nerds will notice differences in the bicycles parked at each store.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Talking about the weather

Yesterday one of the TV weather guys urged viewers to get their shopping done early. If they waited until Tuesday and Wednesday, he warned, shoppers might have to endure rain and wind as they dashed from their cars to the supermarket.

This didn't strike me as an odd comment until I really thought about it. Except for people who work outside, inclement weather is a phenomenon most Savannahians experience only in brief installments. It's something that happens between the house and the car, the car and the office, the office and the car, the car and the store, the store and the car, and the car and the house, again.

One nice thing about bicycle commuting: I feel more connected to the weather and the seasons. However, I might have a different opinion about that connection later today.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Bikes on the Hill

An Associated Press story suggests that the Democrats' success in the midterm elections could be a good thing for cyclists. At least three bicycle friendly representatives will be rising to leadership positions in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the surface transportation subcommittee.

The League of American Bicyclists called the results a "Great Election for Bike Caucus." This was my first time hearing of the Congressional Bike Caucus, which aims "to encourage Congressional leadership to complement the efforts of the millions of cyclists working for safer roads, more bikeways, convenient bike parking and increased recognition of the importance of cycling to our communities." I'm pleased to learn the congressman representing Georgia's 12th District is a member of the Bike Caucus.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Some words on the Streets

I followed Aaron Naparstek from over to his current operation Streetsblog. While Streetsblog is primarily concerned with New York City transportation issues, it also presents a big picture view that's valuable to folks who live elsewhere. Or, as another streetsblog reader put it in this post:
I wanted you to know that Streetsblog, despite its New York City focus, has an impact beyond. I have a much broader set of analytical tools to bring to bear to my small problem and the larger bike and pedestrian issues that I am beginning to become involved with.

Streetsblog's regular "Today's Headlines" feature aggregates news stories from across the country. I've even suggested one that Aaron picked up. Those who don't live in New York should still consider spending some time on the Streets.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The bane of motorists

To all bicyclists using major arteries as most Americans are going to, or leaving work,
-- Michael, Penfield, NY.

I usually assume that motorists pull out in front of cyclists or pass them too closely because they don't see them. Michael provides a timely reminder that some people endanger cyclists because they do see them. I discovered his "Bicyclists: The Bane of Motorists" because he included a link to Bike Year, describing it as good place to check out "lots of bike-crybabies."

Maybe Michael's not as troubled by bicycles as he claims to be. Perhaps he's demonstrating his crankiness in hopes of scoring a sidekick gig on a small market classic rock station's morning zoo crew. But let's pretend he's for real. His chief complaints, as far as I can tell, are:

1. He doesn't like it when cyclists ignore traffic regulations.
2. He disapproves of their fashion choices.
3. He hates sharing the road with slower vehicles.

I can dig what Michael's saying on the first point. Although I would include not just cyclists, but all vehicle operators who ignore traffic regulations. As for the second point, I'm occasionally amused by the costumes some folks don before going for a ride, but their clothes don't anger me as they do Michael. On the third point, he excuses the slow pace of tractors and construction equipment, noting that "they are almost always used for work, not transportation," but he can't stomach the idea of following a bicycle until it is safe to pass.

He thinks bikes aren't fast enough for public roads. I think cars are too fast for public roads. And so it's here that Michael and I can find no common ground. Or can we?

I have a solution that will work for both of us. Instead of the "bike-free" roads or "bike's only" lanes Michael proposes, a more practical solution is strict enforcement of 25 mph speed limits for all vehicles. That way, the gap between bicycle and car speed virtually disappears.

Michael might be happier traveling at a less frantic pace. He wouldn't be forced to "lock down on" his brakes after "rounding a difficult curve." There's not much call for brake lock downing at 25 mph. He will also find the difficult curves easier to negotiate at lower speeds. On the other hand, what about those times Michael wants to go faster? Well, unless he's using his Honda Accord as some sort of freelance ambulance, there's simply no justification for speeding. After all, cars are almost always used for transportation, not work.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Three months later

I'm still riding my bike. Just not the same bike. But more on that later.

The big transportation news here in Savannah is the Georgia Department of Transportation's plan to widen Abercorn Street Extension on Savannah's south side. The possibility of more lanes has been reported by local television news operations with barely concealed glee. An editorial in today's Savannah Morning News introduced its position on widening Abercorn and other commuter routes with this:

"Rush-hour drivers have probably considered just leaving their vehicle on Ga. Highway 21 and walking to work."

Of course, this is another example of a perfectly acceptable method of transport likened to some sort of deviant behavior. To be fair, it would be unreasonable for a person with 50 mile round trip commute to try walking to work. But is it any more reasonable for motorists to expect quick and easy passage twice a day through 25 miles of sprawl, amidst thousands of other single occupant motor vehicles?

But adding more lanes will solve the problem, won't it? It seems unreasonable to think so. Like the man says, "Trying to cure traffic congestion by adding more capacity is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The new (old) bike

The green L.L. Bean hybrid bicycle that appears to the right is no longer with me. Last month I sold it in an effort to reduce my bicycle inventory (mine was a two person, seven bike household). This initiative also included the sale of my 1979 Peugeot UO-10 single speed conversion.

There was really nothing wrong with the Green Bean. It was a perfectly serviceable bike. The bottom bracket was starting to get a little creaky, but other than that, it was mechanically sound. I've heard that the new owner is making good use of it. I just wanted a change.

Since the sale of the Green Bean, I've been using two of my remaining three bicycles for my commute. One is a 2005 Raleigh M40 DX, which I'll be become my primary bike after I complete some alterations (more on that in a future post).

In the meantime, the bicycle I'm riding most often is a 1979 Peugeot UE-8.

Well, most of 1979 Peugeot UE-8. Students of bike boom Peugeots will notice that several parts are missing and detect a number of alien components that are not native to this bike. For the most part, however, it's pretty much what you got in an entry level bicycle 30 years ago. In other words, it wasn't exactly high tech, even back then. Still, it's almost perfectly suited for commuting and a lot of run to ride.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Seven miles and two costume changes

In the crazy world of bicycle commuting, there are people who commute 30 miles or more everyday in all kinds of weather. Commutes of this kind generally require cycling-specific clothing, access to showers and lockers at work, and plenty of willpower. My roundtrip, by comparison, is around five miles. Except for today. I've already ridden more than seven.

Today I rode to work with my wife's keys in my pocket. Just as I reached the office, she called to report she was locked inside the house. I pedaled -- double-time -- back to the house to release her so she could go to work. On arrival at home, I was more moist than I would prefer to be at the beginning of the workday. So I had to cool down and change into dry clothes before heading back to the office.

I've commuted to work by bicycle almost every day for almost a year. During this time, my decision not to drive has created few negative consequences for me or my employer. Still, on hot and humid days like today, it would have been much easier simply to turn the car around and zip back to the house.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Remember me?

I am alive and riding. And I'm planning to resume regular posting soon. But first, a bit of news. I've recently learned that the first ever Georgia State Bicycle & Pedestrian Conference is scheduled for Oct. 24 and 25 at the Holiday Inn in Decatur. Sounds like there are some good sessions on tap, including:
  • Bicycle, pedestrian and multi-use trail facility design
  • Traffic calming
  • Updates from the GDOT and Federal Highway Administration
  • Best practices from bike and pedestrian friendly communities
  • Bike, pedestrian and greenway planning
  • Funding sources
  • Safe Routes to School programs
  • Economic development and tourism
  • Travel Demand Management
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Mobile bike/walk workshops
And of course:
  • More
Additional information can be found here.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

On the road

Once upon a time:
"Most people living in cities didn't think fast cars belonged in streets. When cars hit pedestrians, it was always the driver's fault."
"But some people wanted to give cars a rightful claim to street space. By casting doubt on pedestrians' place in the street, it strengthened cars' claim to street space."
"By 1930, 'jaywalker' was routinely applied to pedestrians engaging in street uses that had once been beyond reproach. By then most people agreed (readily or grudgingly) that streets are chiefly motor thoroughfares."
And now:
"For the past century, America's love affair with automobiles has meant that motor vehicles have ruled American streets. Despite sporadic efforts to assert the rights of pedestrians and bicyclists, that culture prevails."

Yet, some are hopeful:
"While America's roads may be perfect for gas-guzzling cars and disposable travelling, they don't have to be used that way."

And some are helpful:
"State highway departments have been taking big roads and narrowing them, adding bike lanes and trails. In the last 10 years, engineers have increasingly looked for ways not to speed cars along but to slow them down."

A Slow-Road Movement?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The end is near

Since I started this blog 357 days ago, these are some of the things that have happened:

  • I replaced 1,188 miles worth of car trips with bike trips.
  • I still drove a lot more than I should have.
  • I was hit by a car.
  • I was nearly hit by a board thrown from a second floor window.
  • I met new friends online and on the street, who encouraged me.
  • I met angry motorists, who yelled, "Get off the road!"
  • I waved to other cyclists.
  • I wished there were more cyclists to wave to.
  • I sweated a lot.
  • I shivered a little.
  • I almost witnessed a motorhome vs. riding lawnmower accident.
  • I accidently left my bike lock at home almost a dozen times.
  • I tried to finish "Effective Cycling" by John Forester.
  • I finished "The Art of Urban Cycling" by Robert Hurst.
  • I got caught in the rain.
  • I got my pants leg caught in the chain.
  • I developed basic bicycle maintenance skills.
  • I developed a great respect for professional bicycle mechanics.
  • I was startled when motorists blew their horns at me.
  • I startled motorists by blowing my horn at them.
  • I became used to seeing cars parked in the bike lane.
  • I learned that some cyclists hate bike lanes.
  • I frequently regretted getting behind the wheel.
  • I never regretted getting on my bicycle.

Above all, I came to realize that using a bicycle for life's everyday tasks is not really such a big deal. Riding to work, to the grocery store and to other everyday destinations has been relatively easy for me. What started out as a significant lifestyle change is now the norm. That's not to say that my fellow citizens have also become avid utility cyclists. The choice I made last July makes me a rather odd specimen among my neighbors, my friends and my coworkers. But it's become normal for me.

And that's why I must decide, in the next couple days, what to do when the Bike Year ends. Should I continue the blog? If so, what direction should it take? I welcome suggestions.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Takin' care of business

At around 8:15 this morning I passed a pedestrian strolling down Lincoln Street. Dude looked at me, held up his Budweiser tall boy and shouted, "The businessman riding his bike to work!"

Well, I've have worse things yelled at me.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Cars gone wild!

Aaron Naparstek has a fascinating post on his blog about a "parking squat" held in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The concept is fairly simple. Squatters feed the parking meter, set up lawn chairs and small tables, then simply hang out and enjoy the space until the meter expires. According to Naparstek, the purpose of the squat is to challenge "the idea that the vast majority of a crowded city's street space -- its public space -- is best used for the storage and movement of private automobiles." And it looks like the squatters had a great time.

Here in Savannah, the parking squat is a little different. You might even call it a reverse parking squat. In our local version, a motorist claims an area of public space such as a sidewalk or crosswalk to support "the idea that the vast majority of a crowded city's street space -- its public space -- is best used for the storage and movement of private automobiles."

In downtown Savannah, most parking squatters eventually attract the attention of the city's Parking Services department, but outside the National Historic Landmark District (and even some places within it), motorists can squat without fear of receiving citation. Meanwhile, these squatting cars create a nuisance for most pedestrians and, for citizens with sight or mobility impairments, they constitute a real danger.

I've decided to document these parking squats in a series I'll call, "Cars Gone Wild!"

If you zoom in on this photo, you'll see from the tag on the bumper that this car's name is Centipede. Like a lot of older model Dodge Neons, Centipede is feeling a little under the weather these days and doesn't have the energy to drive around searching for parking space in this neighborhood on the east side of the historic district. A nice resting space on the sidewalk is just the place to for a weary car to relax and await its next assignment. Hope you feel better soon, Centipede!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Voice of the People

I wonder how many newspapers have gripe lines like the Savannah Morning News feature called "Vox Populi." There's the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "The Vent," which has been around for at least 10 years now. Most Vox contributions sound to me like recycled sound bites originally hatched on talk radio, but sometimes they are wonderfully random. For evidence, I submit these to shining examples from the last couple days:

"Does anyone remember the old peanut man who had a house on Skidaway with a peanut field right behind it? He sold peanuts on his front porch."

"I went to the hospital recently with acute diverticulitis and the doctor accused me of being a drug seeking person. Fortunately he named a pill I had at home so I went home and took that. I'm glad I didn't have something more serious. Doctors, don't assume everyone is a drug addict."

Still, if we filter out wistful nostalgia for peanut men and accounts of digestive ailments and pill naming, we can sometimes catch a glimpse of the bees residing in Savannah's collective bonnet. An installment last week featured two sentences that tell us pretty much all we need to know about how locals view the increased cost of motorcar operation and the viability of bicycling and walking as possible alternatives. Here it is:

"When are we going to get sidewalks and bike trails for when we can no longer afford to drive cars? How else are we to get to work, church and the grocery store?"

This comment conveys two central ideas. First, it represents the view that bicycles belong on trails and not on city streets. I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt by assuming that he or she is advocating sidewalks for pedestrians. However, comments screamed from passing cars at many of my cycling friends (but never at me, for some reason), suggest there's very good chance he or she expects cyclists to use these sidewalks. Second, it's a classic example of the kind of hyperbolic statement frequently deployed by Vox Populators, who figure things have gone too darn far. Here's one I just made up:

"I had to wait so long in my doctor's waiting room, next time I'm bringing a tent and a sleeping bag."

Of course, my impatient patient isn't really going to take camping gear to his next checkup. Nor is the Vox Populi contributor actually suggesting that people will walk or ride bicycles as gas prices rise. Clearly something must be done before the situation declines to such a grim point. The idea of walking to work is preposterous. Riding a bike to a grocery store? Don't be ridiculous. There must be an intermediate solution that's less crazy. Like driving around in golf carts!

Despite an endless parade of newspaper and television stories about high gas prices, I detect few changes in the behavior of my fellow citizens. Large SUVs are still left idling curbside for indefinite periods. Fuel-wasting aggressive driving remains popular among motorists of all demographic groups. Clearly gas prices are failing to cramp our styles.

On the other hand, yesterday I was a part of miniature bicycle traffic jam. Our convoy was led by an older gentleman on a cruiser with twin wire baskets on the back. Next was the rarest of all cyclist species: a commuter, dressed in office attire with a messenger bag slung across his back. And me. We were all in a pack, heading north on Lincoln Street, just a couple bike-lengths separating each of us. At Gwinnett Street we were joined by another cyclist who veered onto Lincoln and headed south against traffic. He was riding a creaky mountain bike that looked like it had spent about twelve parsecs in the cargo hold of a Jawa Sand Crawler (they guy sort of looked like he'd been in there, too). He weaved in and out of parked and oncoming cars as we cruised by.

For that one block, cyclists outnumbered motorists by a factor of four to one! I figure gas prices will have to get a whole lot higher before this becomes the norm.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Desperate to stay behind the wheel

South Carolina's The State newspaper reported yesterday that State Rep. Todd Rutherford has ditched his BMW in favor of a golf cart for his daily commute to work. The Democrat's motivation, according to the story, is to avoid paying high gas prices. He started using the golf cart during the Great Hurricane Katrina Gas Price Spike of Ought Five.

Seems like a pretty smart fellow, taking advantage of a South Carolina law that permits daytime golf cart operation on secondary roads, as long as the cart is not driven more than two miles from a home or office. And that's the part that gets me: Rep. Rutherford lives a mile and a half from his office. Why isn't he riding a bicycle? Or even walking?

The photo and biographical information posted on his Web site indicate that Rep. Rutherford is my age or younger. Unless he has a physical condition that necessitates use of a motorized vehicle, why does he constrain himself to a golf cart when he could surely get to work under his own power? Could it be the heat? I have it on good authority that Columbia can be one of the hottest places in the known universe. Nope. High today should be around 89 degrees.

I think this might be the problem:

He said its only draw back is its lack of speed. He drives to the side to keep from being run over.

If he's worried about being hit in "his caution-yellow E-Z-GO," imagine how people on bicycles must feel! I appreciate this lawmaker's dedication to conserving fuel, but with such a short commute, I encourage him to leave the car and the golf cart in the garage. If I can do it, why can't he?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

It's not easy being green

Thomas Friedman was on the Today Show this morning. He suggested that it would be a good thing if oil topped $100 a barrel as this would lead Americans to make other arrangements, as Kunstler might say. Faced with record high gasoline prices, he said, we would drastically change our habits. We would consume less oil. We'd make smarter choices about the types of cars we own. His theory goes something like this: Conservation would reduce demand, thus dropping the price of oil, which would allow us to stick out our collective tongues at Iran and other oil producing nations.

I hate to tell this to Friedman, but behavior modification will be a difficult assignment around these parts.

A local LEED-certified shopping center has recently become the subject of public scorn. Callers to the Savannah Morning News' "Vox Populi" gripe line have promised to boycott businesses in the Abercorn Commons, home to the planet's first LEED-certified McDonald's restaurant. The project's developer seems be doing everything right, from recapturing rainwater to energy efficient HVAC schemes to using recycled construction materials. It's the sort of development lots of cities would be proud to have, as Andre recently pointed out on his excellent blog.

What made the folks so angry? Some of the spaces in the permeable surface parking lot are set aside for hybrid cars. Here are some samples from Vox Populi:

"The 'Hybrid Vehicles Only' parking is ridiculous."

"Politically correct parking spaces for politically correct cars? I am physically handicapped and will spend my money elsewhere because I do not feel welcome there."

"I've been looking forward to the new stores but I don't drive a hybrid car, whatever that is, so I won't be shopping there."

With loyal customers like these, oil companies have little to worry about.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Leading cyclists in the wrong direction

Last week on the way to work, I saw a friend who was also commuting by bike. A couple days later, I talked with him on the phone and found that he rides to work pretty often. Why hadn't I seen him before? Because our paths diverge just north of Victory Drive. He joins the northbound Lincoln Street while I remain on Habersham Street.

He asked why I didn't follow the bike route and my answer was simple: wrong-way cyclists. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the Lincoln Street bicycle lane is on the left side of a northbound one-way street. Because it's the only marked bicycle lane in downtown Savannah, it naturally attracts cyclists and even those who need to go south. This forces them to ride against automobile traffic, which seems particularly dangerous at cross streets where motorists look for traffic originating from the south, but not necessarily the north.

It also requires northbound cyclists to play chicken with their southbound counterparts, which is why I steer clear of it all together. Here's one of the obstacles that I'd have to negotiate on my daily commute, if I used Lincoln Street. Add in a southbound cyclist nearing the tree at the same time and the game of chicken becomes even more exciting.

And, as the following photograph suggests, the bicycle lane provides very convenient parking for motorists.

The bicycle lane terminates at the intersection of Liberty Street, at which even law-abiding northbound bicyclists find themselves instantly on the wrong side of the road, facing oncoming traffic. (Lincoln becomes a two way street at this point). Turning right onto Liberty Street also presents problems for the northbound cyclist at this busy intersection.

But perhaps I'm making too much of this wrong-way cyclist thing.

Lincoln Street does have some advantages. First, there are stop signs at the intersections of Anderson and Henry streets. This would probably make my commute quicker, as I would not have to wait for the traffic signals to change as I do on Habersham Street. This, by the way, seems to make motorists very uneasy. I suppose they are so used to seeing bicyclists blow the lights that they are freaked out when I don't.

Finally, there is something to be said for the idea of strength in numbers. Because Lincoln Street is popular with cyclists, perhaps motorists are more used to seeing them on the road. I am considering using Lincoln Street on my morning commute. Because I'm convinced riding against traffic is a terrible idea, I'll keep using Habersham Street on the way home. Anyone else out there have experience using "one-way" bike routes?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Breeding more bicycles

Earlier this month, Bill Dawers wrote about the demolition of the City Market Parking Garage in his Savannah Morning News "City Talk" column. It was the destruction of City Market, for which the garage was named, that helped to spark Savannah's preservation movement in the mid 1950s. Lots of folks were happy to see the garage bite the dust. Commenting on a shuttle system deployed to soothe motorists until the new underground parking facility is built in its place, he wrote:

In many cities, commuters would think nothing of walking from Liberty and Jefferson streets, rather than taking a shuttle, but Savannahians are simply not accustomed to walking that far.

This is a puzzling, but very real phenomenon. Visitors travel from all over the globe to stroll the streets of the National Historic Landmark District, but to many locals, the idea of walking several blocks, through one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is intolerable.

And even if the city continues to add to its structured parking inventory, will it ever be able to keep pace with demand? If you believe Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Cynthia Tucker (and I do) the answer is no. If fact, she suggests that more parking breeds more cars. Writing last year about parking garages proposed for Atlanta's Piedmont Park, she observed:

Atlanta and every other Sun Belt city from Los Angeles to Orlando give the lie to the theory that it's possible to solve the issue of traffic and parking congestion by building more roads and more parking spaces. New roads and garages are the opposite of clothes dryers, where your socks are frequently kidnapped by forces unknown. Instead, cars self-multiply when you build more highways and garages. Park 10 in a garage overnight, and you'll have 15 in the morning.

Could the city of Savannah use this equation to it's advantage? If it provided free, secure, convenient, covered parking for bicycles, would more people consider riding bicycles around the National Landmark Historic District and thus reduce pressure on automobile parking resources? It's true that bicycles can be easily locked to parking meters, signposts and fences. But as a person who rode to work this morning on a saddle still soaked by yesterday's rain, I can tell you the idea of covered parking is appealing.

Take a look at this photo of what I believe to be the only covered bicycle storage facility in downtown Savannah. Like virtually all bicycle racks in town, it is provided by the Savannah College of Art and Design and is free to use by students and non-students alike. It's safe to assume that most of these bicycles belong to students visiting the Jen Library, where the racks are located. But not all of them are.

Would Tucker's equation work for bikes? If you parked 10 at night, would you find 15 in the morning? Of course you'd have to figure a certain number would be lost to bicyle theivery, a thriving local cottage industry. Still, if parking decks attract more cars, then properly located and configured facilities should attract more bikes.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Former dealer warns users about addiction

I didn't watch President Bush's fifth State of the Union Address last night. But I read it on his Web site this morning. This is my favorite part:

A single chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen generates energy, which can be used to power a car -- producing only water, not exhaust fumes. With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom, so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.

Sounds pretty darn simple to me. A single chemical reaction? How hard could it be? Sort of difficult, it turns out.

This morning, the Savannah Morning News printed a story by Associated Press reporter Jennifer Loven. Here's a snip:

"America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world," Bush said.

Our president has crafted a very instructive analogy: We are addicted to a drug called oil. And he should know. He's a former dealer. His observation about the oil coming from unstable parts of the world is also very keen. To feed our addiction, our Uncle Sam is constantly looking to score and that takes him into some of the sketchiest neighborhoods on the globe. He's obligated to do business with some pretty unsavory characters, all to make sure we don't go into withdrawal.

It seems to me, however, that even if we do manage engineer our nation's fleet of private automobiles to burn hydrogen, ethanol or Jesus Juice, we are essentially swapping one addiction for another. Instead of the street drug (oil) we'll be hooked on the pharmaceutical-grade stuff that Bush says his proposed 22 percent increase in clean energy research will deliver. And we will still have many of the same problems, at least in my town.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles will be lined up for miles in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 16 every workday morning. Neighborhoods will be bulldozed and all kinds of other expensive schemes floated to maximize ethanol-fueled vehicle volume and speed on Derenne Avenue. Owners of alternative fuel vehicles will still be clamoring for more structured parking in the National Historic Landmark District.

What if you can't afford to purchase or lease one of these new "clean" cars? What if a medical condition prevents you from operating one of these advanced vehicles? I'm sorry, friend, but in the future you'll be treated like a second class citizen, just as you are now.