Thursday, October 18, 2007

I thought I'd seen everything

I see all sorts of things in the Lincoln street bike lane: wrong-way cyclists, pedestrians, abandoned grocery carts and all manner of parked vehicles. Now I have a new one to add to my collection. Just north of 38th Street, I saw a man washing his car. In the bike lane.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bike rack humor

Like a lot of dorks, I use a velcro strap to keep my trouser leg from becoming involved with my bicycle's drive train. Yesterday evening I had just wrapped the strap around my right ankle, when a guy on the sidewalk stopped and asked, "How long you been on probation?"


Friday, August 31, 2007

Bad news and good news

The bad news:

Last month I had a conversation with a well-meaning citizen, who was fretting about the safety of cyclists she observed on U.S. Highway 80 east of Savannah — otherwise known as "Tybee Road." She wondered if there was a solution for keeping these cyclists off the narrow, high speed route to the beach. She asked, "What if the city or county built some kind of facility? Then they could all go there to ride so they wouldn't have to be out on the streets."

Sadly her perception of bicyclists and their needs is probably shared by a significant portion of the local population. As I've so often complained over the last two years, bicycles are often perceived as toys or as exercise equipment, but not as vehicles. I tried to explain that her proposed cycling park would be absolutely useless to me and others who use bicycles for transportation. She didn't seem to get it.

And now the good news:
  • The number of regular bicycle commuters working in my building has remained high throughout the summer. The bike rack usually starts emptying out as the temperature climbs. Not this year. They just keep on pedaling.
  • A community activist, who has worked tirelessly to fight "road improvement projects" that destroy neighborhoods and induce additional automobile traffic, has recently taken up transportational cycling.
  • Finally, there's the Xtracycle situation. I first mentioned the product here on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2005 and early last month I finally ordered a Free Radical of my own. While I was waiting for it to arrive, I started prepping myself for the role of Savannah's only Xtracycle owner. Then I saw a man riding one down Habersham Street and a couple weeks later, a woman riding a Free Radical-equipped Trek mountain bike downtown. So, I'm happy to report that I'm one of at least three weirdos riding around Savannah on "Sports Utility Bicycles." I hope there will be more of us soon.
I'm planning to write my early impressions of the product and post some photos (I'm currently between digital cameras) soon. Please stay tuned.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A new cycling hazard?

On Friday evening I pedaled to the Jones Red and White Market for some groceries. About three blocks north of the Habersham Village shopping center, I experienced an instant and intense stinging sensation in my eyes. It was so severe that I had to blindly brake to a stop at the curb. Only after rubbing by eyes with a handkerchief, I was able to continue (though squinting) to my destination.

Then I saw it: A bright yellow twin engine airplane flying just above the treetops.

On the way home I saw a yellow helicopter, working the neighborhood from the other end. Chatham County Mosquito Control was delivering a little shock and awe to the insect population of Ardsley Park and I my eyes were collateral damage. They were a little irritated for the rest of the night, but fine the next day. The real question is, how much of the stuff did I inhale?

Monday, August 13, 2007

First post of the new Bike Year

The second anniversary of Bike Year passed without comment from me. My readers (if there are any left) are probably wondering what happened to me. Did I keep riding? Or did I hang up my bike? Well, it's been a little of both. I've probably driven more frequently in the last 30 days than any time since I started this blog. I'm using home repairs (which often required me to return home during the workday) and the high temperatures of the last week as my primary excuses.

As of last Friday, however, I'm back in the saddle. And I have a new addition to my stable (more about that soon).

While I have not been on bicycles lately, bicycles have been on my mind. I attended an informational meeting about the Coastal Georgia Greenway project and volunteered to set up a Web site for the group, which can be found here. I'm also researching shared lane pavement markings and preparing a proposal for local application for a subcommittee of a committee of the metropolitan planning organization. So I've not been completely useless.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Thunder Dome!

There's been a lot of grumbling lately about funds earmarked for the rehabilitation of Savannah City Hall.

Folks are balking at the project which will include "repointing, epoxy injection and waterproofing of exterior stone; removing, rebuilding and reinstalling the cupola; repairs and modifications to the gold gilded copper dome roof and providing new gold gilding to dome and cupola."

The total cost of the project is $2.2 million.

Personally, I'm not opposed to the project. I think fine public buildings are a community asset. Or, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. wrote, "Public buildings often accurately reflect the beliefs, priorities, and aspirations of a people."

I'd hate to see what kind of public buildings we'd have if we listened to those complaining about the city hall project. I suspect if they had their way, our public buildings would have as much appeal as a Best Buy or Toys 'R' Us store, all cinderblock walls and corrugated metal.

Still, it's fun to play the game and imagine how much bicycle infrastructure $2.2 million would buy. And it's hard not to be jealous when reading about projects in other cities, announced by city officials who realize the value of transportational cycling to their communities. Again, I'm not against public spending to rehabilitate handsome public buildings. I just wish some of the people who work inside them would try riding their bikes to work every once in awhile. I've occasionally seen an assistant to the city manager riding to work. Are there others? I can't help but think that if more city officials took to the streets on two wheels, they'd see just how far behind the curve we are.

Photo credit: Dizzy Girl

Monday, June 18, 2007

A better way?

Legend has it there are parts of the United States where cyclists have access to multi-use paths and trails that are useful for transportation. I've heard fairy tales about people using MUPs to commute to work and for utility cycling. It's true that here's a .7 mile loop trail a couple of blocks from my house, but it has about as much transportational value as a basketball court.

A meeting later this week will examine the Chatham County elements of the proposed Coastal Georgia Greenway. Meeting details are here. The good news is that several of the Greenway segments could be used for more than recreation. The Truman Park Linear Trail, in particular, will be useful to Memorial Health University Medical Center employees who are commuting from areas between the hospital and Lake Mayer. Memorial personnel drive thousands of cars into the neighborhood every day. Maybe when the trail's complete, the hospital could convince a couple of them to ride their bikes.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I have nothing to BRAG about

I suppose it's an indicator of my relationship to the mainstream cycling culture in my state: I had no idea the celebrated Bicycle Ride Across Georgia concluded in Savannah this year. I was headed to the south side in search of double chain ring bolts when I noticed clusters of bicyclists riding north on Habersham Street. At first I presumed it was a Coastal Bicycle Touring Club group ride, but they just kept on coming. All sorts of bikes, too, including plenty of tandems and recumbents. The ride ended in Daffin Park, just three blocks from my home, I found out when I watched the news last night. I'm embarrassed that I was so out of the loop on this. I'm also curious about what the BRAGers thought of our bicycle infrastructure here in Savannah.

I finally found my chain ring bolts at Quality Bike Shop. The guy who sold them to me asked if I was with BRAG. He said chain ring bolts were the type of thing BRAGers needed for roadside repairs. During my visit to QBS, I inspected an Electra Amsterdam Classic 3. It's one of the most handsome bicycles I've ever seen.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Twelve Oaks, five bikes

In the early days of Bike Year I wrote about the experience of riding my bicycle through the parking lot at the Twelve Oaks Shopping Center and the curious stares my presence evoked from motorists. Things have changed. We rode to Publix Monday evening and arrived to find a battered old mountain bike chained to a light pole. A SCAD student on a fixed gear Schwinn showed up at the same time we did. On the way out I noticed a Cannondale hybrid locked to a handrail.

It was a veritable bicycle riot!

What's more, two bystanders saw fit to make comments referencing economic benefits of bicycling. They said things along the lines of "I bet you get a lot of miles to the gallon on that thing!" Har har.

On a less positive note, a car was parked in the bike lane on the west side of Haberhsam Street, about 100 feet north of DeRenne Avenue. While motorists frequently park in the Lincoln Street bike lane, it's rare on Habersham.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lucky 13

When I moved to Savannah in 1993, I contracted a serious case of yard sale fever. Episodes have become less frequent since I moved back to Savannah from Atlanta in 2000. Still, every now and then I get the urge to prowl around on Saturday mornings. In the past I was generally on the lookout for old transistor radios and cameras, LP records, tiki mugs, and Mid-century Modern furniture and lighting. I still keep my eyes peeled for these items, but they are now sadly uncommon.

When I make the scene these days, I'm looking for bicycles. And bicycle parts. Usually I find nothing but children's bicycles in various states of decay. No sale. But sometimes I get lucky. A resprayed Specialized road bike from a yard sale donated the cranks and chain ring I'm using on my main ride. I gave the frame (it was too tall for me) to a college student who used it for a fixed-gear conversion.

Yesterday on Craigslist, I read about a sale that promised bike parts in large quantities due to its location: the Savannah Pedicab garage. I was not disappointed. My haul consisted of:
  • Two sets of handlebars
  • One Sugino XD 175mm crankset (with chain ring bolts)
  • Two new Wald chainguards (with hardware)
  • Two new brake cables
All together these items came to $13. I think I got a pretty good bargain.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What I've been doing lately

The decline in posting recently has been partially attributable to my thinking about and then actually acting on an idea for a new blog. It has a wider focus than Bike Year, so I expect I'll continue my action-packed utility cycling narrative here. Perhaps there will be a little cross-posting. We'll see.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What we learned in college (and how to use it in the real world)

What makes folks loyal to their alma maters? Great football teams? Excellent academic programs? Availability of high quality fake IDs?

What about the absence of cars?

A friend sent me a link to a blog post (thanks, Andrea!) called "Great streets, campuses, and pedestrian nostalgia." Andrea described it as "great" and "funny." I agree 100 percent and encourage everyone to read it in it's entirety.

Here's a snip:
...something I think about more and more lately is the possibility that Americans get as nostalgic as they do about college – identifying themselves as graduates of certain universities to a degree, and with a passion, that I genuinely think is alien to most cultures – whatever that means – not simply because college represents the only four years in which they might have pursued their real interests, but because, in the United States, college is a totally different lifestyle. You walk everywhere.
But what happens when these students leave campus?
So you graduate with your law degree and you move to Ft. Worth and you hang Michigan banners all over your office walls – but that nostalgic loyalty is not simply because you miss playing beer pong, it's because you miss being able to walk around everywhere. It's a particularly intense form of pedestrian nostalgia. In any case, college is like discovering a different world, tucked away inside the United States – and it's a world that's been built for human beings.
Jim Kunstler makes a related point in one of his books (I forget which one) about a similar effect associated with Walt Disney World's Main Street USA. I found the following quote here.
There's a whole other class of Americans who will drive 2500 miles from their small town in Minnesota to go to Walt Disney’s Main Street and walk down Main Street there, you know, unmolested by cars, because they really don’t let them in except for the few antique props that they keep around. And they’ll walk around and they’ll say "Gosh, doesn’t it feel good to be on a nice walkable street in a mixed use, in a simulated mixed-use neighborhood." And then they’ll go back home to their small town and they’ll turn main street into a six-lane expressway, and they’ll cut down all the street trees on Elm Street in order to remove these "hazards to motoring," as they’re regarded by Departments of Transportation, and they’ll do everything possible they can to destroy the great relationships between the things in their older town. And then, another year will go by, and they’ll go back to Disney World to feel good about America. So it’s a pretty kind of pitiful situation.
If college and Disney are so successful in imprinting such fond feelings of independence from cars, what can be done to motivate people to act on them after graduation — to demand walkable and bikeable streets where they don't exist in the "real world" and fight to protect these environments where they do? Perhaps these sleeper agents are simply waiting to be activated. Maybe they need to hear a Robert Frost poem or something and they'll automatically embark on their suicide missions start going to metropolitan planning organization meetings.

Friday, May 04, 2007

White, sliver and green

The smokey haze that's been hanging around Savannah for the last couple days was replaced this morning by a white blanket of fog. It was even raining in at least one place. Sort of. Condensed moisture fell in fat drops from the broadcast tower (pictured above) at the corner of Huntingdon and Abercorn streets, making large spots on the otherwise dry pavement. The forecasters predict we have a 30-40 percent chance of seeing real rain this weekend.

In the previous post I suggested that our current drought conditions had at one positive effect: stimulating bicycle use. Savannah Morning News columnist Lolita Huckaby found a similar "silver lining" in a local version of San Francisco's recent commuting apocalypse. There was no fiery gas tanker or melty overpass, just a barge that got a little too friendly with a South Carolina bridge.

Huckaby catalogs the suffering caused by the damaged bridge, now restricted to carrying a fraction of previous automobile capacity. But then, she gets to the silver (and the green) part:
But there is that bright spot, the increase of bikers, coming from the islands and heading to jobs in Beaufort and Port Royal. One local attorney, accustomed to a 15-minute drive into town for work, bought a bike Monday and turned a two-hour trip into work into a 1 hour 30 minute exercise back home that evening.

With all the attention to the "greening" movement, the bridge disaster could be a hidden blessing if it gets more car owners to park, walk or ride bikes.

Certainly not everyone, because of health issues, can ride a bike. But wouldn't it be great if more people did?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Something in the air

This morning I noticed that some of the azalea bushes in my back yard are staring to wilt. During the month of April, rain hit the ground only twice in Downtown Savannah. The combined total for both instances was 0.43 inches. The Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has mandated an outdoor watering ban that restricts residents from watering their lawns and gardens to certain days a week, and then only between the hours of midnight and 10 a.m. The ban is widely ignored.

By mid morning today, the skies were visibly clouded with smoke from wildfires (click on the Georgia Forestry Commission map above to see which parts of the state were on fire today) . This evening I pedaled to Jones Red and White to pick up some groceries. The setting sun filtering through the smoke cast an odd light on everything. It made the distressed vegetation look even more distressed. We could really use some rain.

It's hard to see many positive angles in current climate around here. Still, the dry weather has coaxed people onto their bikes. I suspect the number of bicycle commuters in my building could climb to 10 by the end of the week. On the way to the store and back I shared the streets with more cyclists than I can remember seeing in quite awhile.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A post from the past

In my previous post, I included an excerpt from the Tradition, South Carolina Web site, which described the new development as having drawn inspiration from "charming communities of days-gone-by." Included among the traits of these supposedly extinct places are:
  1. A living arrangement that allows residents to walk or bike to stores and restaurants.
  2. Front porches, from which residents may greet "passing neighbors."
  3. Parks and playgrounds.
The image you see in this post was made in my front yard on Saturday evening and satisfies two of the characteristics described above. First, the five bikes in the yard were ridden to Queeny's just moments after I snapped the photo. Check. Second, front porches are visible in the picture. Check. I'm certain that more than one "passing neighbor" passed by before we departed for Queeny's and I'm equally sure they were greeted by at least one person in our dinner party. Check and check. You'll have to take my word for it, but there are three small parks and one large one with a playground within a four block radius. That takes care of No. 3.

Based on this indisputable evidence, I've come to the conclusion that for the last five years, I've been living in a community of days-gone-by. Quick, someone send me a golf cart cart so I can get with the times.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Adventures in nomenclature

Ridiculous subdivision names have long been a source of amusement for me. There are plenty of subdivision name generators on the Internet, but my favorite is located on the Denver Infill Blog. While it's fun to poke fun, there is truth to the adage that suburban housing developments are often named for what they destroy or degrade. If a subdivision has the word "woods," "forest" or "meadow" in it, that's a good clue to what used to be in the land before it was cleared and replanted with McMansions.

In my part of the world, subdivision names are trending away from natural themes toward words that describe social or cultural situations, often coated in a sweet nostalgic glaze. For example, across the river in South Carolina we find a new "town" called "Tradition." According to its Web site, Tradition "will take its inspiration from those charming communities of days-gone-by." What made these mythical places so charming? Well, Tradition's copywriters reveal that these communities existed in a long ago age...
when you could walk or bike to the store or your favorite restaurant. When every neighborhood had its own parks and playgrounds. When homes had front porches from which you could gaze out onto your little corner of the world and say 'hi' to your passing neighbors.
In other words, Tradition will offer the kind of living arrangement that was standard issue in most of the United States before people abandoned these communities for outlying suburban housing. To be fair, Tradition's mixed use development and walkable streets are a drastic improvement over the suburban residential schemes of the previous decades.

Despite it's new urbanist leanings, Tradition's residents (Traditionalists?) will still be spending plenty of time on Interstate 95 and Highway 278 in transit to their jobs and the rest of the world that exists beyond Tradition's "town limits." And even though mention is made of residents bicycling to the store or a favorite restaurant, planners are taking steps to make sure a different sort of vehicle will become more common than bicycles on Tradition's streets:
To reduce the need for cars on the streets even further, Tradition South Carolina will provide every home with an electric golf cart…the perfect in-town “get around” that’s convenient, clean and quiet.
Why not provide every home with utility bicycles? Certainly would be cheaper. And, to my way of thinking, the bicycle is the rightful owner of the "perfect in-town get around" title.

But let's get back to naming subdivisions. This morning my television set brought me news of a new subdivision called "The Gates," which is — you guessed it — a gated community. I'm hoping this refreshing and frank approach to subdivision naming will be adopted by others. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for full page ads in the newspaper real estate section promoting "The Sprawl at Southbridge," "Commuters' Bluff," and "Carport Cove." Wow! This is fun. Anyone else care to give it a try? Feel free to leave your proposed subdivision names in the comments section.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Three out of 50 is not that bad

I'm pleased to announce that there are now three dedicated bicycle commuters working in my building. I've seen their bikes locked up outside, but today is the first time we all arrived at work at exactly the same time. I pulled up to the bike rack about two minutes after Jennifer (she passed me about a half mile from work). Less than a minute later, Hon wheeled up. Around 50 people work in my building, but three bicycle commuters isn't bad for a city in which people routinely drive for any trip of two blocks or more.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Riding for no reason

I engaged in an unusual (at least for me) session of recreational bicycling yesterday. I simply went for a ride, without a destination in mind. I wandered south on Harmon Street to the Calvary Temple and Day School compound, which contains a dozen or so buildings. I penetrated the compound through a construction entrance on the north side of the property, hoping to cut through to 63rd Street. However, my intended exit on the opposite side was blocked by a locked gate. Indeed, the whole campus is surrounded by spiky metal fencing. I'm not sure who this "joyful Southern Baptist Fellowship" is trying to keep out of its "Christ-centered learning experience." Methodists? Jihadists? Cyclists? I'm don't know, but it's clear they are serious about security. I took a photo of "Building D" and then pedaled back the way I came.

New York City boasts the Garment District and the Diamond District. I'll call Savannah's answer, which I next entered, the HMO District. Situated between two hospital campuses, the area is a commercial monoculture. Here we find medical labs, pharmacies, doctors' offices and little else. Many of the restaurants in the area close after lunch. I think the Cantonese Chef has longer hours than most, but it was closed when I took a photo through the window. At night and on weekends, there are very few humans on the scene. On a Sunday afternoon, I felt like I was pedaling though a scene from "The Omega Man," except without the homicidal mutants.
I crossed Waters Avenue and entered the South Garden neighborhood, home to 186 households, two churches and one automobile window tinting and detail joint. According the 2004 edition of "Neighborhood Demographic Profiles," published by the City of Savannah, the average South Garden home value is $63,260. With property values like that, it seems certain that the neighborhood will be eroded by hospital expansion pushing southward.

Memorial Health University Medical Center is exactly where I headed next. The campus is bounded on the east by the Casey Canal and the Truman Parkway beyond. I slipped through a gap in the fence and pedaled north along the canal bank. Taking a cue from Planetary Gears, in which our narrator chronicles exploratory rides and photographs his bicycle posed along the way, I made some pictures of my bike next to the canal. And a couple ducks. Also presenting themselves for viewing were egrets, hefty aquatic turtles and a large red-tailed hawk. Savannahians are fond of throwing trash into storm sewer catch basins and out of automobile windows, so I saw plenty of styrofoam cups as well.

I'm told there are plans to convert the route I followed into a real bikeway, which would connect Daffin and Lake Mayer parks. Unlike the other bike trails in the area, this one would actually have some transportational value. I'm not sure how the "Truman Linear Park Trail" will contend with the intersections it will cross. When I reached 52nd Street I had to scramble up a steep embankment, dragging the bike behind me. Then I had to cross the on ramp of the Truman Parkway. Instead of continuing on along the canal, I decided to head west on 52nd Street, which is a strong candidate for Savannah's worst designated bicycle route. But more about that and the rest of my ride in a future post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Winter is over

I know this because on the way to work today I encountered a very brown, very dry, very dead Christmas tree in the middle of the Lincoln Street bike lane.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Abnormal behavior

If you spend enough time reading bicycle-related blogs or talking with bicycle-related people, you may unknowingly slip into a magical fantasy land. You may actually come to believe that riding to work or the store is "normal."

Yesterday I was talking about blogs with a newspaper reporter. Rather than attempt to explain the concept of utility cycling, I described Bike Year as being mostly about bicycle commuting. His response:

"You can do that in Savannah?"

Monday, February 19, 2007

Worth the walk

I noticed this Associated Press story in the newspaper today. Maybe it was published in your daily paper, too. It describes a university study that looked at ways to motivate older Americans to walk. The answer, it seems, is to give them a destination. A snip:

The benefits of walking and being active are well-known, especially for older people, but what kind of neighborhood gets seniors going?It's not necessarily one with lots of walking trails or parks. What matters, researchers found, are the destinations such as restaurants, grocery stores and even bars that are within a half-mile of your home.

I don't yet qualify as an "older person," but my motivation to become a utility cyclist was also directly tied to destinations. The library, the supermarket, the video store, the office — having a destination gave me a purpose. It made me feel better not to be riding around aimlessly.

What if the destination is a locally-owned seafood restaurant? Is this the kind of destination that might lure older people and not-so-older people out of their houses for a stroll? Is this the kind of destination that a community should encourage, if it wants lively streets and active and healthy citizens? I'd say yes. Others say no.

For a number of years, I lived directly across the street from Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room, surely one of the most famous and beloved of all Savannah restaurants. In Mrs. Wilkes' obituary, then-Savannah Mayor Floyd Adams was quoted: "Hopefully, her legend continues through her restaurant and family. She has brought international attention to the community and we thank her for that." Paula Deen called her a pioneer "for women in the restaurant business."

But let's imagine that Mrs. Wilkes was still living and decided to open a restaurant at 107 W. Jones St. in 2007, instead of 1947. Would she receive the enthusiastic support of local politicians? Would people call her a pioneer? I think she'd be called lots of things, but pioneer probably wouldn't be one of them.

I understand controversy over the seafood restaurant on 40th street centers on allegations that the owner agreed not to allow inside dining, but then subsequently installed tables anyway. Still, why should he have been made to agree to such a concession in the first place? What difference does it make whether customers eat inside the restaurant or order their food to go? The real question is this: Is a seafood restaurant, owned by a family that's operated a fish market in Savannah since 1946, a disruptive commercial intrusion that damages the residential character of a neighborhood? Or is it an amenity that makes a nice destination for a walk?

Photo: Stephen Berend, Savannah Morning News

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Product Review: J&G Cyclewear Rain Cape

As promised, here's a review of the J&G Cyclewear rain cape. As mentioned in the last post, the cape is incredibly light. I'll skip further explanation the product, as it is described in detail here.

So how did it work? I must report that I was wet and cold when I got home. This does not, however, diminish my esteem for this product. For two reasons:

First, let's just say that I picked the ideal conditions to test this thing. On Feb. 1 Savannah received 1.20 inches of rain and I think most of it fell during my ride home. Not only was I hit by rain from above, plenty of water was splashing up from below. The streets were subject to significant "ponding," as our local weather forecasters like to say. In some places, such as the intersection of Habersham Street and Victory Drive, the water was up to my bike's rims. I'm running 26 x 2.1 Continental Town & Country tires, so there's quite a bit of rubber between my rims and the road. I don't think I would have remained dry if I'd ridden home vacuum sealed in a Space Bag.

Second, part of my moisture control problem was surely due to user error. The cape has fabric loops underneath. The idea is to grasp the loops and position your hands on the handlebars so that the cape forms an awning over your legs. About halfway home I discovered that slightly repositioning my hands provided more coverage. The cape does not have a hood. And that's good. Proper adjustment at the neck would kept my shoulders and back drier. It can be adjusted at the waist, which I also neglected. A gust of wind exposed my backside momentarily. I won't let that happen again.

Another cool thing about the cape is that it is supposedly made in Oregon, which probably makes it the only non-food item I've ever owned that was manufactured in that state.

Perhaps I'll post a review after I've used the cape during a more typical rainstorm. At any rate, I can say that it performed well enough to receive my enthusiastic endorsement. Whatever that's worth.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Product review preview

It was cloudy when I commuted to work this morning, but it wasn't raining. Now I'm getting ready to head home and it's pouring. This is great news for me because yesterday's mail contained a J&G Cyclewear Rain Cape, a gift from a very thoughtful person.

My first impression of the garment is that it is much lighter than I expected. It arrived not in a box, but a regular mylar envelope. I wasn't expecting it to be as heavy as a truck tarp or anything. Still, it's very light, which will be beneficial this summer when it's rainy and hot.

I'll post a full review sometime after my rainy ride home. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A bike lane inventory: audio edition

These are the sounds I heard today in the bike lane:
  • Wind.
  • Wind chimes.
  • A construction worker singing "Cat's in the Cradle" at the top of his lungs.
  • Birds singing at the tops of their lungs (song unknown).
  • Engine noise as cars rapidly accelerated from stop signs at one side of the block. Brake noise as cars rapidly decelerated for stops signs at the other end of the same block.
  • The whine of a circular saw.
  • The click of my bike's freewheel.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A bike lane inventory

Objects I saw today in the bike lane:
  • Lots of palm fronds. It was windy on Sunday night.
  • Two men's dress shoes. Not a pair of shoes, but two different shoes apparently separated from their mates and now traveling together.
  • One half of a reddish-brown leatherette steering wheel cover. From a distance I thought it was one half of a reddish-brown snake.
  • A white undershirt.
  • Two wrong-way cyclists.
  • One cyclist traveling the correct direction.
  • Three pedestrians.
I'm pleased to report that I didn't see any cars or trucks in the bike lane today.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Location, location, location

A Savannah Morning News story from earlier this month reported a local bike shop's move from one area of downtown Savannah to another. The Bicycle Link, owned by John Skiljan, is an absolutely vital part of the city core. It's the sole source of bikes, parts and – perhaps most importantly – service in an area that surely has higher per capital bicycle use than any other part of the city. Skiljan and his staff are an indispensable resource for Savannahians, who depend on their bikes for everyday transportation. Without the Bicycle Link, parts and service for many transportational and utility cyclists would be a long bus or taxi ride away. This is one important bike shop.

But back to the newspaper story. Reporter Chuck Mobley sites a number of factors that contributed to the Bicycle Link's departure from Broughton Street for Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. This portion of his story, caught my attention:
Broughton has become too congested, and businesses and shoppers soon will begin to seek less-congested venues.
The congestion described above actually makes Broughton Street one of my favorite places to ride a bike. Cars move pretty slowly on Broughton Street and that means I can take the lane and travel at the same speed as they do. I've talked with some cyclists who fear Broughton Street because of the traffic volume. I think they make a critical mistake in their evaluation. I'll gladly take a street full of cars traveling at 15 mph over a street with less motor vehicle traffic traveling at higher speeds. I say, bring on the congestion!

Plus, shouldn't congestion be seen a good thing, especially from a retail perspective? Couldn't a commercial district labeled as "congested" also described as "bustling," "lively" or "popular?" I would use all those words to describe Broughton Street. In doing so, however, I fail to decode the true meaning of congestion. In this context, congestion means lack of parking. Like so many other things, even the location of a bicycle shop is dictated largely by the availability of free (or undervalued) surface parking.

It should be easier for motorists to find places store their cars at the new location, but sadly Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is decidedly less hospitable to cyclists than than the two lane Broughton Street. MLK's four lanes are populated not just with local traffic, but with vehicles, including large trucks, discharged onto the street from the Interstate. And they are often moving at high speeds. This is mentioned in the article:
408-410 MLK is also next to I-16, making it convenient for cyclists to shop there as they head in and out of the city, said Skiljan, an Effingham County resident.
I take issue with this use of the word "cyclists." When I drive my car to Star Bike Shop on Montgomery Crossroad, I'm not a cyclist. Neither is anyone who uses I -16 to reach the Bicycle Link. We are motorists, not cyclists. Motorists entering Savannah from remote sectors in the universe of sprawl to the west of Savannah may become cyclists when they park their cars, but on the way to and from the shop they are simply part of the torrent of motor vehicles that makes MLK uninviting for cyclists who are, well, cycling.

Skiljan is right, however, in his suggestion that the new store will be accessible to some cyclists:
And it also puts Skiljan close to an important segment of his business - Savannah College of Art and Design students. "The college is a big deal for us," Skiljan said, "a lot of them don't have any transportation except for their bicycles, and almost all their dorms are on the west side of town."
Students who live in SCAD's Weston, Dyson, Turner and Boundary residence halls had to cross MLK to reach the store on Broughton Street anyway, so the new location is indeed a good thing for them. Still, it seems sort of sad that the only people who are expected to turn up at a bike shop on bicycles are those who have no other choice.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Andre makes an important point in his comment on yesterday's post. Just because I've never seen police stop a black man on a bike, doesn't mean it isn't happening in Savannah every single day.

My commute is topographically flat, but it's a demographic roller coaster. On my way to work I pass mansions and tumble-down boarding houses. I ride through neighborhoods that are majority African American (like the city of Savannah as a whole) and neighborhoods that are nearly 100 percent white.

Still, I'm seeing only a narrow slice of Savannah, both geographically and chronologically. This morning I did not see cops hassling black cyclists in Chatham Crescent or Thomas Square, but doesn't mean it wasn't happening at that very same moment in Liberty City or Pine Gardens. I don't usually ride my bike late at night, so I may be unaware of a completely different police enforcement posture that's adopted while my bicycle is asleep in the shed. Also affecting my perception of the situation is my status as a beneficiary of white privilege.

It seems to me that enforcement of bicycle ordinances ought to be the responsibility of the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department's traffic division. After all, bikes are vehicles. If the vehicle is being used in an unsafe and illegal manner that endangers its operator, operators of other vehicles and pedestrians, shouldn't the police intervene? Then again, since enforcement of bicycle ordinances is sporadic, it would be naive to believe that traffic safety is the primary motivation when police officers decide to stop someone riding against traffic or without lights.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Race, poverty and tail lights

A recent high profile murder trial has Savannah Morning News readers writing letters to the editor about race and class divides. This morning's paper featured a letter from Romell Bryant-Mitchell titled "Poverty, not race, biggest social problem." It contained this interesting observation:
I have seen black men stopped because there was no tail light on their bicycles, but I have seen white men pass officers with no tail light and no one even blinks.

I agree with Bryant-Mitchell. Sort of. I have never seen a police officer stop a white man on a bicycle. For any reason. But then again, I have never seen a police officer stop a black man on a bicycle. For any reason. My observations tell me that Savannah's men, women, girls and boys are free to ride against traffic, run stop signs, disregard traffic signals and transport passengers on their handlebars in full view of law enforcement personnel. Want to travel at night without lights or reflectors of any kind? Terrific.

There are two exceptions to this cycling amnesty policy.
First, if you are hit by a car while operating a bicycle in an unsafe and unlawful fashion, you may receive a traffic citation. But not always. In October, a cyclist found himself underneath an SUV after he blew a stop sign. But he didn't get a ticket. From a Savannah Morning News story:

Officers investigated the crash and found the bicyclist was at fault because he didn't stop at the stop sign. However, police do not plan to charge him, Wilson said.

"Usually the purpose of giving citations is to get people's attention. It serves as a means of compliance to the laws," Wilson said. "In traffic collisions involving pedestrians or cyclists, it usually only takes one incident of that magnitude to ensure future compliance."

The second exception, as mentioned in an earlier post, involves local college students who are sometimes popped with $100 fines for riding on sidewalks.

Why should I care? I guess I shouldn't. Only I can't help but think that the lawlessness of many cyclists fuels anti-bicycle sentiments in the general population.