Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mr. Jalopy turns his attention to bicycles

One of my favorite non-bicycle blogs is Hoopty Rides. It's creator, Mr. Jalopy, chronicles his efforts to find and care for aging automobiles, cans of motor oil, water slide decals and other objects that catch his eye. Mr. Jalopy has a unique approach to cultivating and curating these items. While he may polish up an old set of Craftsman wrenches from time to time, he is at ease with the rust, dents and other signs of age that show up on things bought at yard sales or at flea markets. Here's how he described a 1954 Chevrolet he was offering for sale back in 2004:

"The paint is thin and the rust is everywhere. It is extraordinary looking in the way a giant boulder is magnificent, or perhaps, a charging buffalo. There are colors on this car that exist only in nature. Indescribable deep rich hues that are impossible to categorize but are immediately familiar. A very nice, tattered, very beat up, wonderfully patina'd car of great integrity for $2250."

I've adopted Mr. Jalopy's philosophy and applied it to my attempts to rehabilitate old bicycles. Plus, since I lack the skill or patience to restore bicycles to their original condition, embracing imperfection saves me lots of frustration.

But that's not why I'm writing about Mr. Jalopy on Bike Year. I mention him here because of his new project, Coco's Variety Store.

Presuming that it actually exists, I would nominate it for one of the greatest retail concepts introduced so far this century. But here's the really cool thing: As you can see from the photo above, used bicycles are one of Coco's main product lines. And here's how Mr. Jalopy describes this portion of the store's inventory:

"Coco's is engaged in the refurbishment, repair and sale of used bicycles. From the scrap iron dealer's mud puddle, we buy bikes that nobody else wants. We buy junkers, clunkers, road bikes, mountain bikes, banana seat specials, fixies, department store cheapies, step through ten speeds, heavy bikes, skip tooth relics, 80's splatter paint disasters, suspension bikes, BMX tricksters, track bikes, cruisers, bruisers and midnight losers."

But why bicycles?

"We believe the bicycle with the greatest positive impact on the environment is a fading champion that has already served a meaningful life and is resuscitated for a second chance at glory."

And I would nominate it for one of the greatest sentences written about bicycles so far this century.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cycling in the parking lane

Motorists parking in bike lanes is not a Savannah-specific occurrence. In fact, I've learned that in New York City public officials are assigned special placards that allow them not to park not just in bicycle lanes, but on grave sites, in the living rooms of private residences and on top of pedestrians.

It's really not such a big deal to move a couple feet into the lane to avoid a stationary car. Still, I become a little angry when, on my way to work, I encounter motor vehicles parked in Lincoln Street the bicycle lane. My trouble is I can't ignore the fact that this is the only pavement marked lane in all of downtown Savannah. There are plenty of places to park, but only one bike lane.

As I passed the white Chevy Tahoe parked in the bike lane just south of Anderson Street this morning, I turned to face the woman at the wheel. She seemed to be quite happy sitting in her car listening to music. We made eye contact. I pointed to the "bike lane" and "towing enforced" signs located about 10 feet away from her windshield. Then I pointed at the pavement. Then at my bike.

Then she looked at me like I had lost my mind.

Hers was absolutely the correct response. After all, if it wasn't OK to park in the bike lane, the police officer driving the marked patrol car, which rolled past her about a minute before I did, probably would have stopped and said something. It's clear I'm the one who needs to get with the program.

I used to call the police non-emergency number to report cars parked in the bike lane. Sometimes I heard a sympathetic voice on the other end of the line. Too many times, though, I was met with a different response: "A bicycle is parked in the what now?" Even when I repeated that a car was parked in the bike lane, I'm was treated as if I called to report a squirrel in the tree outside my front door. The dispatcher understood what I was saying, but there was no corresponding recognition that a car parked in a bike lane was a problem.

Lest anyone think I'm bashing the cops, I'm not. It's just that enforcing parking regulations just doesn't seem to be in the job description. In the National Historic Landmark District, creative parking techniques will eventually attract the attention of Parking Services. But outside of the historic district, I'm convinced cars can remain unlawfully parked indefinitely.

For instance, within a three block stretch of East 49th Street I saw four cars parked on or otherwise blocking sidewalks on a recent evening. This does not include the cars parked on the tennis courts at Savannah Arts Academy (Why does this parking lot have nets on it?) or the motor scooter that had been stored on the sidewalk near the intersection with East Atlantic Street for weeks.

Another example: On the northeast corner of Anderson and Habersham streets, the crosswalk is connected to the sidewalk via a slightly sloped ramp covered in textured brick. What's the purpose of this? Could it be to allow a person in a wheel chair to transition between the crosswalk and the sidewalk? Perhaps it makes it easy on older folks who have a hard time making it over the curb?


This feature marks the spot often occupied by the right front tire of the illegally parked Roberts Furniture delivery truck. I guess it's handy for the driver. When he feels the tire drop into that depression, he can be certain that the cab of the truck has completely blocked the crosswalk. There's no guesswork involved!

The City of Savannah has recently mounted and vigorous and well publicized anti-blight campaign. According to recent news coverage, inspectors are especially interested in old jalopies languishing in residents' front yards. Here's a snip from a recent Savannah Morning News story:

"People should know by now that parking a car on the front lawn is against city law, the inspectors said."

Luckily for these people, parking a car in a bike lane or on the sidewalk or even on a public school tennis court is permitted.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Savannah Bicycle Campaign launches Web site

As I write this, the newly organized Savannah Bicycle Campaign is holding its second meeting. I'm sorry I can't be there. Here's what the SBC hopes to achieve:

Our objectives are to work through the political process to develop more and better bicycle facilities for Savannah—improved bike lanes, racks, and signage—and to develop a public campaign to educate bicyclists and drivers about safe practices on and off the roadways. Ultimately, we hope to foster an inclusive approach to make our communities more livable, connected, and safe.

The Savannah Bicycle Campaign welcomes members from all sectors of the cycling community. Recreational, transportational and competitive cyclists are all invited to get involved. If you ride for environmental, economic or health reasons — or just for the fun of it — the door's open. Find out how to get involved here.