Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Not just my imagination

Yes, there really are more cyclists out there, according to this press release from the city:

SEATTLE – The number of bicyclist entering downtown during the morning commute jumped 31 percent since 2000, according to a recent count released today by the Seattle Department of Transportation.

“More and more people are choosing to leave the car in the garage and find a different way to get to work,” said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. “We are making it easier and safer to get around Seattle by walking and biking and we are starting to see the results. By taking a bike instead of a car, people are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and leaving the city and the planet a better place.”

In April, Nickels released Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan to significantly expand the city’s network of bike lanes, make it easier and safer to ride throughout the city and reduce greenhouse gases. The downtown count, along with surveys around other parts of the city, will set a baseline for the goal of tripling the number of bicyclists by 2017.

“The goal of this effort is simple,” Nickels said “We want to make Seattle the best and the safest city in the nation for bicycling.”

So far this year, the city has installed more than 18 miles of new bicycle lanes and shared-lane markings, or “sharrows”, and 30 additional miles of improvements are planned for 2008.

Seattle’s Climate Action Plan calls for an increase in bicycling as one means to reduce harmful greenhouse gasses and meet the goals of the Kyoto Protocol. A study of 2005 data released earlier this week shows that Seattle’s greenhouse gas emissions had fallen to 8 percent below 1990 levels.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Signs I love

I do really love the way the city has "signed up" the Fremont Bridge area - although I've certainly seen motorists ignore this sign. Somehow, though, it tends to make the majority of them mind their manners.

It's getting a lot darker when I ride home now, and this marks the last week of daylight savings time. Still, I've been pleased at how well my new Cateye bike light has lit up the street in front of me. I feel both visible (to motorists) and capable of seeing the road. I run both the light and a white blinkie, side-by-side on my handlebars. Other cyclists have lights attached to their helmets, another good option.

I went to the Seattle Outdoor Fabric Store last week and bought several yards of highly reflective tape, some of which I've sewn onto my panniers. I think I'm going back today because I'd like to fashion for myself a super-visible vest. All the bike vests I've seen have been lacking in some way or the other (in my opinion) so I'm going to see if I can do my own. The problem is that the highly-reflective silver tape that works so well when a car's lights hit you is also the same color, more or less, as the road, so when it's dusk - not yet dark - you become invisible. Some combination of a bright base color, sewn over with strips of reflective tape, seems best. Construction workers wear vests like these, but they don't go down in back far enough, in my opinion. You want something that covers your butt.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Road hazards

One of my colleagues took a spill while trying to cross the South Lake Union Trolley (SLUT) tracks on Fairview or Eastlake the other day. The trolley is a weird, almost toy-like transportation system that will connect South Lake Union to downtown, when it fires up this winter. It's just not extensive enough to be any kind of transportation solution for anyone, unless you happen to live on a houseboat in Eastlake and work downtown. And it turns out that the trolley's recessed tracks are big hazards for cyclists. Your wheel can get caught in the recessed channel, and the iron tracks are slick as ice.

Another hazard: heading north across the Fremont Bridge and trying to stay north on Fremont. There's a right-hand turn that veers off to the right shortly after you get off the bridge, and it's not marked for cyclists at all. Cars come up behind you, pass and immediately turn right, leaving you no room. A woman could have hit me yesterday with that particular move -- oh, I saw her coming, so it wasn't like a close call or anything, but it irritated me no end.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

New light

I went to REI this afternoon at lunch, and joined three other cyclists all staring at the light display, trying to figure out which light would illuminate the road best. So many choices! I came away with a CatEye light with a beam so bright that it hurt my eyes from across the room. It takes 4 AA batteries, but I will try rechargeables to cut the waste down. The $150-and-up lights with dedicated, built-in rechargeable batteries (on display in a locked glass case) seemed like too big of a commitment. I figure that this light, for $44, will extend my riding a little bit into the winter and allow me to start the season a little earlier too.

I also got a very glow-y fluorescent green jacket with a little bit of reflective striping on the back. It's not waterproof, but I think it will keep me dry enough in showers. And the color really stands out.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Is this the day?

Every day now I've been watching the weather forecasts and trying to decide if this is the day that I change my mind about going to work on two wheels, and hang my bike up for the season. I thought this might be the day - but, despite a dire forecast of rain and wind, the weather held off until 6 p.m. and I rode home in very light sprinkles. In fact, some traffic gremlin must have struck Hwy. 99, because the traffic through Fremont was completely backed up. I zoomed by many cars on the way home. It was one of those days where a bike was probably the fastest way to get anywhere!

At some point, I'm either going to have to invest in some better equipment - a strong headlight to accompany my flashers, and some fenders - or else sit out the winter and return in the spring. It's a true budget dilemma: Good equipment could easily run $200 or more, versus driving to work (parking $135/month plus gas) or riding the bus ($48 a month).

Good story on the environmental online site Grist today on bike safety - the author argues that the streets aren't as dangerous as most people think:
"Biking is safer than it used to be. It's safer than you might think. It does incur the risk of collision, but its other health benefits massively outweigh these risks. And it can be made much safer. What's more, making streets truly safe for cyclists may be the best way to reverse Bicycle Neglect: it may be among communities' best options for countering obesity, climate disruption, rising economic inequality, and oil addiction."

Friday, October 5, 2007

Radical Bicycle Manifesto

To commute by bicycle in Seattle is to become radicalized about bicycling.

Perhaps not right away. At first, you may be lucky enough to have a dozen easy commutes in to work. Then one day a bus cuts you off, rolling right in front of you and blocking the bike lane to pick up passengers. An SUV driver yakking on his cell phone passes you on the downslope of a hill and then makes a sharp right turn, forcing you to slam on your brakes. A fellow bicyclist on a fixie or a mountain bike wooshes past you, leaving inches of clearance. A truck is parked two feet from the curb, sticking way out into the bike lane and forcing you into the lane of traffic. You carefully and reasonably “take the lane,” as you’re allowed to do, to avoid a dangerous situation and get a blast from a motorist’s horn, as a driver too hell-bent to get somewhere comes roaring up on you and insists you move immediately out of his way.

There’s plenty of blame to go around: To the city, for an unending list of hazardous places where the lack of signage or clearly-painted bike lanes creates cycling nightmares. To the drivers, who act like you’re invisible and regularly, almost routinely, put your life in peril. And even to a very large chunk of the bicycling community – riders who run stop lights and red lights, dart in and out of traffic and ride, against their own self-interest, at night without lights, often wearing enough black to outfit a Ninja. What are they thinking?

During my training for the STP, I started doing a little bit of bike commuting. After the STP I settled into a bike-commute rhythm. At some point, I went from biking 20 percent of the time to biking almost 100 percent of the time to work. Since August, it’s become something of a pleasant addiction. When I ride in to work, I feel great. When I ride home, I feel great. That little 30-minute rush of adrenalin and jump in my heart rate works better than a double-tall espresso in the morning. Curiously, it has the same effect on me at the end of the day. I arrive home energized at the end of the day, as if some genie recharged my battery while I was grinding uphill on Fremont Avenue.

I’m of the opinion that a well-behaved, careful, law-abiding cyclist is – or should be looked upon as – something of an urban hero. The commuting cyclist is taking a car off the road or freeing up a seat on the bus. His or her vehicle emits no pollution and takes up a tiny amount of space on the roadway. It’s even light on the infrastructure, with the typical commuter bike weighing in at something around 20 to 30 pounds. All in all, a healthy, law-abiding population of cyclists is good for the city – even for those who can’t ride themselves: People who trade their car in for a bike make more space on the road for those who cannot.

So I’ve decided to try turning my STP bike blog into a bike commuter blog, chronicling the joys and perils of riding to work in Seattle. I'm hoping that by recording the daily journey, I'll help shed light on why Seattle can be a difficult city to navigate on two wheels.