29 August 2010

A Car When You Need It

Like my predecessor, I'm a Zipster (a.k.a. Zipcar member). I always intended to join a carshare service when I went car-free, but honestly it hasn't been necessary nearly as often as I expected it to. This is primarily due to the limits of the service, though: I've rented a UHaul for errands as often as I've rented a Zipcar, because there are no trucks available through Zipcar in my area! This means that furniture-related errands tend to be done with a UHaul.

In addition to the non-availability of trucks, I'm also a bit bothered by lack of distributed pickup locations. In Los Angeles, you can only pick up Zipcars at either USC or UCLA (or within a couple of blocks of those campuses), which makes me resist using the service for as long as possible. Nevertheless, I have used the service twice and have been pleased with the results both times. So, good when I use it, but I would use it more if it were better (are you reading this, Zipcar??)

Anyway, I wanted to share with you how I make it work: I have to ride my bike up to UCLA, then stuff it in the back of the car and drive it away. I guess I could also park the bike nearby... but I would spend the entire day worried about whether or not it would be there when I got back. So behold, Ruby getting a ride in a Honda Insight:
For the rest of you who are car-free, how often do you find yourself borrowing or renting a car/truck?

26 August 2010

Tips for Beginning Commuters

This post is modified from something I posted on the Treehugger forums, only SEVEN WEEKS into the bike commuting adventure. I recently was re-directed to it and discovered that it (mostly) still holds true, and hope it helps someone out there who is just starting out...

*Helmets aren't required by law in Los Angeles if you're over 18... but it's up to you to determine your own comfort level. For a beginner, I would advise always wearing one, because while you're learning the rules of the road you're simply more likely to get in someone's way and end up in a collision. These days, I wear my helmet for rush hour only, because rush hour drivers are angry and my coworkers worry too much.

*Bike paths are great, but few and far between. While you're riding or driving, start taking note of which streets in your area have bike lanes, sharrows, wider than normal shoulders, or disallow parking during rush hours (which gives the street an extra lane). Once you've noticed which streets have these features, plan your routes to use them when possible.

*You probably shouldn't ride the same route you drive. What you look for in a car (a straight shot to your location, many lanes, high speed limits) are not the same things that you want in a road when you're a bicyclist - (wide shoulders, slow speed limits, even gridlock that you can ride past with ease). I tend to look at google maps in 'hybrid' mode to help plan my routes using smaller streets to get me to my destination. I know google just came out with a bike maps feature, but it usually puts in too many twists and turns for my comfort level. For a beginner it might be great though, since it definitely favors low-traffic roads.

08 August 2010

The Urban Machine: Handlebar Tape

I am ashamed... I have been coveting other bikes lately. Bikes made of sleek, light carbon, or custom painted with colored Deep-V wheels. They're so pretty, so flashy, I can't help but look! And then I feel guilty, because Ruby's been so good to me. She's only ever gotten a flat once, she handles well, she's not too heavy for anything I've ever needed to do, and most importantly she fits me. I had a hard time finding the perfect fit: when the standover height was right, my back felt crunched and cramped. When I had room to stretch out, the top tube would nearly split me in half. So buying Ruby was an easy decision, one ride and I decided I HAD to have this bike, it was THE ONE. Which means that no matter how cute some other bike might be, I'll probably keep Ruby forever. Seriously, I cannot imagine giving her up. So I'm starting a series on making her the best bike she can be.

07 August 2010

Santa Monica Critical Mass

After much consideration, followed by six months of poor timing, I finally attended my first Critical Mass ride last night!
photo by Nicholas Freeman
Critical Mass is a group ride intended to draw the attention of motorists to the growing number of cyclists on the streets. Individually, we are easy to bully, cut off, and run over (as not one but TWO motorists came close to doing yesterday during my commute!), but when we gather together we own the road. The tactics are admittedly controversial—taking up multiple lanes of streets, jamming intersections, and running red lights aren't things I would normally do. And yes, sometimes the entire group is ticketed for doing such things. And sometimes they are ticketed, buzzed, or otherwise harassed for doing nothing but riding peacefully. When I lived in Seattle, there was an incident in which the Seattle Critical Mass got into a physical altercation with a motorist, seriously damaging the relationship between motorists and all cyclists (whether they were involved or not). For these reasons I wasn't completely sure about joining up with a group with that reputation. Apart from anything else, I can't really afford to accrue any moving violations, which for the record (since I get asked about this frequently) can be issued to cyclists for any of the same reasons that they are issued to motorists, like running a stop light, failing to signal, not having proper lights, or being drunk. After what I had read online, I had fully expected that at least some members of the group would be ticketed, and would not have been surprised if we either started with or acquired a police escort.

12 July 2010

NEW FEATURE: The Bike Commuter Index

Hello all, long time no post! Major apologies for that, but I return to introduce a new feature: the Bike Commuter Index. Some long-time friends may know that I developed this a few years back and have long kept it as a test of how popular commuting by bike is in my neighborhood. The basic idea is to count how many bike commuters there are in a given area/along a given route. To make it neutral, I count on a per-mile basis, so that the counter riding additional miles cannot boost the numbers. The method is as follows:

+1 for every bike commuter you see on your commute (must be roughly during "rush hours") who is dressed for work/in normal clothes, or is carrying a backpack or pannier
+1/2 for every rider in spandex NOT carrying backpack or panniers. I don't want to be counting people out for "training rides" who regard biking as a sport and actually drive to work. I figure it's half-and-half whether they have a change of clothes waiting for them at work, or are just being sporty.
+1/2 for every bike seen mounted on the front of a bus. Multi-modal commuters are good too, but not strictly bike commuters. Admittedly, I don't always notice this, but I figure it should count when I do.
+0 for children under driving age. Sorry, doesn't count. Though if you can't quite tell, go ahead and count them.
+0 for parked bikes. Who knows how long they've been there, how long they'll stay there, how often they're actually used... Sorry, nope.
-1/2 for every near-accident you witness or are involved in. This deters bicyclists.
-2 for every ACTUAL accident you witness or are involved in. See above, but worse.
Now divide by the number of miles ridden!

For instance, this morning I saw 11 bicyclists, plus myself so 12, with no accidents or incidents of any sort. My route to work is 5 miles, so the BCI for this morning was 2.4! So for every mile ridden, there's an average of 2.4 bicyclists out there.

This will start to have more context as I post in this series more often, but for now I'll just mention that when I developed this around 3 years ago, most days the BCI didn't even hit 1.0. I'm definitely riding a more bicycle-friendly route now, so that accounts for some of it, but I'm still pleased that it's gone up. On the other hand, the car-commuter index would be in the tens of thousands if I could manage to count it, so that's still a little depressing.

26 April 2010

To the kids that frequent Culver Center...

STOP STEALING MY BIKE LIGHTS! Seriously. A few weeks ago while I was at the gym, my front light ran away. I replaced it but have been keeping it in my bag, only attaching it at night while riding, which is a total pain. Since the back light was still there I assumed it was uninteresting to potential thieves... wrong. Just last week I was leaving the gym, and when I went to turn it on it wasn't there.

11 April 2010

Speeding up LA's Mass Transit Plans

So the big news this week is that LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been promoting the 30/10 Plan, which aims to bring mass transit to Los Angeles a full 20 years ahead of schedule. Is it snarky to say that it would be the first time LA Metro ever arrived early?

Snarkiness aside, the basic idea is this: since July 2008 we've all been paying a half-cent sales tax (passed through Measure R) that will pay for the expansion of Metro Lines, Light Rail, and Guided Bus Lines throughout Los Angeles County over the next 30 years. The projects range from extending the Green Line so that it actually goes to LAX, to whole new lines connecting the current network to the beach and West Santa Ana, and a plan this extensive takes time to plan, design, and execute, never mind the process of raising funds a half-cent at a time. The 30/10 plan would shorten the time span from 30 years to 10 by borrowing cash from the federal government (which is guaranteed to get paid back over the 30 years through the Measure R funding) and gives all the projects a nearly immediate green light. A couple of key things make this awesome:

1) We avoid 20 years worth of inflation and increased construction costs. Due to the overall economic slump construction costs are relatively low right now, and taking advantage of this could save up to $3.6 BILLION.

2) It would create jobs in planning, design, engineering, and construction which are sorely needed right now.

3) It would help LA shed its car-dependence that much more quickly. It will take time for Angelenos to embrace public transit, it's not going to happen overnight. By making this investment now, people might actually be ready to use it (and even live without cars?) by the time it was originally scheduled to be completed.

For more coverage on the 30/10 plan, I'd highly encourage you to check out this excellent post over at the Transport Politic. Also, stay tuned for further coverage here, starting with a dissection of the proposed routes. To help support this plan, head over to Move LA to see who to write or use one of their form letters.