Biking postsSunday August 25, 2013
Running More Reds in Noodge City
On the bikeride to work the other day, stopped at a red light at 1st and Denny, a dude in a truck to the left motioned me over. Initially I thought he was going to ask for directions but no.
Dude: Can I ask you something? Why do you feel you can go through that red light back there?
Me: You ever drive on the freeway?
Dude [unsure]: Yeah?
Me: You ever go over the speed limit?
Dude: OK, but ...
Me: Same thing.
He didn't think it was. I did. We talked over each other until the light turned green and we went our separate ways.
I've written before why I think running a red for a bike and speeding on the freeway for a car is similar. You can read it here.
The irony is where we had the above conversation. Stopped at a red light.
Biking in Seattle More Dangerous than in New York City, Expert Says
This was on the front page of The Seattle Times today under the headline, “Worse than Manhattan? Bike expert rattled by ride through city.”
John Pucher, a Rutgers professor, bike-safety expert, and author of the book, “City Cycling,” visited Seattle and took a ride down 2nd Avenue, which I ride every day, and which has its own bike lane. Kinda sorta. Like all bike lanes, it's there for bikes until someone bigger and more impatient wants it. Which often happens on 2nd.
In the article, Times reporter Mike Lindbloom describes Pucher's trip down 2nd:
Close encounters of the wrong kind greeted him down the southbound slope: a woman texting while her SUV drifted toward him; a FedEx delivery truck blocking; cars headed toward Interstate 5 turning in front of him at intersections; a black sedan whose driver abruptly stopped to parallel park.
Then he quotes Pucher:
“I’d say it’s as bad as a major avenue on Manhattan,” Pucher said. “I think it’s maybe even worse, because I think here, there’s more left and right turns, there’s more doors that are being opened, more cars that are trying to park.”
For Seattle, Pucher recommends cycle tracks (bike lanes separated by curbs, parked cars, whatever), and greenways (being developed in neighborhoods). He doesn't think much of sharrows (the bike symbol painted on the street as a reminder to drivers to share the road, but which looks like a flattened cyclist). I agree on all counts. I've even written about 2nd Avenue and its lousy turns a few times myself.
Here's another key graf from Lindbloom that doesn't make the Emerald City in the Evergreen State look very green:
In 1990, about 1.5 percent of Seattleites bicycled to work or school, compared with 1.1 percent in Portland. By 2011, Seattle had climbed slowly to 3.7 percent, while Portland zoomed to a 6.8 percent commute share for cycling, census surveys show. “I hope this is a wake-up call to Seattle” to build safe routes now and not in a decade, he said.
Overall, the article made me feel two ways: 1) vindicated, since we have an outside source corroborating what I've long said; and 2) tough, since I bike that shit every day. OK, three ways: it made me sad, too, about my city. We were progressive once.
Running Reds in Noodge City
Yesterday, biking to work, I was stopped at a red light on 5th and Pine when I saw no more traffic coming down 5th and ran the light. Halfway across, a middle-aged pedestrian, on the other side, caught my eye and said the following, drawing out the word in an odd, admonishing fashion:
I burst out laughing.
It was partly the way he said it. If the dude had had a sense of humor, he would’ve meant it ironically, or with a wink, but there wasn’t a trace of humor in his voice or stance. There was just a tsk tsk.
Among strangers, this is the dominant form of communication in Seattle. Newcomers talk of “the Seattle chill,” and how no one talks to anyone; but Seattle is also Noodge City, full of those ready to shake an admonishing finger about things that have no real consequence. I get admonished for running reds half a dozen times a year.
To all of these people I say the following: Do you ever break the speed limit? Of course you do. Who doesn’t? You’d be a fool not to. In fact, it would be dangerous not to. Driving 50? Or 45? On the freeway? Are you crazy? You’re a hazard.
And the reasons we break the speed limit on the freeway are the same reasons cyclists, or at least this cyclist, runs reds in downtown Seattle: 1) it rarely results in a ticket, just as, driving 5 mph over the speed limit rarely results in a ticket; 2) it’s faster, and we all want to get where we’re going sooner; and 3) it's safer. On the freeway, you want to go at the same pace as most drivers. On a bicycle at a stoplight, you want to build some distance, and speed, between you and all of those impatient cars behind you.
In a sense, we do it for you. You're welcome.
How I Nearly Died on the Way to Work Yesterday
SEATTLE — It was raining pretty hard for my morning bike ride yesterday morning, and I was soaked by the time I got close to work. I live in First Hill and the office is in lower Queen Anne, so I tend to weave through downtown, over to 1st Avenue North, take a left by Key Arena and then a right onto 1st Avenue West for half a block. At which point, halfway down the two-lane road, I take a left into a parking lot, which leads to the bike racks below our office building.
(Aside: Only in Seattle would you have, on either side of a major street, two 1st Avenues labeled “North” and “West,” even though they run parallel to each other. Shouldn't it be “North” and “South”? Or “East” and “West”?)
The turn onto 1st Avenue West is always a drag. It's a four-way stop, and there are almost always cars, generally impatient, heading up 1st Avenue West. I'm coming down a slight hill, then have to turn over a rough patch of road, and then go up a slight hill. More, I need to own the lane, rather than ride on the right-hand side of it, since I'm about to turn left into the parking lot. Doing this, I assume I'm pissing off cars behind me. I assume they're wondering, “Why is this asshole taking up the middle of our lane? Why isn't he off to the right so I can get past him?” By that point, hopefully, I've taken my left into the parking lot, they go, “Oh,” and all is good.
Yesterday morning, as I was about to make that final left, the car behind me—a pickup truck, it turned out, perpetuating my stereotype of pickup-truck drivers—gunned its engines and flew past me in the left lane, just as I was about to turn into that lane to get into the parking lot. If I wasn't paying attention, I would've been flattened.
I cursed a blue streak but the guy drove away. He was late, after all. He had important business, after all.
On the way home, I saw another pickup truck fly through a red light on Denny. Like five seconds after it had turned red. I think he just wasn't paying attention.
Anyway, another day. Still here.
This is the way I think I'll end
This is the way I think I'll end
This is the way I think I'll end
Not with a whimper but a splat
Dave Eggers' Review of Grant Peterson's 'Just Ride': Annotated
The following review of Grant Petersen's book, “Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike,” by Dave Eggers, was published in The New York Times Book Review last Sunday. I objected when I read it then. Today, a Facebook friend posted it favorably. My objections now.
Many a weekend bicycle rider has had the same unsettling experience: You ask a friend to ride with you along some scenic, low-impact route. You show up wearing shorts, Sambas and a T-shirt, and he shows up dressed for an Olympic time trial. Sambas? On his torso is a very tight shirt slashed with a half-dozen garish colors and logos irrelevant to him. His helmet, decorated with flames or stripes or both, is equipped with a rearview mirror. A rubber straw dangles around his neck like a fur stole, through which he can drink fluids from a container on his back. And then there are the spandex leg-enclosures. These have patches of yellow on either flank, giving the impression that your friend is wearing chaps. Yellow-and-black spandex chaps.
All this for a 10-mile ride on a bike path. Now that's one well-dressed straw man. (But I agree on the spandex chaps.)
If you can identify with the more casually dressed biker described above (what if you identify with neither?), or if you want to go biking but have been scared away by the sport’s cult of gear and equipment (or traffic?), then your bible has been written. Grant Petersen’s “Just Ride” is a wonderfully sane, down to earth and frequently funny guide to riding, maintaining, fixing and enjoying your bicycle. That so much common sense will be considered revelatory, even revolutionary, is a testament to how loony the bike world has become.
Petersen opens with this salvo: “My main goal with this book is to point out what I see as bike racing’s bad influence on bicycles, equipment and attitudes, and then undo it.” And he goes on to prove, conclusively, that most of what ails the world of cycling comes from nonprofessional riders pretending, or being bullied into pretending, that they’re professionals. The solution, he says, is to emulate kids and other “Unracers” — people who bike for fun and not profit. What if you bike for transportation? What if you bike commute? Is that dealt with at all? Aren't bike commuters, like, 90 percent of the cyclists most people see? (Or, more often, don't see.)
The accepted orthodoxies are upended, one after another. Petersen is skeptical of special biking shoes. I felt the same until I ruined too many tennis shoes biking in the Seattle rain. Bike shoes are much more rain resistant. He is pro-kickstand, pro-mud-flap. Definitely pro-kickstand. Where did that go? Bring it back! He thinks a wide, comfortable saddle is O.K. Who doesn't? He doesn’t see why anyone needs more than eight gears. Well, he's a professional. Biking up some of Seattle's hills at the end of a long day, at the end of a long week, I don't mind having those extra low gears. He thinks fragile carbon-fiber bikes and super-narrow tires are impractical for just about everyone (“Getting paid to ride them is the only good reason I can think of to ride that kind of bike”). I guess. I have a hybrid. He has nuanced thoughts on helmets (he wears his at night but not during the day) and reminds us that biking is “lousy all-around exercise” and shouldn’t be considered a stand-alone regimen. I didn't wear a helmet until I took a header against a car's bumper in '94. Now I wear one all the time. Then again, I bike in traffic. But most satisfying is his takedown of the tight-shirt, spandex-shorts phenomenon. Does that include tight cotton shirts? Is it the tightness or the fabric of the shirt that we're objecting to here? I'm confused.
“In its need for special clothing,” he writes, “bicycle riding is less like scuba diving and more like a pickup basketball game.” A regular cotton T-shirt and a pair of shorts will ventilate better, he says, and if you’re not trying to shave seconds off a world record, the microscopic aerodynamic advantages of tight synthetic clothing just don’t apply to you. Again, I'm not a fan of spandex shorts--especially on guys. But shirts? You know how long it takes a cotton shirt to dry after biking with a backpack on a hot day? Too often I'd bike to work in the morning in a cotton T and by evening it was still damp. Ick.
Coming from just anyone, this kind of thinking wouldn’t carry much weight. But Petersen raced for six years, then worked at Bridgestone, Japan’s largest bike maker, as a designer and marketer. When the company closed its American office, he opened his own shop, Rivendell Bicycle Works, in Walnut Creek, Calif. It would seem, then, that Petersen, as the ultimate insider, would be the first guy to push expensive racing gear on every would-be enthusiast to walk into his shop. And yet!
But with this book, he’s trying to bring biking back to a state of moderation and rationality. If you like the gear, he’s fine with that, and if you don’t agree with all his advice, no problem. But he makes the case that at its core, biking should be a simple, democratic, sometimes ludicrously enjoyable means of getting around. It should be. But what prevents that, more than cyclists who over-gear and somehow “shame” the rest of us, is this: traffic. It's that we've designed a society for automobiles rather than for cyclists and pedestrians. What keeps most people in their cars, I've found, is people in their cars.
“No matter how much your bike costs,” he says, “unless you use it to make a living (or unless you commute?) , it is a toy, and it should be fun.” I use my bike to commute. It's fun. But it's not a toy.
Amen. Ride safe.