Monday, March 2, 2015

Ross Township Bike-Ped Committee thoughts, Part 1

I have high hopes for this newly formed Bike-Ped committee, which met for the first time on 25 Feb. That's tempered by their frequently repeated wish for bike lanes. I don't want bike lanes. More to the point, I don't want to waste our time and energy pursuing something that, while all shiny and appealing, does not accomplish our goal of getting people around on a bike safely.

Similarly, the ped folks want sidewalks. Problem with that is, doing that would require either widening the right of way or narrowing the travel area on most streets. That's a fail on multiple levels: The cost is high, physically the terrain makes it difficult, and people don't want to have to maintain something forced on them. More importantly, I don't think that it's achievable, at least not as achievable as other, simpler tasks which accomplish the same goal of encouraging walking and jogging.

The fundamental problem is that we want to backfit a 21st-century livability rubric onto a mid-20-century suburban sprawl street pattern. Most of the town was laid out with the understanding that 100% of all travel would be by automobile. Absent one, travel is difficult to impossible. And getting to that is exactly what we want to accomplish.

We are not the first township in such a pickle. I suggest we identify who has faced it already, study what they tried, and what successes and failures and experiences they had.

For my part, it would help if I identified some resources, and in general track down some of what I suggest above, to be shared with the rest of the committee:
* As described in the paragraph above, who has done this before, and how well did it work?
* Videos and other resources from I Am Traffic about bike lanes
* Places in Ross where I had negative interaction with motorists while on a bike.
* Places in Ross where I have had difficulty walking
* Access to trails in Ross, at least those I find likely
* A bit about invasive species, notably Japanese knotweed, and how it might be controlled
* Write up a summary of my 27 Feb run-in with a motorist on Perry Hwy
* Summarize my #fuckinghorn experiences from @bus15237 on Twitter
* About rolling back parking minimums. Where did that originally come from? How do you reverse that?

That would be a good jumping-off point for further discussion at the second and following meetings.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Critical Mass Pittsburgh, February 2015

I had a nice little ride all by myself. Without really trying, I laid out a challenging course, which I might do again next month when the weather is more conducive to gathering a crowd.

From Dippy:
* R Forbes
* L Craig
* L Fifth Ave
* R Sixth Ave
* jiggle across Liberty to Seventh St
* cross Andy Warhol (7th St) Bridge
* L Lacock
* becomes Reedsdale
* L Allegheny Ave
* becomes North Shore Drive
* L Mazeroski Way
* R West General Robinson
* R Federal St
* cross Roberto Clemente (6th St) Bridge
* L Liberty
* R Sixth Ave
* R Grant St
* L Forbes and return to Dippy

On that last entry, I actually did that earlier, biking to the start of the ride. Afterward, since I work in the Frick Building, I stopped at my office for a bit, then caught a bus home.

Some of the more challenging aspects of the route:
* getting left on Forbes
* lots of foot traffic on Craig
* lots of car traffic on Fifth, the whole way in
* passing buses in Oakland
* claiming and keeping that lane on the rise after the Birmingham Bridge
* claiming and keeping that lane on the rise up Sixth Ave to Centre
* really bad pavement on Sixth from Smithfield to Wood
* claiming and keeping the lane across the bridge
* the transition to Reedsdale is NOT bike-friendly
* Reedsdale itself is one lane, then two-lane, and bikes use the LEFT lane
* if Stage AE is having an event, as it was last night, people and cars are everywhere going every direction
* WGen Robinson might have a lot of parked cars, might not, but if it does, you might get a lot of grief from motorists who want to double the speed limit past PNC Park
* the transition off the 6th St Br requires a left lane change
* Grant requires a left lane change at Forbes
* claiming and keeping the lane all the way out to the Birmingham Bridge
* THE toughest part of the ride is claiming and keeping the lane AFTER that corner
* the second toughest part is getting directly in front of cars going 65 mph off the bridge and forcing them to slow to 15
* the third toughest part is claiming and keeping the lane on the climb up to Craft

To reiterate, if you can negotiate this seven-mile loop through the city, you can deal with most anything.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Not having a car, in the suburbs, at all

For over 20 years, we have been a one-car household, living in the suburbs. We upped that game, effective today, by continuing to be a one-car household, but with that car somewhat permanently being 180 miles away.

You read that right: No car. At all. In the suburbs. For the foreseeable future. How will we survive? How did we get this way? Will this ever change? All good questions. But maybe we should start at the beginning.

A generation ago, we lived in rural New Stanton and had four cars on the road for the three drivers in the family. One by one, the cars ceased to be, coincident with a move to McCandless following a year of using public transit from a second home in Robinson. Transit worked for the Robinson to Monroeville commute, accomplished by leaving the second car in Monroeville, and using the bus to get from Robinson to the car, left in a park-and-ride lot overnight. This continued for a couple of years after the McCandless move.

We went down to one car after the second was wrecked, and we chose not to replace it. For 1994, this was a rather chancy move, as I still had a three-mile trip on foot from the bus to work, often but not always assisted by friends and co-workers who knew my plight. That job ended soon after, and from there on, there was no turning back. I was transit dependent by choice, and reveled in it. The $5,000/year I figured I was saving, over 20 years, paid for the house several years early and helped me pay for a Masters degree.

We replaced the one aging car in 2012, but still have almost half the principal yet to pay on it. Because of that, and because of paying my daughter's tuition, the purchase of a second car was and is out of the question. But then something else unexpected happened: My wife was in a should-have-been-minor parking lot bump, but which resulted in a concussion, and a medically ordered long-term vacation from driving. On top of this, my son does not drive at all, and I hardly ever drive except for one weekly errand.

Meanwhile, daughter off at college is in an educational program that requires use of a car to get her to a remote practicum a couple times a week. She needs the car. We need use of a car for the occasional shopping or medical trip, but otherwise, no, we do not need to always have a car in the driveway.

To reiterate, this is a big decision. The nearest grocery is 0.7 mile away; the grocery of choice is 1.6 miles away. Any other shopping, any other voluntary trip -- social, entertainment, religious, pretty much anything -- is going to be ... interesting.

I bike to get around, so does Gabe, but Sarah does not. In addition, it is the dead of winter. As I write this, the outside air is 14 F. Travel by bike probably isn't going to happen for any of us until it gets a little warmer, and even then, is not going to help her.

I do have a motorcycle, but it too has a major problem at the moment. I was rear-ended a few weeks ago, and so it is in need of major repairs. I haven't even obtained an estimate on the damage yet, partly due to the cold and snow. But even if it was warm and repaired, that still doesn't help much with bringing home bags of groceries.

One option is ZipCar, the rent-by-the-hour car-sharing program. This isn't cheap, at about $10/hour beyond the $55 sign-up fees, and presents its own set of problems in addition to providing a potential solution to being stranded. Since Sarah doesn't drive, if I wanted to use ZipCar to take her somewhere, I would need to bus or bike downtown, take out a ZipCar, drive it home, drive her wherever, wait until she's done,  then drive the car back downtown. All of this would likely have to compete with employment for my time. Can I afford to take a half-day off so I can spend $50 or more to borrow a ZipCar to take her somewhere? That can get expensive.

Of course, there are taxis, and the good hearts of friends. Both too have their benefits and drawbacks, and costs in either money or the limits of those good hearts. At this writing, Sarah cannot even walk any distance from the house on foot, let alone drive, so both of those have to be on the table as viable options.

In short, I have a quandary.

Shopping will likely require the use of the large pannier I took out of service a year ago because it was in such bad shape. Possibly I can reassemble it, but it might just be easier to buy another. A second capital expense may have to be a bike trailer, which would make some sense for when I need to transport any substantive amount of groceries. Meanwhile, I should plan on smaller trips a couple times a week to pick up the occasional gallon of milk or dozen oranges, that I can carry in the pannier or a backpack. However I do it, it will likely be mine to do.

Unknowns at this point include any idea of cost. Amy will be driving some, but likely less than we would be if the car was here. Aldi might be the cheapest grocery, but if grocery trips on foot have to occur, they will be at the Shop & Save in Pines Plaza, which can be half-again more expensive than Aldi. Noplace else is close enough to consider.

That, however, is the game we will play until at least March, and maybe May. It would be nice if a couple dozen thousand landed in our laps so we could go car shopping, but I don't see that happening. Even if it did, I don't know if I would spend it on a second car so much as paying off the first and making some major house repairs.

A no-car suburbanite, for real this time. Let's see how this goes.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Reflecting on 3,359 miles biked in 2014

Final 2014 numbers. This is what 3,359 miles looks like.

The monthly bus pass subscription expired 2/28/2014.

What 414 miles in October looks like. That Saturday hole was there all year. Sundays were pretty spotty for riding, too.

One random day in October. Biked in on Babcock, home on Federal and Perrysville. Something like this, every day you see 20+ miles.

Here is a day when I biked in but took the bus home. Most days with about 12 miles are like this. The "Half mile across downtown" was any of about 10 ways to get from City-County Building to whichever bus stop I used, all of which land in the .39-.61 mile range.

What does this prove? That it can be done. I bike as much as I can, but I use the bus when I want to. Each 11-mile trip is $3.75 in bus fare I didn't spend. Every day I went in by bike was $15 in parking I didn't spend, nor was any fuel involved.

The number of miles traveled exceeded 2013's total by over 800 miles, which exceeded the previous year by about 650. Theoretically, I could bike 5,000 miles in a year and not do anything remarkably different, merely commuting more, particularly in the winter. I don't know if I will, but I could, and probably could hold myself to it if I really wanted to. But for here, anyway, I will simply leave it at that I have shown it can be done, regularly, by a non-athletic man in his mid-50s without any special clothing or equipment. That should be message enough.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Goals for 2015

Every year, I draw up a wish list or plan to strive for in the coming 12 months. No exception this year, though my rough sketch is only taking shape as I type this. As ever, it's all about the bicycle, though the larger goal is trying not to drive.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to make it possible for everyone not to have to drive.

#1: Bike 3,000 miles, mainly on public streets. In 2014 at this writing, I am just short of 3,300. In 2013, I managed over 2,500 miles. In 2012, I put 1,900+ miles under me. Assuming no other big changes, this should be do-able.

#2: Be in at least as good physical condition on December 31, 2015, as I am on January 1, 2015. During the year, I will turn 57. I'm doing okay so far. I've never been anything close to an athlete. Being able to think about biking 3,000+ miles, mainly through commuting, I suspect is more than some people half my age would attempt. Well, more power to them, too.

#3: Write a blog post about my car-lite municipal travel experiences, at least once a week.

#4: Video record my everyday travels as often as my technology allows, and share any bits I consider relevant to others' edification.

#5: Continue experimenting with knotweed control on trails and other spaces impeding bike and pedestrian travel. Document what I learn.

#6: Video record every street and trail in McCandless Township, by bicycle, and make my knowledge and experiences known via a blog.

#7: Lead Critical Mass rides just as I did in 2014 and 2013, and document my experiences.

#8: Enhance working relationships with the Pittsburgh cycling community, and others in leadership positions for furthering cycling, transit, and pedestrian transportation.

#9: Employ my speaking abilities developed through Toastmasters to speak publicly about cycling, transit, and pedestrian transportation.

#10. Press to get the Wabash Tunnel opened for routine unrestricted bicycle travel.

I could go on, but it's safe to say that anything I said I would try to do in past years is still in play in the coming year. Contacting legislators. Participating on rides and marshaling. Fleet maintenance. Being a leader.

Achieving world domination

I am not really a fan of the People For Bikes plan for installing exclusive bike lanes on Pittsburgh streets. I can understand their point, but have no desire to rehash here their good and bad points. All that matters is that we have a couple miles of these tracks now, which are great for publicity and promoting the idea of cycling as a normal, acceptable, expected, and respected way of getting around. So far, so good, I think, but it does not come close to accomplishing world domination.

They are ballyhooed as being safer, but from what I've seen of them so far, I don't buy the safer bit. Safety aside, for all their cost, both monetary and political, they do not even start to address cyclists' need to travel on the thousands of miles of streets that do not have and will not ever get such lanes. It is to those other thousands of miles of streets that I direct your attention.

The way I see it, the paramount issue facing cyclists everywhere is not being able to bike down any street they want or need to. They face opposition from all levels. Whether motorists, truckers, police, highway departments at all levels, media figures, politicians, pedestrians, or even other cyclists, nobody, it seems, is willing to grant that cyclists have the right to travel everywhere they already do have that right. The opposition takes different forms, but all forms share the central belief that we are not supposed to be there.

That must change. It will. I will help it change.

Here's the thing: By accomplishing that, I am achieving world domination. By cyclists. And we will prevail.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Playing "Thread-the-Needle"

On Monday, Dec 8, a series of drivers played “thread-the-needle” with me and oncoming traffic. Explanation: On any given road, in any given lane, only one vehicle may be in that lane at a time. Specifically, a car and a bike cannot both be in a 14-foot-wide lane, side by side, at the same time. There was no crash or other altercation, but the incident serves as an example of the problem.

In PA, if a motorist wants to pass a bicycle, PA law requires the motorist to pass at least four feet from the cyclist. Really, this means change lanes first, pass the other vehicle (the bicycle), then pull back in, same as you would when passing a car. Other restrictions about having sufficient space for oncoming traffic still apply. Not to do that is unsafe passing, also a ticketable offense (§3305) .

I was inbound between the Shop ‘n Save and Rita’s Italian Ices shop on Babcock Blvd at the north edge of Millvale. The first of four cars passed me with a decent amount of space probably about three feet. The second and third were more like two feet off. The fourth managed to squeeze between me and oncoming traffic, maybe a foot away. All of them were going close to 35, the posted limit, but certainly not “within not less than four feet at a careful and prudent reduced speed”, as directed by §3303a3.

Fortunately, both front and rear video cameras captured what happened. Here are two-minute excerpts of each. I tried to align them such that I reach the end of a bridge at the 10-second mark.

Front video:
Rear video:

These start at Babcock and Douglas, about a quarter mile north of the Shop ‘n Save. Note the decently wide shoulder at the start of the video. I am on the shoulder here, as I have been for about the past mile. It’s paved and six feet wide, so why not.
0:08 – This bridge was rebuilt Summer 2014.
0:15 – Car passes me without incident by the “1717 Sigmas” building. I often use this building as a landmark.
0:25 – The shoulder narrows considerably after the “Around the Corner Bar”, so I merge into the traffic lane. (I did signal to the car behind me.)
0:28 – Unrideable shoulder. Car passes me a bit close, but not a problem. I choose to ride in the right tire track.
0:36 – Large hole on edge of traffic lane on bridge. No shoulder at all. I remain in right tire track for the duration of this video. (I really should fully take the lane.)
0:50 – Passing Shop ‘n Save. Dark-orange SUV waits for traffic; this becomes the fourth car, which passes me very closely.
0:55 – First of four cars passes me, maybe three feet clearance. Could’ve/Should’ve gotten fully over, there is no oncoming traffic.
0:59 – Note the huge hole, which is actually a drain grate I reported on the dangerous-drain-grates thread several years ago.
0:59 – Second car passes me, only about two feet clearance. This one, too, was not in imminent danger from oncoming traffic, though a lot closer than the first one.
1:06 – Third car, a black Jeep, also only about two feet off my elbow, playing thread-the-needle between me and oncoming traffic.
1:18 – Fourth car passes me much too closely, only about a foot away, with oncoming traffic right there. PA plate HVX-6133. A screen shot at the 10:54:15 timestamp in my front video shows that the oncoming car was itself on the white line. However, HVX-6133 is not over the yellow. It’s just narrow through here.
1:44 – As soon as I pass the light at Rita’s, the lane widens considerably.

Here is what I want to see happen:

  1. Reduce the speed limit from 35 to 25 from the 1717 Sigmas building to the existing 25 zone at the north end of Millvale, by Rita's.
  2. Enforce that.
  3. Fix those drain grates so they won't throw a cyclist, as well as other transient holes in the road.
  4. Sharrow the road at least up to the Shop 'n Save.

This bit of road is maintained by Allegheny County.