Sunday, July 5, 2015

A month of HealthyRide bikes

Back in May, I assisted with the city's bicycle-pedestrian count, and for that, I got to try out the new HealthyRide bike rental system free of charge for a month. It went reasonably well, and I recommend the system to anyone. Here is my quick review of the first month.

When it first went online, during the May 31 OpenStreets celebration, only about 1/4 of the stations and bikes were up and running. It took most of that first month to bring all the stations online. The last I checked, 49 of 50 were up.

For short, one-way trips, the $2-for-30-minute rental works quite well. An Oakland-to-downtown trip, or downtown-to-Northside, can actually be done cheaper and faster by bike than by bus, particularly if you have to wait even a few minutes for the bus.

The bikes work pretty well. Each is equipped with head- and taillights, though they shut off when you come to a stop. I wish they had a small battery system that kept the lights running after coming to a stop. If I'm riding after dark and waiting at a traffic light, I at least need to be seen by other drivers, if not also scope out the area I am about to traverse.

Gearing is OK, but could be better. They are equipped with a seven-speed IGH (internal geared hub), so there are no external gears to grease up your pant cuffs. The range seemed geared too high for my tastes. While I did not take it up any steep hills, I did climb Shady from Fifth to Wilkins on one, and that was tougher than I expected. Note that I regularly climb Federal Street, so am no stranger to hills. 

Then there was the slippage. Not one of the bikes stayed reliably in all seven gears all the time, though some were worse than others. Worst seemed to be the mid-range 4th and 5th gears. The situation did improve during the month. I suspect that problem bikes were identified and adjusted, and I hope that this will continue to improve.

They were comfortable to ride, smooth and cushy, unlike my own bikes which are built for road travel, and so give a rough ride. These have step-through frames, so no need to throw a leg over to get on. Each has a small basket, but if you have to carry something, I recommend bringing a tote bag to contain it and a bungee to hold it in place better.

Station spacing could be better, but I think this was as much my own learning curve as anything. One station is right outside the office building where I work, but I did not figure out where the best places to turn in were on the other end, at least not without some practice. At that, I found I could sometimes make the return trip faster on foot. For anyone else, just be sure where you are going before you take out the bike.

I did mount the bike on a Port Authority bus rack once. They're heavy bikes, 38 pounds (? check that) -- not so heavy that they strain the rack's weight capacity, but heavy enough that a small or non-athletic rider might have trouble lifting it onto and off the rack.

Renting the bikes was simple. I just made sure the phone app was started as I came down the elevator, then a quick beep as I scanned the QR code, gave it a yank and was on my way. After over a dozen rentals, I never did get the knack of returning the bike quickly, though I got better with practice. In theory I should be able to roll up to a station rack, shove it into place, get a beep and a blink, and walk away. But I learned to look at the phone app and make sure the system acknowledged that the bike was returned properly. Again, practice. Worst case scenario, I could not get it to work, so had to call the Customer Service number and let them know where the bike was (e.g., locked to a nearby fence). Problem was, that one time I was a little tight on time and so missed the bus I was trying to catch. 

Some have reported trouble with the built-in lock. The couple times I used it, I had no trouble at all. As with anything, YMMV.

I fear that learning these will be like learning the transit system for the first time. It took a bunch of tries to get the hang of making it work smoothly and knowing where to go. Similar to seeking out the best parking garage to drive to instead of having an ocean of asphalt outside every destination, as in the suburbs, there is some inherent human tuning that some people will figure out and some people will not.

Totally separate is the issue of knowing how to ride in traffic. Myself, I am quite comfortable taking a full lane of traffic, whether on a multi-lane street (Grant, Forbes, 7th or 16th St Bridges) or a one-lane-each-way street (Butler, East Carson, Wilkins). I saw plenty of edge-huggers, "salmon" (wrong-way) and sidewalk riders. The safest place is in the street and in the lane, but getting people to do that is not HealthyRide's job -- though I would hope they would say that themselves.

One mild surprise was dealing with Customer Service. Operators are bi-lingual, and their second language is English --their first being German. Expect that, and use the first couple of exchanges with the person to get your language bearings established. I had no trouble understanding them, nor they me, but German accents are not what most of us expect when calling a service number.

Last thing: Keep your 6-digit PIN number where you can access it in a hurry. Better yet, memorize it.

I recommend everyone get the app and use the system a few times, so that you can rely on it in a hurry if you have to. Going forward, I will likely use it on an as-needed basis, since I almost always have a bike in town already. The alternative is a choice of subscription plans, which I won't try to detail here. But $2 for a half-hour rental, then $2 for each half-hour beyond, is not that unreasonable, though some personal tuning might be in order. Taking one out for an afternoon could run into some money that way. I didn't investigate, as that is not a usage I needed nor anticipate needing.

All told, the system works, and is getting better as it settles in. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Just to recap, some of the irons in my fire

Just to recap...

My goal in life is to make it possible *not* to drive. To that end, I am involved with all of the following: 

1) I regularly commute 11 miles each direction by bicycle, 12 months a year, in a four-season climate, anytime conditions warrant. I do this to show others that it can be done, then I share my experiences on social media. Learn from my experience and try it yourself.

2) I regularly commute by public transit, and document my experiences and ideas for others to use. I've been doing this for 25 years, saving me tens of thousands of dollars in the process. Learn from the information I share, so that you can, too.

3) I video my bike rides, using front and rear cameras. This shows other cyclists how to ride in mixed traffic, and documents the ways inconsiderate motorists make cycling difficult or dangerous. Learn from what I share, and do not be one of those people.

4) I lead bike rides, and participate in others, which demonstrate how to ride in traffic legally and safely. Some of these rides, in turn, help raise money for or awareness of worthy causes. As Elbert Hubbard wrote, if you would make people better, set an example.

5) My participation on the Ross Township bike-ped committee helps identify ways to make it easier to get around on foot or bike in neighboring Ross. (Though I live in McCandless, most of my daily journey is in Ross.)

6) As president of the Allegheny County Transit Council, I enhance citizen input to the staff, management, and board of directors of Pittsburgh's metro transit system. If you ride transit and wish to help, please talk to me.

7) My participation on the Amtrak Bicycle Task Force will make it possible for cyclists to take their bikes on passenger trains across the U.S. without having to take them apart first. The first such routes will be available in July. It all started by me asking Amtrak if it was possible, and was told no. Twice. But I kept asking.

8) I actively participate on the Bike-Pgh message board, sharing information about improving the riding experience for anyone cycling in Pittsburgh. Everything I learn about biking, I share there.

9) Since I also regularly ride a motorcycle, I am keenly aware of the same safety and visibility issues as faced by pedalcyclists, as well as difficulties parking as a commuter. If m/c parking was more plentiful, there would be less need for car parking, and less traffic congestion.

10) Through my participation in Toastmasters, I am practicing how to be a better speaker, leader, and communicator so that I can do all of the above more effectively.

11) Finally, since I do drive occasionally, I understand the needs drivers have of avoiding congestion, finding easy parking, and encountering cyclists on the road.

Because I use all of these travel modes and maintain all these vehicles, I am keenly aware of the comparative costs to getting around by car, bike, bus, motorcycle and on foot. No form of travel is without expense. Whether money, time, comfort, safety, luggage, or the nature of what has to be carried, I experience it all, and can speak with an informed voice about it.

I am convinced that people drive because they don't know how to do anything else, or are afraid to try. Many times, those fears are founded, and it is here that I do the most work. Taken as a whole, I am focused on removing barriers to alternatives to driving, wherever and whenever possible.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Not caring I didn't make 500 miles

As of 7:30 p.m. on May 31, I have ridden 463 miles this month. I have no plans to ride anywhere in the next couple hours, let alone 37 miles. That's not what I do. That's not why I ride.

I do not ride to go touring. I rarely ride for charity, except to marshal rides so others can. I do not ride in the woods, other than on a trail that happens to be along where I planned to travel anyway. I often enough ride for social reasons, but really all that is is a transportation ride that just happens to be where several (hundred) others are going, too. No, I am first and foremost a commuter, a utility rider. If there's somewhere I need to go, and it makes sense to do it by bike, I will.

Ages ago, it seems, I grew disaffected with cars. I've mentioned many times before, around 1990 I had four cars on the road, and often all four cars moved in a single day, certainly in the space of a week. Keeping all this rolling stock in acceptable mechanical repair was costing me a fortune. Two died in two years and were not replaced. A third was taken out in a wreck, but I consciously chose not to replace it, as I discovered public transit was a viable, if difficult option. But from 1995 on, we were a one-car household.

Simply put, the money saved in maintaining one car instead of four allowed me to get a Masters degree, pay off the house eight years early, and put away a sizable amount for our kids' college. But that was transit savings. Bikes were not in the picture yet.

Enter a long period of unemployment. Every dollar got argued over. Every nickel was squeezed until the buffalo howled. I carefully tracked every expense that wasn't a utility bill. Quickly I realized gasoline was the most controllable expense. The bus was a simple, annual expense already built into the budget, but fuel was not. A $25 fill-up was inevitable, but every 10 days or every 15? Could I stretch it to 17? 20? I could if I began replacing non-commute trips with a bike. (She worked, I didn't, and it simply was not possible to make her trip by bus.)

The more I tried it, the more I realized it was possible to get around by bike. I shared what I knew on the Bike-Pgh message board with other kindred souls, and learned from them in return. When job possibilities did materialize, I found that the trip to and from could actually be done, many in not much more time than it took for the bus to get me there. By 2009-2010, I was trying a bike commute in the winter, and on the occasional weekend shift when the bus just wouldn't work.

By 2012, I was tracking mileage, and was thus able to see my mileage build up over time. That year, I racked up 1,900 miles. My downtown job made bike commuting as desirable as the 2011 transit service cuts made it necessary. Access to changing facilities, as in the 2009 job, made it easy to clean up after a sweaty trip in. In 2013 I rode 2,554 miles. An analysis of my bus riding habits, as tracked by Twitter, showed I would only have used $1,200 in fare, but I paid in $1,600.

By 2014, I'd learned much more about cyclists' road rights, and exercised them. This opened things up ever so much more. With a clear move away from transit, I now regularly racked up 300-mile months, with occasionally 400-mile months. By year's end, I had over 3,500 miles under me. But 500 miles a month seemed unreachable.

Come May 2015, I was commuting by bike as a matter of course, the weather was amenable to riding both ways, and of course, very few trips by bus. Every day I could bike both ways was $7.50 I didn't spend, and those savings add up. As of today, I only used $30 in bus fare all month, as compared to the $146/month the bus pass would have cost me.

The point is, transit is still very much an option. I do ride when the weather is crappy, and also when I need to work on something, usually a reading or writing project. Practice for speeches is often done on my walk to or from the bus, which makes it worth the trip.

Yet 500 is itself not a goal. It's a barometer, not a milestone. I don't "need" to "reach" a 500-mile level. If I do, it's because my riding has reached a level where that's now what I do, not the other way around, to want to hit 500 so I ride more.

Maybe next month. Maybe there will be one more group ride. (I didn't do the 15-mile Critical Mass ride trip on Friday.) Maybe there won't be a missing work day (Memorial Day). Maybe I'll go somewhere on a Saturday, when I rarely go more than a half mile from the house. Maybe I'll pick up some evening meetings to attend, which usually add a few miles to the daily tally.

In any event, 463 is still a personal best, eclipsing the previous PB by a couple dozen miles. I'll take it, and have no regrets.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The misery of the long-distance suburban pedestrian

In retrospect, I should have called for a taxi. Before the night was over, I'd be in one, anyway.

This all started back in December, when I was rear-ended on my motorcycle. The bike was still functional, including all rear lights (held on now with a bungee), but needed repair at a dealer, and that was the problem. There are no dealers close to home, and none on a bus line. I could get the bike there, but how would I get back?

Snow, ice, cold, and excessive road salt (as dangerous to ride on as loose gravel) thwarted any attempt to get it fixed until the second week of March. I opted to work from home on Wednesday so I could do what needed to be done, and if I was lucky, get to the one bus back into town that went anywhere near that shop, if two miles could be considered "anywhere near".

I wasn't lucky, and my first mistake of three that made the day a failure was not having a backup plan. Delays in finding needed paperwork and getting the bike started after almost three frigid months put me at the dealer beyond when I could hike to that one bus. I had my work with me, so figured I could set up shop in a coffee shop or restaurant when I got to one, so the day itself would not be wasted. On that one point, things worked as planned, as I spent most of the afternoon in a Starbucks.

Wednesday was sunny and in the 50s, the fourth warm day after weeks and weeks of snow and cold. Water was rushing everywhere along roadsides and driveways, but the snow and ice pack was thick enough that much was still intact. This made for careful treading, picking one's way along the shoulder, where there was any, between snowbanks, ice-covered ground, running water, soggy gravel, swampy grass, broken pavement, and of course, oncoming traffic.

My second real mistake was underestimating the distance I had to travel. I figured two miles to the bus; it was over 2.5. I figured six miles from that corner to my house, or maybe it was nine (I tweeted both numbers), but it was over 11. All told, I hiked 14 miles, with a laptop strapped over my shoulder and a motorcycle helmet in hand.

Let me run through a guided tour, using Google StreetView to point out some of the finer details.

This is PA910 at Middle Road. I am walking on the left side, so have to cross this corner. The summertime view doesn't show the 5 gallons per second gush of meltwater coming down the side road as I make my way along that oh-so-wide shoulder, which, by the way, was about half that width because of chunks of ice. Oncoming traffic is supposed to be going 40-max, but was easily 50. Every fourth vehicle was a pickup truck, or larger. Easily six vehicles a minute. This 2.53 miles of PA910 took about 35 minutes.

Just another random spot along that first two miles. Imagine trying to ride a bicycle along here. This isn't some country backroad. This is THE main path across northern Allegheny County. Daily traffic counts are in the 10,000 range. There is never a break in traffic, either direction. Practically zero shoulder, either side. Tractor trailers once or twice a minute, both directions. There is no alternative path. It's flat and straight, for the most part. Ten mph over the speed limit is routine, 15+ typical, 20+ common, 25+ hardly rare.

About two hours in the Starbucks by 910 and 8 and I actually got a good bit of productive work done. I might have stayed longer but the batteries in both the laptop and the iPad were both down to near nothing, and I knew I had a long walk yet.

At one point, I noticed a lady getting off an outbound Meyers Coach bus and crossing Rt 8, not at the light, but at the gas station directly across from Starbucks. There really isn't any public transit up this way. That Meyers bus is the closest thing. Meyers owns the rights to bus service along Rt 8, a vestige of the early 1960s consolidation of dozens of bankrupt and failing trolley and bus companies. The company that had the Rt 8 service in 1960 didn't sell out to the county, and has maintained that Butler-to-Pittsburgh route ever since, now under the Meyers name. Had I been running an hour sooner, I might have caught that one mid-day inbound trip.

This, people, is what public transit on a major thoroughfare looks like when it has zero public support, only one trip in the middle of the day. And this lady had to dodge a five-lane thoroughfare mid-block to get to where she was going, which, I suspect, was a hide-and-ride at the Giant Eagle lot up the street. (Hide-and-ride: Like a park & ride, only in a grocery or plaza with prominent no-park-and-ride signs where your car is just one of the masses. If it doesn't stand out, and you park in a different spot every day, you can get away with this for quite a while.)

It was about here where I stepped into a driveway to send this tweet:
  • Walking PA910 is a bitch. Like Perrymont but faster traffic. No shoulder to speak of, ice & meltgush push you into the lane.

After climbing this narrow, nasty hill and getting safely across the intersection at the top, I sent this tweet:
  • My helmet is on my right wrist in case I need to push away from a jackhole who can't give me even 6" space.

This tweet was sent here.
  • Had to cross. River covering entire eastbound lane, incl berm. Grass next to it is a swamp.

However, that would not last long, as I felt more in danger from drivers who could not see me because they were driving directly into the sun. I could not move farther off the road, and there was noplace alongside the road to stand. That was when I sent this tweet:
  • Being on this side, the sun is in ppl's eyes, making it harder to see me. But past river now so back to proper side.

I had a problem coming down this hill. Again, water and ice entirely covered what little shoulder there was. Westbound traffic was stopped altogether because of a passing train ahead. Eastbound traffic, where I was, had noplace to veer to get around me. Now I was really in a pickle. What to do! Answer: Stand squarely in the center of the eastbound lane and *force* traffic to slow to 10 mph or less, then step aside in a spot where I could hop onto a slightly more stable chunk of ice. Once those few cars passed, then get back out into the lane and continue. I had to repeat this three times. It really takes some balls to face down traffic coming at you at 35 mph and have no intention of getting out of the way until they slow down, but what else was I going to do?  Stand in ankle-deep floodwater? Slip off the moving ice chunks and land directly in front of you? Hell no. Defy traffic. YOU WILL STOP. I waited until they got in sight, knowing the sun was shining right on me, stepped into the left tire track, *pointed* at them, legs shoulder width apart. Then when they slowed considerably, I stepped to where I could see I could get to safely.

And I'd do it again, if I had to. And I recommend the practice, should it become necessary. Safety first, and to hell with maintaining traffic flow. That's not important. Those people are stopped for a train. You will stop for me, same as if I was a downed tree.

Somewhere along here, I got the idea to figure out how wide the traffic lane was. In a lucky break in the traffic, I paced off 10-1/2 steps from white line to yellow line. That seems narrow. County maintained Perrymont Rd near my house has 10-foot lanes, and that seems narrow. This state road is only 10.5? This is the state standard? I'm not saying the road should be wider, but rather that the speed limit should be lower. 35 or 40 should be 30 or 35. And if that pisses people off, then tough. The roads aren't safe, and I don't care if daily traffic counts are 12,000+ along this segment.

Sent this tweet here:
  • Man picking up trash on opp side. I said thank you. He laughed & replied "Every little bit helps."

Sent this tweet as I approached this curve:
  • On PA910 like on Perrymont, drivers cross on the inside of the white line on a curve where it's blind. Only 10mph faster.

Toward 6:30, sun still shining, I reach Karrington Woods Drive, which I thought would take a nice little slice off the pointy corner I knew I would have to traverse if I stuck on 910 up to Babcock Blvd. As it turned out, it was over a quarter mile longer, as it curls and curves through suburban real estate carefully carved out to create the greatest number of saleable residential units. It also has sidewalks! But barely 200 yards in, I was greeted with this:

...and that would not be the only one. While many, even most, walks were clear, a few had made no effort all winter to move any snow. At the worst of these, the homeowner was just getting out of her car as I came past. While I did not say a word, I made abundantly clear that I was having trouble standing up on her still inch-thick icepack the width of her property and climbing over knee-deep snowbanks next to her very clear driveway. Not caring to make a scene any further, I did not yell or take a photo. Nor was I the only pedestrian, though I suspect the couple other people I saw simply used the street at that point.

Off of Karrington, onto Babcock, from here a straight shot toward home. This is a known cycling road, and I've cycled it myself a few times, though I'd never walked it. Walking it, though, brought back memories of those few times I'd been up it on a bike, and one of those memories was of a bunch of tree branches that stuck into the northbound berm about a mile out of North Park. I got to those trees on foot, and thought to myself, self, those trees are blocking pedestrian travel, and for the many cyclists, they're pushing them out into the lane where a lot of cyclists don't want to be. Howzbout we take care of that problem right here, right now. I also noted that "This Property Protected By" signs and posted signs were all over the place. Well, fine then. I'm not encroaching on your precious property, whoever you are, who apparently also has a quarter mile long driveway with numerous outbuildings. But apparently you have no concern for the people who have to travel past your property. So, we'll just do a little branch maintenance here. No reason to concern ourselves with the trouble of reporting you to municipal authorities for not keeping your growth cut back. In short, then, I spent easily five minutes busting off a couple dozen branches from the trees along this bit of road. Just as I have kept the growth cut back along Perrymont the many hundreds of times I've walked along it, and a couple of spots on Perry Highway. I sent a tweet that cyclists could thank me for the assist.

Once I got into North Park, I crossed to use the sidewalk on the west side of the road as there was none on the east side. Ingomar Road was closed to all traffic, so I had no problem crossing there. Continuing south, I encountered a downed tree nearly blocking the berm for all foot traffic. I was able to bust off a couple of branches, then pick the whole remaining piece and shove it over the guardrail, thereby allowing anyone to use the wide berm for walking or jogging. There actually is the remnant of a sidewalk along this bit of the road while still in the park, and I used it while it was there.

It got dark by the time I left the southern end of the park. I watched Venus begin to appear in the western sky, and a little later, faint Mars also appeared a bit below Venus. Jupiter was also bright, not quite overhead. The sky was quite clear. Then, just before I got to the Vo-Tech school, this deer stood opposite me, perfectly silhouetted against the backdrop of dusk.

Venus is bright enough in the picture above to show up in the full image, in the upper-right corner.

Once I got within sight of UPMC Passavant Hospital, I thought about the use of a 12 McKnight bus. It would gain me maybe a mile in a couple of minutes, and drop me off at my usual morning bus stop. Would it be worth it, if I could catch it? Worth running for it? The closer I got, the less enthralled I was with the idea. I had just walked nearly four hours, and this would save me, what, maybe 15 minutes? For $2.50 in bus fare? I didn't wait, and with each bus stop I passed, there grew less still any point in getting that ride. Now if this had been 2007, before the system started getting cut back severely, I would still have had an 11A trip at some point in the evening, from well out on Babcock. Ah well, it's long gone.

I could sense my legs tiring some by the time my usual bus stop came in sight. It was also getting chilly, as the meltgush was pretty much done by nightfall. It had been nearly four hours of continuous motion by this point, and I was as much bored as tired. That's when I sent this tweet:
  • 20:48 at my usual bus stop. Should be easy from here!

I got the light green as I approached, so jogged across as I usually do. Then this happened (two tweets):
  • JHK-5200 black SAV (suburban assault veh): Almost runs me over stopping 1-1/2 car lengths past stop line, then illegal no-turn-on-red.
  • So yeah, after 9 miles on foot, nearly get killed crossing with the light at the corner I use daily. Wearing a flashing yellow light!

At 9:10, I finally walked into the house and tweeted "safely home". Unfortunately the night was only getting started. I prepared myself a simple dinner, plugged in the laptop, checked on a couple of things at work, and was in bed by 10:30. What I didn't do was get anything to drink, the third big error.

About midnight, I awoke with a strange feeling. I've never barfed in a bed, partly because somewhere in the reptilian part of my brain, some wiring exists that senses things are amiss and gets me up. Hearing my wife and son talking downstairs, I went down and said "I don't feel well," then sat down at the dining room table. Next thing I knew, I was looking up at my son on the phone to 911 and my wife trying to ask me things. I managed to sit up and say the word "sick" to her. Then some other stuff happened. TMI. Anyway, 10 minutes later I'm strapped into a stretcher and put in an ambulance, the first in my adult life. I'm conscious, alert, coherent, talkative. But I repeated the [details deleted] in the E.R. the second my mouth touched a cracker, so it was no fluke. Three hours in there.

We have no car, and my wife rode over in the ambulance anyway, so there was no way home at 3:45 a.m. other than by taxicab. I had nothing on other than the PJs and T-shirt I'd worn over, and the hospital gown and a blanket. Not even shoes. And it had gotten cold! But 10 minutes and $12 later, I was back in my own house.

As one friend posted on Facebook, cross that one off the bucket list, and never do it again.

  • Conditions for pedestrians along Pennsylvania highways are unsafe by design. 
  • Speed limits are universally ignored, usually by a two-digit excess in velocity.
  • If conditions are bad in dry, sunny weather, any combination of dark, wet, bad weather, or ice, snow or water along the road, makes them magnitudes more dangerous.
  • Speed limits, even if enforced, are too high, designed to emphasize capacity over safety.
  • There really is no way to widen these roads to accommodate pedestrians or bicycles, and no money to do it even if it could be done.
I do not have any constructive suggestions. Don't walk there, don't bike there, don't drive there, don't live there. Do not use these roads. That's not much help, is it?

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.