Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dirty Dozen 2012 (written Nov 16, 2012)

It felt good to marshal this year's Dirty Dozen. The DD is a bicycle race, but it's not speed that matters, but hill climbing. Points are scored by the first three male and female riders to get to the top of 13 hills (12 this year) of gargantuan proportion. Each is scored separately. At the end, he and she with the most points wins. Top three of each gender get a prize.

Marshaling is traffic control. Each group ride is a little different, but they all have in common the need to keep people safe and keep traffic moving. In DD's case, riders flow as tight packs most of the time, so marshaling means corking auto traffic so a large, tightly packed group can clear an intersection. It is safer for all involved if the pack can travel as a pack -- something cars do not do -- so we bend the law to accommodate this.

Let me make that more clear: Safety first, and that includes the traffic rules. Let me make that even clearer: It is more important to keep groups of riders safe than it is to obey the law. When a pack of 50 riders -- or 150 riders -- comes through, marshals hold car traffic stopped for a half minute, poor babies.

Don't care for that? Too flippin' bad. A half minute a year, if you have the luck to be right there right then. A truck stuck in an intersection will slow you down more.

But I digress.

But I don't. Because that's what I did. At four corners, widely spaced in distance and time, I held up traffic for one minute so that these bunches of riders could safely traverse one traffic light.

As late as Friday, I had not committed to assisting, but when the rest of the family said they had other plans, I emailed my offer of help. My plan was to leap out of bed by 6 and get on the road by 7:45 to get to the marshals' meeting at the Highland Park Oval by 9. But with one delay after another, it was 8:30 before I got out the door, then had no fewer than five mechanical or safety problems in the first 1/2 mile of the trip. It had snowed overnight, so roads and trails were slick. I turned back. I saw no point in pushing 100% for 14 miles for a meeting I would miss most of, only to turn right around and chase halfway back from whence I came.

Two hours later, I was ready for another go. The snow had stopped, streets were clear, and earlier mechanical issues were mainly behind me. After verifying that Hill 6 (usually 7) was next, I aimed for there. I arrived just as the first riders were clearing the top. I found the head marshal and rode with him (ahead of the pack) to the first corner where they needed help, the lower Perrysville-Federal intersection. Once clear of that, I helped at the Sixth Street Bridge and Fort Duquesne Blvd corner.

From there, I just rode with the pack, as it wasn't possible to get much ahead of 200 cyclists riding through downtown, and other marshals took care of other corners. At the base of Sycamore Street, I split off, and headed well upstream of the riders, but in doing this, essentially got lost in the Banksville-Dormont part of town. More by chance than design, I happened upon another marshal I know well (Dan B), who suggested I man one corner on the South Side, 18th and Sarah, but I was far enough ahead of the pack that I actually had time to get some lunch.

On the way, I also took in a pleasant little *level* ride through the Wabash Tunnel. Someday, hopefully soon, all cyclists will be able to do so legally. I did not see a single car in the tunnel in the five minutes it took me to travel it.

I took a few horns from disgruntled motorists at 18th and Sarah while I held the light. Part of my job. Safety first.

Lastly, I rode out to Hazelwood to handle Second and Elizabeth. This one was tougher. By this point in the ride, nearly at the end, riders were sparse in number and widely spaced. There was not a "critical mass" (lower case) of riders, as there was at 18th and Sarah, so I had to intervene several times. While traffic on Second was busy, it was predictable. Less predictable was traffic coming northbound on Elizabeth. Nearly everyone was making a right, but not all. Situated as I was in the intersection, I could easily see that the front car was making a right, but I could not see if the second or following cars were also turning. One time -- JUST one time -- I let someone make a right on the green, only to discover the second car in line was going *straight*, but at that same moment, a rider came through, and seeing me having the intersection corked, rolled through the red, and I couldn't get the second driver to stop. No collision, but I was shaking. Thinking about this later, one of the following should have happened: A) Prevent everyone on Elizabeth from moving, even right turns; B) Police assistance; C) Someone to assist me; D) Not handled the corner in the first place, since there was a light.

As if that was not bad enough, a church on the opposite corner was holding a church service just then about to get underway, so there were a lot of cars pulling up in front and parking. One person opening a car door very nearly doored a rider coming by. This had nothing to do with me, but it was less than 100 feet away. It coincidentally occurred less than two minutes after the prior incident, so I was not having a good state of mind about then.

Eventually the clean-up van came through, signalling the end of the riders, so I packed up and headed back home.

Would I do it again? Definitely. But next time, I will try to get to the marshals' meeting beforehand to ensure that the best corners get coverage, and let others slide that perhaps might do better unmanned.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

1 unicycle, 5 buses, and a new year

What better way to ring in a new year than to take an epic trip on a unicycle?

For 40-ish years, Pittsburgh cyclists have ridden a group ride called the Icycle Bicycle Ride. No matter how rotten the weather, they ride. The 2013 version offered a very cold morning, a little bit of overnight snow, but a lot of refrozen slop from the several snowfalls last week. No trails were clear, so the ride itself stuck to city streets, for the most part.

I actually showed up to ride on my unicycle, but a flat tire prevented me from starting with the group of over 100 riders. Earlier, I had been able to ride the three miles into West View, but air was leaking out so fast I couldn't even make it two blocks across downtown. Fortunately, someone at the ride had a patch kit and tools, so I was able to patch the tire in about five minutes, without even taking the wheel off. In that brief time, though, the riders took off. No matter; on a 24" uni, I was not going to be able to keep up with them anyway.

Undaunted, I took off down East Carson Street for about 15 blocks, riding alone. When it became clear I was not going to see anyone else, I opted to go off course and explore the city, as best I could. I had already ridden two buses to get to the ride -- one from West View, one from town to the ride -- and now took a third to get back into town.

I wanted to participate in the various photography games on the Bike-Pgh message board, since I so rarely have the wheel with me. Since one of them involved getting a bowl of soup, I wanted somehow to get a bowl of soup and the wheel in the same shot. A second game, Wheelset of Fortune, required I find a "parking chair", a Pittsburgh oddity whereby someone holds a parking space by placing an old chair in it. While I found neither of those in the central city, before the day was out, I was able to get both.

What made the day was being able to combine using the wheel with riding buses. As with the bicycle, which has to ride on the front of the bus, I used my personal transportation to augment the transit system. Or is it the other way around? Whichever, I bring the wheel on with me, storing it right alongside me in the seat. On a quiet day like New Year's, there are usually not that many riders, so it was fairly easy to wedge it into a forward facing seat with me. On busier buses, in the past, I would store it under a side-facing seat, and hope a wheelchair rider did not get on. I've taken it on fully loaded buses with standees, for which I stood astride it (not on it), trying and usually succeeding in not clobbering anyone's shins with the pedals, and taking up no more room than I would without the wheel.

Five buses: West View to town, town to Second & Hot Metal Bridge, ECarson & 13th to town, Federal & North to California & Charles, and finally, from Bellevue to West View. In between, I rode the wheel. The longest piece was from Calif/Charles to Bellevue, almost six miles. But all the pieces together totaled almost 16 miles, not bad for not having been on the thing in the better part of a year.