Monday, November 18, 2013

The neophyte park-and-rider

After 23 years of riding buses and in the neighborhood of 20,000 bus rides, I think I can size up fellow riders fairly well. In particular, I can identify a neophyte rider in a couple of seconds. Today was no exception. I was on bicycle, racing the 8 Perrysville from where I'd seen it coming out of the plaza as I carried my bike up the steps, hoping to intercept it at the park & ride. As I came flying down the hill to the intersection where the 8 turns to continue down Perry/Perrysville, I see a woman walking out of the extended parking lot for the P&R. I slow to a stop at the bus shelter and ask, "Did you see a bus just turn off that street?" She had not.

As I didn't know if I'd just missed it by 30 seconds or the bus was a mere 30 seconds away, I opted to wait, which allowed us to engage in a little small talk. She apparently had little idea what the bus schedule was, only that if she parked there, she'd get into town eventually. She'd seen a bus go by on the main road, but it didn't stop. OK, that marked her as a neophyte, as she apparently didn't know that about 20 buses go past here at the end of rush hour, returning to the garage a mile down the street. Not a big deal, I just decided that she likely would not have known that she, like me, probably just missed the same 8 Perrysville.

She remarked that she was surprised to see someone riding on the road. I replied that I lived about four miles away, and with the last round of service cuts, there no longer is a bus that gets me to town from my house, so I bike. We talked a bit about riding on the road, and that it is neither difficult nor dangerous once you learn to deal with traffic effectively, but I could sense that cycling was not where this conversation was going.

Her bigger problem is that she was just about clueless to the ways of the Port Authority of Allegheny County bus system, and in that, she needed a bunch of information, and quickly. She didn't know where to get off downtown, what the fare was, or where to get the bus back at the end of the day, all of which are critically important to a neophyte rider. On that, I supplied all the details she needed, the better to allay her concerns about being stranded, lost, late, and paid for the privilege.

I didn't press the cycling issue. I could sense she likely had not been on a bicycle in 15 years, and barring a simple stroll around North Park Lake, wasn't ever going to be on one anytime soon. I stuck to answering questions about getting around by bus.

A second big issue for her was that she apparently got the last, or about the last, parking space in the lot, and wondered where she'd park if not there. I suggested West View Plaza, but with the proviso that that was not looked highly upon. Yet it could easily be done, provided you employed the "hide-and-ride" method: Park near K-Mart or Giant Eagle, but not too closely. Most shoppers will try to park as near the entrance as possible, so don't do that. Go about five rows away, and take the farthest out space that has a car next to it. Then walk into the store, perhaps buy something trivial if your conscience deems it worthy, then come out and go to the bus stop to get on the bus. Nobody will question your going into the store, nor will they question your coming out of the store and waiting for the bus. Chances are better than 98% that you could walk directly from car to bus stop and await the bus without being questioned, too. The important piece is to neither take a desirable spot nor park so far out as to draw attention.

She at least had the sense to park the car at a park & ride at all, so props to her for trying.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Half a journey, so only half a bicycle needed

It was past 1:30, the pharmacy closed at 2, and I wasn't ready to leave yet. I knew it would be 1:45 before I got out the door, and had a bunch of things to look for up there. I can walk there -- it's only 3/8 of a mile -- but I'd get there faster on wheels. Yet it seemed overkill to take the bicycle.

So, unicycle it was.

I tested the tire; it wasn't flat, but way down. It took all of 30 seconds to pump it up to 50#. Then, off I rolled, as usual not bothering with the helmet. I've never used the helmet when unicycling. I don't feel it necessary. After 40 years of falling off the thing, I have yet to clonk my head on anything. Skinned elbows, hands, knees, even going backward on my keister, all of that is common, but not my head.


Five minutes after leaving the house, I was at the pharmacy. It took me close to 10 minutes to gather and pay for all my stuff, by which time they were starting to pack things up to close for the day. They were starting to flip off the lights on my way out.

Five minutes later, I was home. Carrying a bag of stuff is easier on a unicycle than a bicycle anyway.

Total mileage: 0.72 miles. It was a short but successful trip.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Going to the mall -- ack!

I think I get to Ross Park Mall about once a year to actually purchase anything. Some of this is by default -- I just don't go shopping much -- but some is by choice, as well -- I don't like malls, Simon Properties malls in particular. Yet here I was, on a small family celebration dinner. I am pretty sure it was the first time in calendar 2013 I was at the mall to spend money. I got there maybe once each in 2012, 2011 and 2010, as well. Entire years go by and I do not get to that mall at all.

I previously wrote about my irritation with Simon Properties. For all the snarling we did about transit access in 2007, Simon won that argument, at this mall and the other two it owns in the Pittsburgh area. Beyond that, I'm just not that fond of food courts. They have not the ambience of a coffee shop, and all seem to be variations on overpriced food that isn't all that interesting or different from one another. We ended up dropping $30 for what amounted to three hamburgers, three drinks, and an order of fries. I think we would have spent as much at a real restaurant, for much better food.

What really got to me, though, wasn't the food or even the food court, but that there seemed to be nothing *to* do there but spend money. I foolishly forgot to bring pen and paper on which to compose a blog post, so walked around the mall, solo, the better part of a half hour trying to find a pen or pencil dropped on the floor. I did eventually find one, but it took much longer that I thought it would.

Once found, I discovered I could not get it to write on the receipt from the food court, as it was of that shiny thermographic paper that does not play nicely with ball-point pens. I spent another 10 minutes trying to find a piece of paper. This too proved fruitless. No flyers, no discarded shopping bags, nothing. Nothing on sales floors, nothing in trash cans, no odd scraps of writable paper under random furniture.

Even if I had had pen and paper, the place is not set up to do any writing. There are plenty of chairs dispersed at random locations throughout the mall, but I don't fancy doing any actual writing while seated on any of them. They are places to sit down for a bit before you get up to spend more money.

Eventually, time was up, family found me and we went home. Dinner with the family was nice, but I could have done without the subsequent 45 minutes.

Malls. You can have them.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why I wanted the slower bus

I walked to the bus today instead of biking, but more importantly, while waiting for the O12 McKnight Rd express to arrive, the slower 12 McKnight Shopper showed up one stop away, so I ran to catch that. Why ride a slower bus? Because it's empty, while the O12 would have already been almost full.

Both routes start at the cinema complex three miles up the road. Since the last big round of service cuts, the last inbound express goes past my stop at 8:00, whereas before the last express was at 9:00, with a couple more in between. Since that change, that last express gets filled to the brim, even with the 60-seat articulated bus in service. Standard 40-foot buses only have about 38 seats. Even though I am about the fifth bus stop on a 12-mile trip, that last O12 is full enough most of the time that I'm lucky to sit at all.

I have always put my commute time to good use, if possible. It's one of the biggest selling points about transit. Between leaving my house and getting to work, I can study, do pleasure reading, prepare my day, prepare Toastmasters speeches, even take a nap. I've sewn on buttons, figured out the family budget, addressed Christmas cards, any number of things. But it's a lot easier to do if I can spread out over two or three seats. Just having the ability to extend one's elbows makes doing anything a lot easier.

By the time the 12 Shopper gets downtown, there will be quite a few people on it, but it won't be jammed full. I was the first one on, and had the bus to myself for the first mile or so. It's the same bus I catch when I bike to Northway Mall, so I'm familiar enough with it. It's just nice to have options, and especially nice to have room to work.

As it turned out, it was quite full upon arriving downtown, but by that point, I had already put my materials away, so it wasn't an issue.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Winter riding, Day 2

We got a bit of snow again last night, less than yesterday but it was colder, so between that and yesterday's melt, there was a thin coating of ice on steps and pavement this morning. "Black ice" (frozen melt, invisible to the untrained eye) was prevalent, but other parts of town had it worse than I did.

I had no real trouble navigating down my steps (see picture below), and upon getting the bike in motion, as always, I tested my brakes on the 50 feet of downhill between my sidewalk and my driveway. No matter what the weather, I always check the brakes here. If something is amiss, I just pull back in the driveway. On bad days I will park the bike and walk, but today it was not necessary. I could stop and turn, I just needed to be careful.

On the road, I found myself trying to edge out into the lane more than usual, since the very edge of the road was the most icy. If I got in the right tire track, I was fine; that was just wet. I got no horns in my 1.62-mile trip over to the mall, and I could discern care in motorists approaching from behind.

All told, it took the usual 10 minutes to make the ride over, uneventful, unexciting, as it should be.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

First snow ride of the season

They warned us. We knew it was coming. We had been preparing for it. Yet, here it was, and the very reality of it was a matter of both some concern and light-hearted ribbing. (To wit: Gaaah! Gotta run out and stock up on milk and batteries and TP!) Of course it snows in Pittsburgh, especially by the middle of November. It's perfectly normal and reasonable.

But still. To bicycle in it? Yes, that does take some preparation, both material and mental.

3:00 a.m., as I often do, I was up to check on things at work (and not to then spend an hour on social media), and looking out the window, I saw white. Yep, it snowed, about an inch, by the looks of it. I crawled back in bed for another three hours. Daylight came, and I got a better look at it. Still no snow on the street, and since I hadn't heard a salt truck, it could not have been too cold. If it hit grass, it stuck. If it hit pavement, even a cement sidewalk, it melted. This is the type of snow you can clear your car off in four seconds with an old windshield wiper blade.

For the bike, though, preparations were really no different from any day with a cold rain. The streets would be wet, and what little snow was there would be melting, so I could expect things like thermoplastic paint stripes to be slippy (Pittsburghese for slippery).

For myself, again, really nothing different from any cold day, though not bitter cold. I knew I'd only be riding three miles or so, so did not try to dress too warmly. Still, in the last two minutes before going out the door, I started to get a bit too warm. That's good. It mainly meant I'd be fine once I got outside.

Once on the bike, it was simple to adjust the height of the zipper on my light jacket. I started with it down about two inches, which proved adequate. Too high up, I'd get too warm. Too far down, I'd be cold right away.

As expected, I was fine in the three miles to the bus stop. Sitting on the bus, my toes are a tad chilly, but nothing serious. If I had tried to bike the whole 11 miles, it might be a different story, but this was good enough.

OK, one down, 100 more snowy days to go.

Monday, November 11, 2013

About cyclists "running red lights and stop signs"

In the bicycle world, there are a lot of different types of stopping at red lights and stop signs.

I make distinctions among:
  1. proceeding through a red light or stop sign without looking or changing speeds;
  2. proceeding through a red light or stop sign without changing speeds but ensuring that there is no traffic to interfere, in any direction;
  3. proceeding through a red light or stop sign after slowing down considerably, verifying that there is no traffic to interfere, in any direction;
  4. coming to a complete stop at a red light or stop sign, briefly enough not to put my foot down, making sure there is no traffic to interfere, in any direction, then proceeding through;
  5. coming to a complete stop at a red light, at least one foot planted on the ground for several seconds, then after verifying there is no traffic to interfere, in any direction, proceeding through.
  6. coming to a complete stop at a red light and waiting until the light turns green before proceeding.
The law does not allow for any of the first five. People who complain about cyclists “running red lights and stop signs” make no distinction, equating the first five, insisting upon the sixth.

I do not do #1. I do #2, #3, #4 and #5, depending on situation. I employ #6 anytime there is traffic to interfere.

I could go on for 2,000 words explaining the difference in each, their relative merits of safety, and justifying my actions thereon, but that is irrelevant. If you cannot understand the distinction thus far, there is no point in having a conversation.