Sunday, July 27, 2014

Critical Mass ride #1, July 2014: McKees Rocks Bridge

I call this C.M. ride #1 because, the night before the ride, I learned that there was a second C.M. ride being arranged, independent of this one. More on that in another post. On this ride, we took on the challenge of riding through a truck-heavy section of the city, and over a long, one-lane-that-direction bridge noted for its high traffic speeds. Our ultimate goal was to ride to Crafton, an inner-ring suburb to Pittsburgh's immediate west, and return to the city.

As on most C.M. rides I've organized over the past year, the idea was to investigate what the typical cyclist would encounter while riding in a legal fashion on common streets. We had a small group, eight at its largest point. While we were not out to tie up traffic or antagonize anyone, there is no way we could be ignored. We rode visibly -- light colored or reflective clothing on ourselves, blinkies and headlights on our bikes and/or helmets. We rode predictably -- signalling turns, taking the lane anywhere necessary, riding single file where called for. We rode responsibly -- we did obey the law, stopping for lights, signs, and crosswalks.

The short version: We did what you were supposed to do, and had no trouble at all riding almost 18 miles on busy streets and bridges.

We are getting better at capturing video of our ride. At least two of us had video posted within 24 hours of the ride, pointed both fore and aft. Links below. While I am happy that nothing serious happened, I am happier still, knowing that our ability is improving to capture evidence. If nothing else, the videos show that we do obey the law, and our method does work in ensuring cyclist safety.

I wrote most of the following as a post on the Bike-Pgh message board within an hour of the ride's end.

  • C.M. ride #1 was wonderful. We started with six riders, picked up a seventh before we got out of Oakland, and an eighth at the Science Center. Most of the ride was seven riders, though, as one dropped off at about the same point as the last rider started.

  • Amazingly little trouble on Chateau. I dealt with three times as much traffic on my pre-ride on Monday.

  • Most riders did not know about the new ramp from Chateau/Beaver/Island up to California/Marshall. Easily bikeable, and I think you can even get a tandem or trailer up it. YMMV.

  • California up to Termon was very quiet. The street is wide, the grade not too difficult, traffic speeds moderate, traffic temper calm.

  • We took the lane on the McKees Rocks Bridge. We must have been going close to 30, but even at that, two cars screamed past at 50+.

  • We were tailed down Island Ave in McKees Rocks by a cement truck whose driver was very calm and patient with us. Chartiers was a bit more challenging, as we got split up into at least three groups, and there was noplace to be except right in line with moving cars.

  • Windgap had a recent paving job, so was velvety smooth. Very little traffic, pleasant speed. Definitely a nice part of town to ride a bike along.

  • Ingram wasn’t too difficult. A couple of lights and signs and turns, but easily navigable, and drivers stopped at the same four-way stop waved us along.

  • Only a couple of us were familiar with Crafton-Ingram Shopping Plaza. Lots of choices of everything: grocery stores, drug stores, dollar stores, restaurants, fast food. We opted to hang for a few minutes at Dunkin Donuts. Refilled the water bottles here.

  • Steuben St headed inbound from there has one ginormous hill that took the group most of 10 minutes to climb. Despite that, we had zero trouble with traffic. The reason? No parking. The inbound lane is 25 feet wide.

  • We grouped together as a tight cluster to go through the West End Circle and ride West Carson. Very little trouble, and again, I am sure it helped that we had about 20 blinkies among us.

I should add more detail, but I think the voluminous video speaks for itself. We had two sets, first from me, a single, rear-facing camera, that ran fine until some point on Windgap Avenue. The second, from Colleen, captures both directions, after she joined the ride at the Science Center. At this writing, I am not aware of others, though I know at least one other rider (Yale) was video-enabled.

My set (copied from the BPMB thread):
Six videos, unedited. Thanks to Marko for helping me zip-tie my helmet cam to my bike rack. Zip-ties (which he had) and duct tape (which I had) fasten anything to anything and keep it there!

Video 1, Dippy to edge of downtown:
Video 2, Downtown to North Shore:
Video 3, North Shore to Manchester:
Video 4, Manchester to McKees Rocks Bridge approach:
Video 5, MRB to Windgap Ave:

Video 6 (brief): some of Windgap Ave:

Colleen had two cameras, and posted her videos on Saturday. She joined the ride at the Science Center, so hers overlap mine from there to Windgap, but also finish the ride, which mine do not. Both of hers also have audio, notably missing from mine. (My audio is on, but the camera is in a tight case, which excludes most sound other than rattles.)

Her front camera: Name: FILE0459
Start: Carnegie Science Center
End: California Ave at Dickson St

Name: FILE0460
Start: California Ave at Dickson St
End: The approach to the McKees Rocks Bridge.

Name: FILE0461
Start: The approach to the McKees Rocks Bridge.
End: Windgap Ave and Bellhurst St, about where my camera quit.

Name: FILE0462
Start: Windgap at Bellhurst
End: Crafton-Ingram Shopping Center

Name: FILE0463
Start: Leaving Crafton-Ingram Shopping Center
End: about to exit Station Square onto West Carson St

Name: FILE0464
Start: Smithfield St and Blvd of the Allies, downtown
The first 2:30 of this, we discuss the ride. Then we disperse.

Her rear camera:

Name: 09170004
Start: California at Marshall
End: starting onto the McKees Rocks Bridge

Name: 09320005
Start: on the McKees Rocks Bridge
End: Wind Gap Ave at Belhurst St

Name: 09470006
Start: Wind Gap Ave at Belhurst St
End: Crafton-Ingram Shopping Center

Name: 10020007
Start: C-I S.C. (all in the plaza)
End: Dunkin Donuts in C-I S.C.

Name: 10280008
Start: leaving the donut shop
End: halfway up the big hill on Steuben Street

Name: 10430009
Start: climbing the hill out of Crafton on Steuben St
End: on the access road into Station Square

Name: 10580010
Start: on the access road into Station Square
End: to the end of the ride at Smithfield at Blvd of the Allies

Most of the ride was within city limits. We also passed through McKees Rocks, Ingram and Crafton. Traffic speeds on the McKees Rocks Bridge are high, and motorists do not respect cyclists doing the speed limit. Chartiers Avenue in the Rocks was busy, with high traffic volume and poor riding surface. Windgap, a city neighborhood, has new pavement but few cyclists; I don't know why. Ingram was pleasant to ride in, with stop signs and lights seemingly at every corner. Crafton as well was trouble-free. The long hill out of Crafton on Steuben Street was a difficult climb physically, but no problem at all in terms of traffic, as there were no parked cars along the side, as on Brownsville Rd, giving us essentially a 25-foot-wide climbing lane. The West End Circle, though intimidating as it is built for high-traffic conditions, was surprisingly easy to deal with, as was West Carson Street from there to the Station Square driveway, normally a nasty, high-speed half mile. Our last street was the inbound traffic lane on the Smithfield Street Bridge, also featuring a lane wide enough for cyclists to have their own space, though most cyclists use the sidewalk.