Sunday, July 26, 2015

Old, nationalistic grudges

One day in 1985, I took my Toyota in for some routine work. While waiting at the counter, another customer, retirement age, said "Toyota, huh? Damned Japs. I won't own one! I blew more Nips out of the sky than you could shake a stick at. Didn't get them all, though. One got my brother on Okinawa in '45. Lost a good friend on the Arizona in Pearl Harbor, too. Never forget Pearl Harbor!"

I don't remember what, if anything, I said in response. It doesn't matter. But I thought later, wow, to be still carrying all that anger, 40 years later. It left a mark on me. Remember Pearl Harbor. Remember the Maine. Remember the Pueblo. The Alamo. The Lusitania. All of them got us into or carried us through one war or another.

And now, remember 9/11/2001. Remember it how? Remember it why? And increasingly, "Remember it? I wasn't even born yet!" Think about it. It's 2015. Unless you are already in your mid-20s, it was already history. Anyone not already in college will have little to no recollection, let alone understanding, of what happened that day, and instead have only experienced its after-effects. Continuous war. Threats of terror attacks. Constant security theater. And increasingly, demonization of an entire religion and an entire region of the globe.

Is this right? Why are we raising a generation to hate and fear Islam, and everyone and everything in the Middle East?

We can and should have a separate discussion about what spurred the 20 terrorists on 9/11, but that is not relevant here. Just, do we need to be like that Jap-hater from 30 years ago? I say no.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Unfinished, working title: Grousing again about motorcycle parking

This started off as a Facebook post, preceded a few days by a series of tweets on a field trip, but I will transmogrify it into a semi-intelligible blog post.

Topic: It's still difficult to park a motorcycle downtown after 7:45 a.m. on a nice day. I posted about this last year, but nothing has changed, and it's not on anybody's radar, and needs to be.

I've already said I want to see these dozen metered car spaces on Fifth Ave by the free motorcycle parking become metered motorcycle-only parking, while also keeping the 50 free m/c spots under the bridge. I'd like to see that happen in 2015. The next thing I want to see happen is to take that lot across Fifth, currently Somebody's Fenced-In Gated Lot, evict them, take it over, and make _that_ motorcycle-only parking, probably free. Also with a lane across it so cycles can get to outbound Forbes easier.

Just so we're clear on the area we're talking about, here is a Google Maps link to the area in question.

There's a kindasorta sidewalk from Fifth to Diamond now, but then you have to go the wrong way on Diamond for 100 feet to get to Shingiss St, which gets you to Forbes without having to deal with the fustercluck of 6Av/Diamond/Forbes/Liberty Bridge. A nice simple path across that lot from the m/c area on 5Av would solve all that.

What we really want to get to is parking for 500 m/c and scooters in that area under Crosstown Blvd. I don't care whose lot it is. Take it over by eminent domain, if necessary. There can't be more than 100 cars in all that space right now.

At the absolute very least, can we please have someone from the city inventory the amount of space, and estimate how many m/c and scooters would fit in this space, with an egress to Forbes as described above?

Problem is, there is parking at the end of that sidewalk I mentioned above, so you really can't get a m/c down that sidewalk, never mind the 100 feet the wrong way on Diamond to get to Shingiss. The day I did it, I had to negotiate getting my m/c around a pickup truck. Had the truck owner been there, he would have had a fit, I was so close to it. As in, leaning the m/c sideways to fit under his mirror. That kind of close.  

Earlier tweets:
* By my est, 40-50 motorcycles could fit comfortably in the curbside parking on 5Av by where m/c's park now. Only 10 cars now. @billpeduto
* Could fit another 10-15 m/c's in the dead spots of that fenced lot across 5Av wo removing a single car space.

This parking lot holds about 30 cars. Think it could hold 200 motorcycles?

And across Diamond, between it and Forbes, is another badly underutilized space, storing maybe 20 cars where we could easily fit another 75 to 100 motos.

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.