Saturday, October 24, 2015

Coffeeneuring #5: Death is a rotten reason for a bike ride

There is no point in pulling punches, sugar coating it, or vaguebooking about it. This ride was to a candelight vigil for a cyclist who got killed on a busy Pittsburgh street through no fault of her own, only 24 hours before. The gruesome details are available elsewhere, so I'll keep it brief. I rode the 11-ish miles from home to Oakland to join the 250 others who came out in a steady drizzle to honor this young woman. Following that and signing a memorial book for her, I joined another cyclist for a cup of coffee to consider what we can do to make the streets safer.

Bagel Factory, Forbes Avenue at South Craig St, Oakland, Pittsburgh. Coffee and a pumpkin cookie. Followed by a three-mile trip back downtown and a bus ride most of the way home.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Coffeeneuring #4, Carnegie Science Center

As with last Saturday, I had a Toastmasters speech contest to go to. This was the Division D contest, which featured the winners from the five Area contests, each of which in turn featured the winners from each Area's clubs' contests. So, Div D's contest featured the best speakers of 20-some clubs in the city. Really, if you're looking for two hours of free entertainment where you might learn a thing or two, it's hard to beat a division level Toastmasters speech contest. The morning was chilly, with a near frost overnight. Officially the temp was 39°F at dawn, and by 10:30 when I left, it had not changed much. I donned a light coat and gloves for the 10-mile trip, and was glad I did.

The light coat, however, is a light tan in color, which obviated my trip down the trolley trail. On a chilly but nice Saturday morning during archery season, I am going to stick to roads, thankyouverymuch. Too many idiots who can't tell the difference between a buck and a bicycle. I'd rather duke it out with traffic.

Most of the trip was uneventful, though of course not without a few lowlights. Twice in the first 15 minutes, I was verbally harassed. The first was on the uphill climbing into Perrysville from Three Degree Road. Two forward lanes, but the left becomes a left-only lane in 200 yards. Most people figure out that a 25 mph car can get past a 7 mph bicycle in an empty left lane and somehow squeeze back in in the remaining 175 yards; note I said most.

The second occurred at the corner of Perry Highway and West View Park Drive, where I dismount at curbside to head up the staircase. I had the green signal, and a small truck was waiting to make a right-on-red. Note that about half the drivers here take that right-turn-allowed-after-full-stop at 10-15 mph, so having to wait for a cyclist with the legal right of way was apparently too much. Something about being a fucking idiot but I didn't catch the rest. Again, I had the green; he was stopped at the red.

That wasn't all. For the third consecutive trip, I got some grief on or just after the climb past the HOV/Park&Ride entrance. This time, like the last two, the left lane was wide open; hell, both northbound lanes were empty, too. Even so, one guy has to come up behind me, match my speed (about 8 on the climb, 12 as I get over the top) and yell at me for being there. Sheesh.

As to the coffee: Leaving the contest, I ran into another cycling buddy who'd biked 10 miles in from the suburbs, and we headed over the Fort Duquesne Bridge together. He was headed out the Chateau Trail, while I was headed to the Science Center. I knew their snack bar was a good spot to catch a bite. I also got a picture of their excellent bike rack, to accompany an earlier photo of a stupid rack at 1 Smithfield, inspired by a post about a similarly stupid rack at Home Depot.

The coffee was from a push-button machine. I pushed the cappuccino button and got something that resembled it, but was overly bitter. Nothing like the Starbucks brew last Sunday. Oh well, I still stayed somewhere near $5, even with the bowl of soup.

As I type this (so far), I'm still at CSC, so I have yet to see what pleasures await for the trip home.

[continued later]

The trip home was chill, except for the 911 call. I round a bend on Perrysville Avenue to find a couple of cars that had just tangled. Ten seconds sooner, maybe five, I would have witnessed the collision. I called 911 to report it and get police rolling thataway. As I did not actually see what happened and was not involved, I left shortly afterward.

To sum up, the ride in was 10 miles, the ride home would have been at least 10 more miles, plus another two or three to add the side trip to CSC. I'll call it 23 miles, and I hardly broke a sweat because it was so cool out. This is a great time of year to go for a long bike ride!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Coffeeneuring #3, while helping with the 3-2-1 Ride

I knew I would be pressed for time today, so didn't want to do too much exploring. After yesterday's (ahem) fun with the flat tire, followed by an unrelated family activity that had me up well past midnight, I still had a commitment to volunteer to help the Woiner Foundation with its annual 3-2-1 Ride to raise money for pancreatic cancer research. For that, I had to be on the road by 7:30. Short night.

For the event, I had to ride down to Heinz Field, well over nine miles. My assignment would be to man two difficult intersections during the ride. I had done both of these before. I also knew I had about 60 minutes between the last rider clearing the first and the first rider getting to the second. I was pretty sure I could travel from one to the other and still fit in my Coffeeneuring. I was right, but to minimize chance of letting people down, I chose the Starbucks that was right at the second corner, at Penn Avenue at Sixth Street, downtown Pittsburgh. It also had a restroom, so I could take care of that necessity in a modern facility.

Keeping things as simple and rapid as possible, but allowing myself a minor splurge, I got a real cappuccino and a small cookie. This ran just over $5, staying within budget.

Keeping an eye on both the bike, locked to a trash can outside, and my partner assisting with this corner, Joyce Wasser, who was already on site and looking for the first rider, I was able to both fulfill the trip requirements and relax just a little, before getting back to the duties at hand. Success on both counts. The first rider appeared about 10 minutes after I got to my post and we had agreed on how to divide our responsibilities.

This was the third time I helped with the 3-2-1 Ride, and I think only the third year they've had the ride. Here is my shirt collection from helping with each of them. 2013=orange, 2014=yellow, 2015=pink!

Coffeeneuring #2, in hospital with a sick bike

A week ago, I came out of work to discover a flat front tire. Two broken tire pumps later, I caught a bus and then pushed the bike home. When I pulled the tire apart, the tube held air, so I remounted it, and successfully made the two-way trip on Thursday. I don't know why I couldn't find a leak, as I even water tested the inflated tube.

Saturday (today), I didn't get the early start I'd hoped for, but did ride the eight miles to my Toastmasters speech contest, and figured I'd get the coffee ride in afterward. I did, but not the way I expected. Upon coming out of the Federal Street library on the North Side, the front tire was totally flat. Before I left the house, I'd checked both tires. The front tire was soft, maybe 35#, last topped up 48 hours earlier. No worries; I pumped it to 80 and was on my way. Nothing on the ride in indicated a problem. Yet there it was, two hours later, flat as a pancake.

I quickly checked with a few others who were leaving the same meeting, to see if anyone had a pump. No go, and further no go at the library's lending desk. My hopes there were high, as I'd seen a library worker push a bike right into the back room on his way into work. But nope.

The secondary problem was that I couldn't ride to a coffee shop; I was limited to the few choices in the short Federal Street business district. One choice was the Crazy Mocha on the corner, but I did that last week. Most of the rest were take-out joints for pizza and barbecue ribs, and it wasn't clear they even had coffee or anything close, nor anyplace to sit.

My next best hope was to go up into Allegheny General Hospital, two blocks away. At the very least I knew I could get coffee and lunch in the cafeteria, so that's what I did. Locked the bike to a sturdy railing, then walked in like I owned the place. Even better, I got out of there for under $5. Just a cuppa & a biscotti.

Before leaving, I looked for a pump. I asked at the Directions desk, who referred me to Parking, who referred me to Security. All were helpful, but none came through.

If I learned anything in this exercise, it's that there are very few tire pumps that are publicly accessible in this part of town. More on that below.

Ultimately, I pushed the bike to the Cedar Ave & East North bus stop, where a 12 McKnight whisked me to Northway Mall quickly enough, allowing me to push it the mile-and-a-half-ish home.

Follow-up: One thing that may come of this is to put some tire pumps at various public libraries in and around the city. It seems so reasonable a thing to do: Bike to a library, show your library card, and borrow a good floor pump for a few minutes. At $50 apiece for a good pump, even $500 would get 10 pumps to libraries where there is not already a decent nearby bike shop. Like North Side.

I said I would kick in some seed money to get this idea started.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Whodathunkit? Removing cars from streets reduces pollution

November 2012, I mounted one of GASP's (Group Against Smog and Pollution) smoke monitors and rode it 40 miles around metro Pittsburgh. They are still in use, and made an appearance during Open Streets this summer. Here is GASP's story about that.

What I find notable is that the story very nearly quotes the title of this blog, "anything but cars".

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Coffeeneuring 2015, week #1: Lawrenceville via McKnight Road

For those unfamiliar with the concept, coffeeneuring is a neologism of randonneuring, the hobby or practice or obsession with going on long bike rides just because. The coffeeneuring variant is a game of sorts, the taking of a non-trivial bike ride (at least two miles) to get a cup of coffee. The rules are simple: Once a week, on what amounts to your weekend, go someplace on your bicycle and get a cup of coffee. Might be a coffee shop in a nearby town, might be a friend's house, might be a church service with fellowship afterwards, you can even bring your own thermos and sit along a trail somewhere and imbibe. The point is, get off your butt on a weekend you might just sit around the house, and actually go somewhere, via bicycle. Do this for seven weeks running, to a different place each time, and you've completed the challenge, i.e., you've "won".

For week #1, I had a series of unfortunate events on Saturday, but Sunday's weather was better anyway, a nice crisp early autumn day, so I decided to make a small shopping trip. The house's two portable phones were both becoming difficult to use because of dying batteries, so I popped one of them in my shirt pocket and headed for McKnight Road. I also brought along a pen and notepad (I feel more naked without them in hand than I feel when actually naked, OK sorry, too much information), as well as the cell phone. One additional coffeeneuring detail is that you have to tweet your travel, preferably with a photo of your beverage. Pumped up the tires, oiled the chain, fixed the mispositioned headlight, and headed off down the road.

McKnight Road, also known as Truck 19, Business 19, McKnightmare Road, Neon Boulevard, and a few things we won't repeat here, is a six-lane suburban arterial with ambient traffic speeds well above the posted 40 mph, as well as a plethora of curb cuts for strip malls, restaurants, gas stations, car dealers, and the like. Easily a dozen traffic lights in a four-mile stretch. Not exactly a serene spot to take a bike ride. I have no fear riding McKnight, though. I place myself in the left of center in the lane, and cede it to nobody. Dressed visibly, usually nobody gives me any trouble, only the occasional honk from an ignorant motorist who can't understand the concept of using a bicycle as transportation.

I got to the store at opening time. Actually a little before. The employee was dropped off just after I got there. When I got inside, made my selections and was checking out, I mentioned that I got there by bike. I don't think I won any converts, though.

Getting out of the place proved difficult. By car, you can only make a right and go north. I was going south, and didn't feel like dashing across three to five lanes of 45 mph traffic. Thus I was reduced to jumping partitions between parking lots down to the next intersection. It wasn't all that difficult, but I did need to think outside the box a bit, as there are no sidewalks, and adjacent properties were not necessarily at the same elevation. Once I got to an actual side street, though, I got the green, peeled onto Babcock Blvd, and had a pleasant ride into Millvale.

My plan was to have my caffeinated beverage at one of the two diners in town. However, both are cash only, I only had $6 (so figure five and a tip), which wouldn't go far. I walked around looking for other options. There really weren't any, so over the 40th Street Bridge I went into the city.

PennDOT in its infinite wisdom last year added a bike climbing lane from Millvale up to the bridge. This is actually pretty handy, but the top of the lane is difficult. The bike lane is on the left of moving traffic, but cyclists need to get to the right as they turn onto the bridge. There is a green "bike box", but this is both universally ignored by motorists, and almost useless to cyclists anyway. Using it would force cyclists out in front of a pack of motorists, and half the time it is only one lane inbound across the bridge, causing cyclists to either take the lane like a sheep running from an angry pack of wolves, or forced to the right edge of that lane and forced to endure repeated close passes until the pack has passed. To make matters worse, the first 150 yards of the bridge southbound is uphill, so even a strong cyclist is not going to be moving very quickly. For myself, I have found it better to wait in the uphill bike lane until most of the traffic has passed, then work my way over (one or two lanes) to the outside turning lane, thereby having to deal with only a couple of cars rather than perhaps a dozen.

That done, I make the left onto Butler, and a block later appears the Lawrenceville Crazy Mocha. Here, for me, cash is not a problem, as I keep a store card loaded with a few dollars in advance. The flavor of the day is "Jamaican me crazy", so I go with that and one of their giant cookies. This will also have to serve as lunch. I sit down, arrange my gear on a nearby table, and tweet this photo.

A few scribbles in my notebook later, along with a tweet and cross-post to Facebook, I pack up and head back home. I again take the 40th St Bridge, but use the right traffic lane, as it is two lanes northbound. Usually I take the sidewalk but today I felt brave and daring. Despite that, I still got one unnecessarily close pass. And that was the bulk of the issues on the eight-mile return trip. No, one more incident. Just as Babcock splits at the corner with Three Degree Road, a white pickup lays on the horn, apparently upset that I didn't accelerate to 35 through the intersection, which involves a sharp left turn, and I was also following another car. As if I had any choice in where to go? There is only one lane approaching the corner. Once around it, he could easily have passed me, which he did, and my non-jackrabbit start possibly slowed him three seconds, poor baby.

From there to home was only a mile and a half. No further issues. Once home, I installed my batteries, got my shower, and chalked up Week #1 coffeeneuring to the history books.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Why you should join Toastmasters

Today's Dawn Patrol Toastmasters meeting was one for the ages! Near record attendance, first-time speeches from two new people, and multiple people spoke about how attending Toastmasters meetings had improved their quality of life: better work habits, better communication with spouses and significant others, keeping calm in tough situations, and overcoming obstacles (the theme of the meeting).

The kicker was, five minutes from the end, Karen Rossi, manager of the Smithfield St library, popped in unexpectedly to say goodbye, as she is retiring. She joined Dawn Patrol when I did in 2008, and said it really helped her with her job performance and speaking with the upper management of the Carnegie Library system.

Myself, I gave a "pocket speech", an extemporaneous speech I thought of while walking to the bus this morning (as opposed to one I researched, prepared and practiced). I used the example of President Obama's speech last night about the Oregon story to show how he applied each of the 10 speech projects in the Toastmasters CC manual. (CC=Competent Communicator, the first level.) Never mind what the president said or whether you agree with him or even like him. Watch how he talks, watch how he keeps calm though he is clearly angry, yet he expresses that anger through facial expressions and body language. And how that makes for a powerful speech and a call to action. All of those are straight out of the CC book.

Dawn Patrol is only one of a couple dozen Toastmasters clubs downtown and nearby. What makes us different is that we meet in the early morning (hence the name), 7:15 on Fridays (1st, 3rd, 5th Fridays of each month). If you cannot make any other Toastmasters club because of conflicts, join Dawn Patrol. We also have a good mix of veteran, new-ish (a year maybe two), and brand-new members, so you can see the distinct manner of progress in how well people speak. We're all still learning.

Club website:

Put us on your calendar. The doors are open at 7, but be sure to be in the room by 7:15 as the library itself isn't open until 8:30. We will have you on your way by then to continue the rest of your day.