Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Getting it Right

Found this excellent documentary of a city that has got cycling right. Not just the infrastructure, but the attitude of the citizens and the acceptance of cycling. One thing to note of interest, look at the clothing of the cyclists, I didn't see a speck spandex anywhere. What I did see was suits and high heels, when was the last time you saw someone in heels riding to work?

There is a lack of helmets that may seem strange to Americans. I think our helmet culture came out of lack of acceptance of cyclists on the street. I have many friends on "the other side of the pond" and they don't see it as strange at all.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Green in a Small Package

Welcome to Traverse City Michigan. A small town located in the north west side of the lower peninsula of Michigan. With a population of about 14,000 you would think this would be the last places you would see green initiatives. However Traverse City has a population very interested in the outdoors and an economy dedicated to tourism, so they are very focused on this.

The above picture is of the Traverse City Light and Power company's wind turbine. Erected in 1996 it is one of the largest and oldest in Michigan. The Light & Power wind turbine is a Vestas model V-44, 600 kW generator built in Denmark. With a blade diameter of 144 feet on a 160-foot tower,and one of my favorite landmarks in this city. The turbine was erected with the help of a community supported initiative for a "green rate", a voluntary premium rate for residential and commercial customers willing to pay more for green energy.

I had not been back to the "Cherry Capital" in three years. Traverse City earned that nickname because of the major agricultural crop in the area, although I think grapes and wine production is catching up to the cherries. After my absence I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of bike infrastructure that had been added to the down town area in recent years. I also saw quite a change in the style of bikes around town, it used to be all mountain bikes ridden by grungy 20 somethings. Now you see folks of all ages riding bikes meant to be comfortable and designed to carry stuff, be it bagels from the one of the numerous coffee shops or a week of groceries.

Bike racks also abounded, something that had been completely absent just a couple years ago.

The city has had the lakefront path way for many years. They have now added bike lanes to the downtown area, unfortunately it doesn't appear a lot of thought went into laying them out safely.

Overall I give the city an "A" for effort, they at least are trying to make a positive change. If a city with a population of 14,000 in mid summer, (it drops a bit in the winter) can make these positive changes, why do larger cities struggle?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Just Soap

Today is going to be a bit different. I don’t really like promoting one product or another or one company or another, if there is something I have used and I really liked for whatever reason then yep I will mention it, but no other reason then I found it good or cool. That is what today is about. I was down at the Brattleboro, VT food Co-Op amazing place, absolutely huge! If you get a chance and are in southern Vermont it is a must to stop in at. I needed some soap while I was there so was interested in what they had. I found this company, called “Just Soap” the pedal powered natural soap. I was like whoa! Pedal powered? Thankfully they had a nice little brochure there which talks about the process and how they do it and why and found out that its made in Ashfield, MA, basically right around the corner!

From their website
Here's how it works: The bicycle drives a belt that turns a blade in a large stainless steel vat, where we stir together the purest ingredients - saponified olive, coconut and palm oils, essential oils, and organic herbs and spices. Once the ingredients start to thicken, the magic of soap making has begun, and we pour the mixture into wooden frames to set. A few days later, we cut the bars with a wooden press, and cure them for over two months to ensure a long-lasting bar. Our unique bicycle blender allows us to make larger batches of handmade soap.

I have added this to a list of places to try and visit, and I just had to get some once I found out what it was. The soap was well, just soap! It worked very nicely and lasted for a little over a month of everyday use, for a really good price

It seems they don’t distribute out of New England, but maybe If you know your local soap maker, you could suggest this idea to them and give them this company’s contact, because this is pretty much the best idea for using a bike I have seen in a long time.

Google Maps

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Friday Infrastructure (on Sunday!!): The Tram Life

Larger size
First of all, I would like to apologize for not updating this for a week. This was a very busy and hectic week and Jim was going to post some food things up but unfortunately stuff came up for him as well and he was unable. None the less, I would like to rectify this situation and work harder to update with new and interesting things. If you have something you would like me to look at or think about please feel free to send me links to my email or post in any of the comments. I read a whole lot of things ever week but it takes a lot of time and as class work mounts, the time I can dedicate to keeping up with it, unfortunately is sacrificed. Without further ado, I present you the usual friday infrastructure post, but new and improved on a sunday (yeah it will happen again, but I will try to not let it)

Today we are across the channel and down the coast to Barcelona! Quite a wonderful city, very bikable with a nice bike share, but only for city residents last I checked. They also have a very nice metro/tram transport system that is laid out nicely and with easy to read signage. Of note, I do not read Spanish nor do I speak any of it, however I was able to find my way around quite nicely. That may have been due to the amazingly useful google maps and google street view but none the less. There was a great organic vegan restaurant hidden on a back street I found which was simply amazing, I will do a post on them later this week, once I find them again.

The tram lines in Barcelona are separate from the underground metro lines, they do however connect in and form a nicely integrated system. Tram lines can be found on the western edge of the city and these are lines T1, T2, and T3 (yes the “T” is for Tram) in the Eastern side the lines are T4, T5, T6. to get from either end of the lines, a subway must be taken and unfortunately 2 transfers must be made, but the system was not designed to work tram-tram it was designed to fit into the subway system and to integrate that system better into the urban environment.

The line that I followed and took pictures of is the T4 line which starts (or ends? or both!) at the Olympic Village near the waterfront. Pictured below is the google street view of this.

Larger size

Note it is a duel line system running both ways next to each other. The end is concrete, however it changes to grass fill very quickly as you move north along the edge of the “Parc de la Ciutadella” which houses a zoo, museums, a 1700’s citadel (for which the park is named), as well as water displays, walking and biking paths and planned gardens. Its very nice, lots of people were out the day I was there.
Although not in this picture...
Larger size

In this picture note the markings on the road showing the space the tram takes up when it is moving through the intersection. There is a great deal of space given to make sure that a car or lorrie is not ending up stuck on the rails.

Larger size

I would like to point out the bike share scheme in Barcelona, Bicing , the system is for residents only and consists of 3000 bicycles throughout the region. It has been in place for 3 years now and has been quite successful. Of note these are the same bikes (practically) that are used for the “SmartBike DC” bike share scheme.

larger size
Bicing website, in spainish

larger size
There are 4 elements I would like to mention regarding this image. One, note the bike lane on the right hand side in the sidewalk. The lane is stripped and is “one way” in the direction of car travel. While this is not ideal, the sidewalk space is large enough to accommodate this lane and mixing does not seem to be too much of a problem. Two, note there is no car parking along this boulevard, but there are trees and it is common to see mopeds and bicycles chained up to these as impromptu parking. It would have been simple to put in staple racks between them, like Vienna did, however it works, I guess… Three, note the ground painting on the lower left, the arrow points in the direction to look first for oncoming trams, very useful especially as it is in the opposite direction of the cars. Four, note the space between the road and the rails. This is good to have for people who cross the road and have to wait for the tram. I am unsure if the road and tram walking lights are timed and triggered together, it would be smart if they were but I have no idea. This space also provides access to the tram stations in the center of the road, these are on slightly raised platforms as the trams are the traditional modern European low floor design, and as such the debarking height is not much more then the normal sidewalk. It would be nice to se a bollard of some kind on the corner of the cross walk next to the tram tracks for a bit of protection from automobiles , but it is not really critical.

To get back to the main image, it is taken at the Olympic park stop end, I can tell this due to its timestamp when I took it, however I have no idea where exactly or where I am looking to see solar panels on the roof, as can be seen in the upper center. I really enjoyed Barcelona and wished I had spent more time there and not gone on, I only spent one full day, and it was certainly not enough.
Google Maps
Transports metropolitans de Barcelona network map (in pdf)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Friday Infrastructure: A jaunt to York

Larger size

Yep late again, fell asleep last night and meant to write this then, whoops!

Today we are showcasing something a little bit different. As you might have figured out I really like focusing on cycling and walking and using them as a viable means of transportation. However, these 2 cannot solve all our problems, in fact for many places a car is still needed in some form and distribution is needed to be done by trucks in some cases as well. That is where electric drive comes in, however for long distances there is another piece to this puzzle, which are the Railroads.

I am a huge train nut, not an avid train spotter, but I would be if I had the time. So one of the wonderful things about the city of York, UK is, yes it’s a cycling “capital” (I use that term loosely because really its still not really great for infrastructure, just better then non existent.) It is also the home of the largest train museum in the world and a vital link between London and Edinburgh being ~2 hours and 200 miles from each.

The picture for today is indeed a picture of York rail station, built in 1877 it is quite distinct and holding up well, but could use a bit of updating. They do have some bike storage and it was full when I saw it, but its very small and nothing to shake a stick at.

One might notice the sign hanging in the picture, it notes over 60 trains a day to London from this station and going online to the East Coast line website the time for some of these trains varies from just under 2 hours to about 2 hours and 10. It is ~190 miles from York station to London Kings Cross station.

For reference the distance is about the same from Boston South station to NYC grand central. There are 10 trains a day here with the regional taking 4 and a half hours and the Acela taking 3 and a half. Which is quite sad if you think about it, the Acela has a higher top speed than any of the British trains but the rails here are so bad and there are too many stops along the way that it never reaches any good speed, not the mention they had to skimp on the breaks to save money so it can’t even go its top designed speed.

It is hard to give fair information because in the uk prices are hugely dependent on how far ahead you can book. For my time in the uk I was able to book about a month+ in advance and were getting £15 fares for a whole lot of travels, I also had a 30% off discount card. The trip to London from York can cost anywhere from £11(17$) to £96(153$) with the lower fares on odd hour trains. To compare the Acela will cost lowest 93$(£58) to 124$(£83) one way and business class only. There is seriously something wrong here….

If they were truly serious about the Acela then 1 maybe 2 stops, in the uk there are 4 stops on most trains between London and York, if you needed more you take a slower regional which makes sense. There are currently 6 stops between Boston and New York for the Acela.

There is not much I can say about the station, it does its job and its great to be able to take the rails pretty much anywhere anytime in the UK. I wish I had that option here. There will be more later on how the UK system works and what I don't like about it and how it is currently run.

Google Maps
Sustrans map

National Express East Coast
York Station
City of York

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bikes Belong

In Chicago at least. This is a video produced by the Chicago Police department with help from lots of people on education for motorists, cyclists, and police officers. I have to say it’s the best video I have seen on the rules of the road and proper procedures from a North American agency of any kind. It is really good and all police departments need to see this and remember it is their JOB to look out for EVER road user, not just the cars. Thanks to streetsblog NY for the video. And while these regulations don’t apply in every state or city they are mostly common sense, get educated before you get on the road, you could save a life. Enjoy

Traffic Enforcement for Bicyclist Safety from Chicago Bicycle Program on Vimeo.

of further note I will work on finding information for New York and anything for my current town, Plattsburgh(doubt they have anything actually) and make a post on it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Saga of the Flats

Ok so as I mentioned the other day, had an issue with a flat. Thankfully not while I was riding, so I will recount the story as there is more to it.

Friday morning, nothing-special nice cool temps for the morning ride for my 9am class. After class bike across campus for my 10am class, day is nice and sunny around 70F (about 21-22C) park in the bike rack in front of the building, its a bit crowded as the university if sorely lacking in bike parking, about half the trees around any given building have bikes locked to them... Anyway get out from my 10am class and look at that, flat tire in the back, like completely airless. Of course I don’t know how it happened at the time, it does not look like somebody cut the tire, figured the heat might have finally blown it but the front was fine so was not sure.

Thankfully I have access to the theatre scene shop, which has all wonders of nice tools and air hookups, as well as water and buckets to find leaks. I didn’t have class until 1 so plenty of time. Take apart the bike, get the inner tube out, and inspect the tread, no visible damage; water test time! For those that don’t know, if you can't find a leak in a tire tube, car or bike, the time honored test is to fill it a bit with air and stick it in a bucket of water and look for the bubbles, its easy, its simple, its fast and it always works. I found the hole, right on the seam, as this tube was original to the bike (I believe) it did not surprise me, the bike is ~4 years old and now I am using it every day for long distance its getting a lot more wear; so understandable. I did check the tread just in case there was something, didn’t find anything. Trip down to the bike shop to get a new tube, saw a friend and got a ride back to campus. Install the new tube, tread back on, pump it up and good to go.

The next morning, I have a noon work call so am prepping the bike, check tires for air, new tube is holding nicely at 60psi, front is great at a little less then that. Wonderful bike ride in, saw 8 cyclists out including a couple kids and an older gentleman on a beautiful black single speed cruiser, seen him a lot actually. Get done with work, grab some food, do some things in the library and get out around 5:45 to go to my second work call at 6. Boom flat tire! And it’s the rear again! Bah! It was just freaking sitting there! Its too late to get to the bike shops, they are closed, I have work in 15, so walk it over to the show I am working, not a happy camper, lock it in the theatre and catch a ride home as there is no point trying to work on it when I can’t really do anything.

Sunday comes around, work call at 1 (yes I work on Sunday sometimes, it was a matinee of the performance) call my friend and he picks me up for 12 and I walk about a mile and a half to strip mall central to the only bike shop open on Sunday. There will be more on this part of Plattsburgh later; needless to say it’s a mess for anything, and downright depressing when you are walking. Talk with the guys, good guys actually, pick up 2 new tubes and a patch kit (which I needed anyway) and I am off. Show went longer then expected due to a light board power failure, and strike took until ~8. Scene shop to the rescue again. Wheel is off and tube out, I found the hole that is on a divet in the tube that matches up with the holes in the wheel frame where the spokes attach. Since the holes are sharp and if the tube is not seated right they can put a hole in the tube, which it looks like is what happened, I understood how it happened. To solve this I put down a line of electrical tape, which fits nicely in the groove on the wheel and then put everything back together, being careful on installation of the tube.

So far today everything is working nicely, checked tire pressure this morning, class and back around 11 miles total today so hopefully that does it.

I certainly learned a lesson in this and I am glad I had the experience; I also got 2 bungee ties out of it as well!! (yay reused tubes!)

Anybody else have freaky tire failure? Either on the road or sitting parked? What do you carry for patching if you cycle a lot? CO2 or hand pump? New tube? Patch kit?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Infrastructure: A canal runs next to it

Larger size

Welcome back to Feature Friday! If you have been paying attention you will notice a few format changes I made, resizing of the main image and the borders of the blog to better hold data and images, and hopefully make it a bit easier to read.

Today we are in Birmingham, England. As a minor note the main header image was taken here on the same night, albeit a bit later. This image was taken near the end of May at about 9:40 at night. One of the most interesting things, is yes its almost 10pm and yes its still plenty light out! Interesting fact, Birmingham actually has more canals then Venice! This was told to me by one of my friends who lives and works in Birmingham, so he may have been a bit bias, but I can certain believe it. British Waterways has done a really good job restoring and labeling the canal system in Birmingham.

I do not remember specifically where this image was taken, however about 10 minutes later I came across this map, so you can do the math and figure out where I was :P
Larger size

It was again the end of the day, and I had an 11:50(ish) train back to Leeds (which turned into a 5am train but another story) so I was tooling around the canals, and circled back around, I don't know how far I went, but it was really nice, if a bit tricky due to the darkness, thankfully I had lights otherwise I would not have done it. Its a really nice rout and with caution can be done well during the day, the path next to the canal is well kept, even if Sustrans does not show it as an official off-road path on their map.

You will note that this is another trek on my Velocampus bike, it served me well that day and even made it truly off-road in a large nature park, which I will cover sometime later.

Approximate Google maps location
Sustrans, Birmingham overview map
British Waterways, West Midlands

Wear and tear

well today I got the first flat that was not directly caused by anything, seems the seam on the tube broke from wear, or just because it was old. It was the original tube that came with the bike when I got it in 2006. so over lunch break with a nice vegetarian wrap from my co-op I replaced the tube and got everything nice and pumped up again! Certainly a good experience, and now I need to go get me a patch kit in case it happens on the road, although I am not changing that tire at any fast speed and I don't have a small air pump yet, one step at a time! However it was really fun to come back from class to my bike and find the tire completely deflated, when I had ridden it in just fine this morning.

there will be a Feature Friday post hopefully up later tonight, for now I have a show that needs a spot op so that's where I will be!

I will post a picture up tomorrow of the hole!

good uses for dead tubes, cut them up and use them as bungees!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New toys!

Realising that I needed a new stem for my bike was pretty easy. When I used the tips of my fingers to hold onto the handle bars, the pain went away! I might not need a seat after all! So I cycled down to the bike shop yesterday between classes to check out what they had for options, they have a nice little adjustable stem in stock for 20$ and can put it on, or I might feel handy and do it since I have the tools. While I was there the thought hit me to ask for chain guards, which they don’t have in stock but which I could order for around 30 and it’s a one size fits all hopefully. I am slightly concerned about that, as my bike is a weird shape and design and I have had issues before with a “one size fits all” product. So both of them I am thinking on and do need to order but am going to wait for a bit longer, until the craziness of the first few weeks back wears off. However I did not leave empty handed! I needed some chain lube as with the rains this summer and raining on the way up here from NH, the oil needed to be re-applied as there was orange starting to be seen and the gears were getting a bit too clean. Thankfully they still had this canola based biodegradable oil(I will edit a link in later once I remember the name) in stock so I picked up a bottle, wanted to get some last fall but I had a spray container which I left at home for my dad this time around. I also picked up a nice little bike bell, as there had been comments in the past I scare people when I bike, well maybe if they were not constantly chatting on their phone or on their ipod they wouldn’t be so freaked out ;) but none the less I felt it a worthy 5$ and made in France no less! Down with China! A very successful day and around 17 miles on the bike, I also did a rough estimate of hitting 1000 miles by the end of the term, I should be able to without too much problem, that's not including a hopeful 125mi~ trek into Montreal and back sometime before my birthday.

Zefal bike bell
My local bike shop! :wub: