Thursday, December 31, 2009

Winter Weather

Image thanks to David Hembrow.

With another storm soon upon us here in New England I wanted to point you over to David Hembrow who has been doing a very nice roundup on winter cycling as the Netherlands has been hit with a good deal of snow of late. He has a couple posts up about his commute in and some of a nice city center rush hour traffic. I find it very interesting how they deal with snow and bikes and how Plattsburgh, or Dover deals with it. In Plattsburgh its up to the residents to shovel their sidewalks, and well if nobody lives along a stretch (I show a picture of it in This post) of sidewalk or bike path, its not going to get cleared. This path I am talking about in particular is in a lower income area and its use is mainly folks who are walking into town or biking into town because they cant afford a car and don’t want to wait for the infrequent bus. I went by 4 days after our major storm, roads were perfectly clear but none of the paths were even clear, just the small spots where people had walked. It’s a sad state I feel if we can’t even expect towns and cities to clear public walks for pedestrians. Certainly if they cant do that, do you think they would plow a bike path? You have got to be kidding me.
At least in Dover we have sidewalk plows that come by even in the middle of a storm and plow in our driveway! :P It does at least a good job of clearing the walks, even if the shoulders of the road are not cleared so great, at least pedestrians are pretty well served. I like to think these little machines could be employed to clear separated bike paths if a city already had them, and since they are built for sidewalks I imagine that they are not a one off hand built thing either. Its doable, cities just need to care enough, or have enough cyclists that would be pissed off if inconvenienced more then they already are.

Anyway head over to A View from the Cycle Path and take a look at it done right, and take some comfort maybe that at least one country gets it. In the meantime ride safe and ride often, a little snow never hurt anybody ;)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

a little end of year roundup

Well for sure it’s been an interesting year for me, and well obviously for the first 6 months of this little ol blog. I first actually became interested in cycling and transportation and planning and all that this spring in the UK, I was in a ENV planning program before but was focusing a bit more on policy then planning. That has certainly changed and with it the sites I read and where I go on the interwebz. I think commuting this semester by bike has certainly been really useful; I spent money on some upgrades for the bike, some nice accessories that needed to be done. However, I truly need a different frame and a different bike if I hope to keep this commute up for sure. I am looking at the Breezer UpTown 8 and now I need to find a local dealer that has one so I can test ride it, which is turning out to be more of a problem then I originally anticipated.

I did some rough math for the semester, and it seems I did between 900 and 1050 miles for the semester, I tend to lean a bit more toward the higher number but I think I was just under 1000 miles for the semester. That’s about 500 hours in the saddle, and it’s been good. It’s been exciting, depressing, painful, joyous, and peaceful. I missed 2 days due to snow and excessive baggage needing to be transported (more then my bike can carry safely at the moment) and well I don’t feel safe biking on a rural highway with snowplows going by me at 50. I have been yelled at, honked at, almost run over, whistled at, complemented, had pictures taken of and been attacked by lots of rain and head winds. It’s been an interesting semester. I look forward to the next, hopefully on a new bike that will be better for me and better for my riding conditions. I look forward to this New Year with excitement for sure.
I wish you a happy New Year and keep looking for posts into the New Year; I got a couple coming up soon (read when I get to write them) and back to some infrastructure Friday posts for sure!
Be well

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

some thoughts and a project

So one of the disadvantages about being home is that yes I have more free time, but I also have dialup internet, which means I don’t get to keep up to date on topics nor have an easy time working with pictures, video or other things for the blog. That is changing soon as my family moves into the 21st century with a DSL connection that should be up and running in about a week. I wanted to mention one of the projects I am currently working on though in this brief post.

Jessica, who I mentioned 2 posts earlier, contacted the group about a innovative car-share scheme she is working on in Brattleboro, and I offered to look at some GIS data and provide information on density and income levels and age groups in the area around Brattleboro city center. The Vermont GIS database is a bit trickier to work with then the NY database, but I found the data ok. The main problem I am running into though is in the information table (like an excel sheet) attached to each file there is a whole lot of data, but the acronyms are near impossible to figure out. Its very frustrating and I have hit a brick wall due to that, I need to contact somebody in the Vermont GIS office to see if they can help a bit.

I was musing about a light rail commuter line connecting some of the local towns to the major employers in the region yesterday, I might put together a little post on the thought in a day or so. There is lots of promise here for sure, but its never going to happen until people are forced to

In the meantime I wish you and yours a happy holiday, Merry Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, festivus, whatever you celebrate.

Be well, be safe, and best wishes

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Attention Attention, read all about it news at 11!!!

right for most of us this is not news, however we now have a new validated study to give to the people that blame cyclists for all sorts of things

New UK government study on cycling, via The Guardian.

this is huge! Sustrans just reported on this via their Facebook feed and a full report should be coming out and available to the general public shortly.

in short in the vast majority of accidents where police were present the cyclist's lack of stopping at red lights, or dark clothing, or lack of lights only contributed to 2% of cases each for a grand total of ~8% of overall accidents involving cars

yep its those damn no helmet dark cyclists running red lights are are ruining our cities ;)

"MIT team peddles more power per pedal"

Found this over at thanks to Jessica Tanner over at Vermont Livable Streets, which is part of the Streets Community at Anyway wanted to pass this on for a couple reasons.

One it’s really cool! As an owner of an e-bike retrofit, I know that they are useful and helpful especially for people with long commutes or may not be in the best physical shape yet(which I was not at the time I got it). The price on this prototype is also very good and affordable.

Second though this did not seem the focus, this is designed for European countries that already have ~30% bike trip share and are looking for more. For many reasons older people have given up on the bike and are now in a car, usually distance to travel is a major reason and well they are old, and while going up a hill as a 20 something youngin may be easy, for an older person this can prove impossible. So this is something designed to get fringes on board the bike. People with longer commutes, people who may be frailer or who are not as strong as they use to be, or for people that live in hilly districts and find it hard or annoying to be peddling up and down hills all day.

This is not for most Americans, or more importantly, cities should not be spending money on getting e-bikes for the cities, or even bike share schemes, unless that city is San Francisco ;) we have not even got the kids and the 20 something’s all on board, let alone women at all. That is only done through improvements in safety both subjective and actual; it is done through ease of the journey from origin to destination through mapping, through timed lights, through bike parking, and through path surface and geographic location. The quality of the paths are also important, not just where they go but how they go, completely segregated networks are ideal for getting the most amount of people on a bike, especially women. These are of course not cheap and not easy, its easy to strip a line next to the car doors and call it good, its much harder to redesign an existing area to allow separation of cyclists from other forms of traffic. To be fair most of our planners grew up in a country where places like MIT only taught about road planning and highway planning and maybe some rail, they didn’t do complete streets planning, or bike planning or true pedestrian planning (a sidewalk does not cut it) However until that is done, and either they are replaced or relearn, we will never see the rates that most of Europe has, at least not without banning cars in cites and towns all together(hmm another good idea?). Once we have done that (if we have done that) then the push should be for e-bikes and more options for mobility impaired people.

I sometimes fear the allure of oooo shiny new tech tends to go to politicians (and consumers) minds and the forget that its the non pretty, non shiny things, like the planning of a separated bike path through a park, that actually get large numbers of people on their bikes, not how pretty the toy may be (although fashion can get a certain % on a bike, see fixies.)

So overall very promising for sure and will be needed as we must move further from burning of fossil fuels for transportation. E-bikes of all sorts have a future but there are some things we need to do first before we push for them here in the US. Europe eat your heart out ;) article link

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cooking, it's a Zen Thing

There are a couple of questions that get asked regularly that I don't care for. One is "what are you reading?". Now I don't dislike the question per say, but folk invariably ask it while I am reading, which means I have to stop reading and talk to them. If I wanted to talk I wouldn't be hiding behind my book, duh.

The other is "can you write down the recipe for that?" The answer is usually "no because I don't use recipes." This comment is usually meet with a look of confusion, which is understandable, most people have their grandmothers recipe for something or another and they will follow it to the letter with no deviation every single time. If they have a recipe they got from the web or a magazine and if it says "use ONLY JoBobs real ketchup" well they will run out for a bottle of JoBob's. People are afraid to take a chance, and in doing so they miss out on opportunity.

Part of the problem is that people have a skewed view of what cooking is, cooking is not just the assembling of specific ingredients, in a specific order, at a specific temperature. Cooking should be about the food, not the words. Now I do use recipes, as a guideline to new ideas. Say I want to make pasta carbonara, something I have never made. I just looked up several recipes for that dish. Some had bacon, some had ham, one had pepperoni (sounded yucky) one had a combination of Italian sausage and prosciutto. Most all had 1/2 a pound of meat and 4 eggs. The amount of spices, Parmesan cheese and other ingredients varied. Directions were all similar.

If I were to make this dish I would go off those porportions and just cook it based on that, along with my personal preferences and what the dish tasted like as it progressed. That last step is the important one that many people fail to use. If I were to cook it, it would go something like this:

Start pasta cooking
Brown some bacon or prosciutto in a pan, about 3-4 slices ( I always use less bacon than something calls for)
Remove bacon drain pan of excess fat
saute some onion
beat together eggs and whole milk or 1/2 and 1/2
add minced garlic
add eggs and milk mixture, season with salt and pepper (easy on the salt since we are adding Parmesan cheese.)
add some fresh or frozen peas, heat until peas are bright green and warm through
Drain and add pasta and mix to coat noodles, add some Parmesan at this time.
add some fresh parsley
Plate, garnish with more Parm and Parsley.

You notice I didn't add amounts, go by taste and texture, most recipes called for cream which I hardly ever use. So I would use less of the milk or half and half since it is a bit thinner and just watch the consistency adding more as needed. I also added the cheese later than the most recipes call for it. This is based on my personal experiences adding cheeses to sauces and what I like to do. I would also taste it as I went along, seasoning in layers, in other words the onion would get a bit of salt and pepper, so would the eggs and milk as I added them. Tasting each to get it right.

I can't emphasize that one enough TASTE AS YOU GO. Recipe calls for 1/4 cup chopped onion? what if the onions are watery tasting, really pungent and strong? 1 tbl chili powder? what if it is old?, fresh?, an odd brand?, you like stuff really hot?, really mild? You won't know if you don't taste, waiting until the dish is done won't work. How many times have you or someone you knew said "next time I make this I will xxxxx"? If you taste as you go along you don't have to wait until next time, you can fix it this time and perhaps prevent a meal from being tossed out and the pizza place called up to bat.

The recent Thanksgiving holiday is a perfect example, I wasn't cooking this year. My sister had volunteered, I went over a bit early to give her a hand as needed. She is a decent cook and isn't afraid to try new things, her cranberry recipe, much like my own, has evolved over the years. She had nuts in it this year and it was fine. However when we sat down to eat, that was the first time she had tasted it, if something had been wrong she would not have known until her guests had already been served. By comparison, when we made the gravy, I tasted it and was of the opinion the salt was fine but it could use some pepper, she tasted it and agreed but if I had not done it first she would not have bothered. Would the gravy have been bad? No, but it would not have been as good as it was, solely because we tasted it and adjusted the seasonings.

I think most folk have lost the soul of cooking, in this age of prepackaged, instant, onepot in a box things that the marketing folk call food, we have lost sight of what food is, and how it should be treated. Smell your produce, taste food as you prepare it, if you think something would taste good in a recipe add it. Don't be afraid to try new things, more importantly cook new things.

Learn to be one with your food, taste, smell, touch as you cook. Learn substitutions for odd items. Lemongrass is a favorite ingredient of mine, very hard to get in my area and when I do it is usually past it's prime. Does that mean I can't make my favorite Thai Curry recipe? Naw, I use lemon zest instead, not quite the same but it works. Think outside the box (and don't buy the box). Pineapple upside down cake but pineapple is out of season? Try cranberries, blue berries or plums instead. Wander around the produce department and look for odd things. Buy them, then go and look up something to cook with them. If you do it in the opposite order you'll probably never buy the item, if you buy it first you will use it for something.

So don't throw your cook books out, but move them out of the kitchen. Use them as a reference, then get in there and cook. Paying attention to your food and listening to it will teach you more about cooking than all the books in the world.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Senior Project on Bike Commuting

from the good folks over at TheWashCycle. (this is yet another excuse to not do my history paper which is due at the time this will actually be posted :P)

Pedal Power Final Cut from Mike Kurec on Vimeo.

This wonderful little film has generated a nice bit of discussion on the original post over at WashCyle I weighed in of course and you can read my responses over there about safety and the focus on risk in this video. I felt that it is a good video that shows a lot of the thoughts that go into people starting to commute and what they are looking for. Yes it has lots of doom and gloom facts, but it has positive people talking about how great cycling is, it has people on separated paths enjoying their ride and I think this is much more powerful then any risk facts could be. Yes commuting by bike in most of America is dangerous; there is a whole lot of risk. However, think about the last time you were in a car, think about the potential accidents, the risks that you saw over that trip, how many times did you or somebody you saw come close to an accident or participated in dangerous behavior. Cycling is dangerous, but its all relative, for the schools that banned cycling and walking to the school building based on safety and risk, did they truly look at the statistics? Yes it is dangerous there is risk, but driving Johnny to school in your 3t SUV has more risk attached to it then many people want to admit.

Great job to Mike on this video, I enjoyed it. You can comment here or head over to TheWashCycle and join in on the discussion with your thoughts!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

a sad day :(

I lost one of my little buddies sometimes yesterday in the snow...

A 7led planet bike Blinky rear light :( I had it for around 4 years, and it bounced out of my back along with its rechargeable batteries (with plenty of life left, although not new) as I was biking through the snow around campus yesterday. It was my trusty light, had traveled through 4 states and 3 countries, I loved that little light, it was more then just a means to be seen, I felt attached, I loved it as it was my first even bike light, almost like loosing a friend.

its a day of mourning :(

in other news I found one on ebay for 10$ won the bid and its being shipped to my house back home :P not the same but still an effective companion to my new 1/2watt rear Blinky.

rest in peace Blinky, hopefully somebody finds it after the thaw and brings it a second life

Studded Bike Tires, First Impressions

Well I survived writing a novel in thirty days, now I need to get back to writing for our readers. Doing the novel project really changed some of my perceptions on writing and overall was a good experience.

Just about the time I was finishing up that project the weather reports started to promise that snow and ice were coming. Earlier this year my LBS (local bike shop) had offered me a fantastic deal on some Nokian studded bike tires. I had lusted after these for years but cost, about $60 a tire, had kept them off my bike. Given a good deal I grabbed them and figured now was the time to install them.

No problems with installation, just like changing a tire. Studs are carbide and are supposed to wear well. I got the Nokian Mount and Ground 160's. 160 studs per tire and the studs are mounted to the outside to prevent you from slipping on icy ruts. This is not a tire designed for aggressive off roading. Instead this is a tire designed for riding in less than ideal conditions, like snow covered plowed roads and patches of ice. As far as I can see their major advantage is not forwards traction, any decent tire with a deeper tread can supply that. The big advantage is keeping the tire from slipping to the SIDE and the bike from sliding out from under you.

We just got our first real snow and ice and I have two days on them so far. They perform well provided you ride sensibly. It is possible to get them to slip by cornering too hard or riding aggressively, but for a commuter trying to get from point A to point B they perform admirably so far. I will report further on them as I gain more experience with them. I will also try and get some pictures of them mounted posted.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A wee bit of Snow

Well not to bad for the first real storm of the season. Woke up this morning expecting it, but I also had an 8am ecology exam! well one look at a snowplow going down the road at about 45 meant biking in was not going to happen even if it was doable, I dont trust the cars, and I dont trust the 10ton snowplows with a wave of snow out in front. Hitched a ride in with a housemate and loaded the bike onboard, going to get a ride home and lock the bike in the theatre shop until tomorrow afternoon when it should be mostly cleared.

so I am thinking over winter break, putting together some kind of snow ski contraption thing for riding on roads when they are not plowed, or minimally plowed. I am thinking wooden/composite snow ski's that would attach to the rear frame and/or the front fork. put a mountain bike tire on deflated a bit and go at it, with stability of 4 legs with a wide spread and power from a thick rear wheel I think it has promise. However depth of snow will be important, some type of spring system or adjustment might be needed so wheel can get traction while ski's can ride on top...

or maybe I could get a car :P but thats not nearly as fun ;)

I will throw some pictures up later :)

anybody else crazy enough to ride in a snowstorm on unplowed roads/sidewalks? do you attach a shovel to the front and clear your own path? (also a thought)