Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Commuting with an Umbrella

It was raining today, quite heavily in fact. In an urban environment that provides very little consideration for folks using bicycles it is not a pleasant experience, especially if it is anything more than a light spring rain.
Mostly this is due to the road curving to the edges, where the bicycle lanes are. This is to help drain water off during especially heavy storms to make it safer for drivers. That is the key, drivers, for cyclists traveling along the curb water collects, pools and covers up the potholes that were already there. Combine this with poor roads that are barely ride-able when it is dry, cars speeding past and hopefully not splashing you, low visibility in general, and loss of braking/maneuverability, you have a very unpleasant environment.

What does riding with an umbrella have to do with it? Citizen cyclists (I believe Copenhagenize has popularized the term) should be able to ride safely while carrying an umbrella if they choose to do so.
This gets to the problem with most of the built infrastructure for bicycling in the USA. It is not designed so that it is if not pleasant, at least tolerable, to ride in the rain or any other weather condition, or any time when it is not 75 degrees in the middle of the day with little traffic and a bit of sun in May.

I might argue that even with the typical built infrastructure today, it is mainly presumed that folks using it will do something else when it rains, or are really out to enjoy the ride and not actually get anywhere safely and comfortably, or are too die-hard for rain and puddles to stop them.

All of that being said, with a little coordination and picking the right streets one can ride with an umbrella even in the crazy road environment of Cambridge/Allston. My route earlier today is below, with the parts I used my umbrella in blue and the rest in light red.

click through for the full map

As you can see of my approximately 3.5 mile urban route I can use an umbrella safely about 60% of the time (around 2.2 miles) However that is just me, I am pretty comfortable and secure with my bicycle, I have good breaks and good control. For somebody who does not use a bike often, if they tried to bike with an umbrella there is only one section where they could. A .6mi section from Western Ave to the overpass of the highway. This is so little that it is not even worth it, unless you lived along here and were going to the bank or a friends house nearby.

The reason that would even be possible is that this is a traffic calmed road designed to be so narrow two cars can not pass each other but two bikes and a single car driving carefully can.

View Larger Map
Yes this is actually two way! This design means very limited auto traffic and what traffic there is is usually driving very carefully and slowly and typically won't even pass a bike going in the same direction, although there is room to do so safely.

In general these issues are why we need to really look at how we are designing bicycle infrastructure. No we can't design around the best rain protection possible (covered elevated paths etc.) but we should start looking at how we build roads and side-paths that can allow folks on bikes, or wheelchairs, or on foot to better enjoy getting to where they need to go even when it is raining out, or snowing, or hot or cold.

More thoughts on weather cycling and what other countries are doing (notably not the US) some point soon.

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