Category Archives: commute diary

At Long Last: Snow!

The inevitable has happened: snow finally arrived in Chicago!  Yesterday evening I was biking home without a jacket and today the streets look like this:

Instead of my bike, I took public transit:

I’m escaping to Nashville for a long weekend tomorrow, so I can deny the arrival of winter a little bit longer.  :)

Anyone enjoy a snow ride today?

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T-Shirts and Holiday Lights

I continue to ride with my Christmas lights on Betty Foy.  Apparently, I’m all confused about what time of year it is.

Adding to the seasonal confusion, the weather was so warm when I left work, I shoved my light jacket in my basket because my cashmere sweater (another $6 thrift store purchase) was more than enough to keep me warm.  A few miles from home, I began overheating and pulled off my sweater to ride the rest of the way in my t-shirt.  Imagine that: a t-shirt in mid-January in Chicago!

So if you see some crazy lady biking by with short sleeves and Christmas lights, that’s probably me.  ;)

 

 

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Video: Chicago’s 18th Street Protected Bike Lane

Yesterday I was in the Pilsen neighborhood on Chicago’s southside for the Women-Who-Bike brunch.  I decided to take the Lakefront Path for the 10 mile ride home, which I could reach by taking the new protected bike lane on S. 18th Street from Canal to Clark Streets, connecting the Pilsen and Chinatown areas.  This protected bike lane is one of three in Chicago and exists in part thanks to Alderman Solis (read more about his Ward’s projects and his recent trip to the Netherlands here).

Here is a quick video I made of the entire half mile long lane, sped 250%.

Grid Chicago reported on the construction of this bike lane in November.  Progress has been made since then, but I assume (hope) that the lane is not finished because there is no protection on the grated bridge and not much treatment for the intersections.  The riding experience for new bicyclists could be stressful at those points.  Overall, the protected bike lane was a pleasure to ride and certainly an improvement, although not as thoroughly executed as the Kinzie protected bike lane.

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Is it really January?

Sunny blue skies, clear roads, mild temperatures – is it April already? I’m used to the occasional brief warm up during winter, but this year winter hasn’t yet arrived at all. If the forecast is right, this will continue for at least the next five days.

Yesterday was so warm (relatively) that I simply threw a long cashmere cardigan over my dress before heading out the door. By my evening commute, the temps had increased to 50 degrees F and I didn’t even use my cardigan. And I’m thrilled to continue riding Betty Foy, who usually gets packed away for the harsh winters.

This is the same outfit I wore two years ago for my video demonstrating how I dress for winter bicycling, but now without the wool leggings, second pair of socks, wool sweater, wool overcoat, huge mitts, handwarmers, scarf, hat, and glasses!

I think the weather I’m experiencing now is more like typical winter for most of you, but this will go down in the books as one of the warmest winters in Chicago’s history.

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Bright Colors and Winter Sunshine

The mild winter weather continues to make me so happy! Sure, it’s cold, but not freezing cold. Sun shining on my shoulders and clear roads are all I need to stay in high spirits.

My bright red coat, instead of being my one source of winter color, is merely one of many bright colors on my commute. Look – not only is there a Carolina blue sky, there’s also green grass!

In case any driver fails to notice my bright red coat, I’ve taken to wearing a neon yellow slap bracelet around my ankle. This is the same nifty free bracelet I posted about wearing on my wrist during the summer. A little extra color never hurts, plus it’s just too fun and easy to leave at home.

The darkness of the evening commute feels more like winter, but I’m still rocking my holiday lights. Plus, today the weather warmed so much by the time I left work, I did not need my scarf and unbuttoned my coat.

This type of winter weather makes Elisa’s advice about dressing for winter bicycling in New Orleans relevant for bicyclists around the country, even us Midwesterners.

Whatever your particular weather experience is right now, I hope you’re enjoying these first weeks of winter!

p.s. I wrote this last night and this morning I woke up to heavy rain and 40 degree temps. Weird weather!

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Deck the Bike with Holiday Lights

Fa la la la la, la la la la!

Every year around the holidays, I think about how cool it would be to go all out with Christmas lights on my bike. And every year I punk out by throwing on ribbon and a couple of ornaments.

Not so this year!

I finally bought a string of battery-operated lights, one that’s colorful and blinks in fun patterns. Installing it on my bike was easy – I simply wrapped it around, starting from the handlebars, down along the top tube, and ending at the rack, where I tucked the battery pack under my cargo straps.

This set up makes me ridiculously happy. (It’s the little things that count.)

Plus, I’m the most visible bike out there by far! :)

Do you decorate your bike? I know several of you put lights on your bikes and encouraged me to do the same, so thanks!

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Biking to Harpo Studios

Yesterday was a special day for me, thanks to good luck. I won tickets to a taping of The Rosie Show where Tori Amos was the guest, by writing an essay about my love for her music. When I got there, they sat me front row center, the best seat in the house!

Rosie tapes her show in Harpo Studios, where Oprah used to tape. Riding there from my office was a breeze, since I could take the Kinzie protected bike lane and side streets the whole way. Riding from there back home was a little crazed and stressful. I wasn’t familiar enough with the area to attempt side streets at night, so I took a main route full of fast traffic, which then detoured because of construction, putting me on an even busier street, and *ugh* reminding me why I prefer side streets. At the same time, the experience also reminded me that I can confidently handle the messy stuff when it comes my way.

Outside Harpo Studios, I was disappointed that I couldn’t find bike parking, forcing me to lock to a light pole. There is very little bike parking in the West Loop neighborhood in general.

Here is the view from my seat in the studio, not zoomed in, right after the show ended when we were finally allowed to take pictures. You can see Rosie to the right and Tori’s piano straight ahead.

I also had the pleasure of seeing Tori in concert at the Chicago Theater on Saturday night, a sold out show. Chicago Theater is the best for seeing bigger concerts.

Okay, I’m done with my fangirl stuff. (Everyone has a favorite artist they’d be super excited to see up close…right?)

The weather in Chicago is back to being oddly warm. It’s in the 40’s now and will get up to the 50’s tomorrow. Weird but good for winter cycling!

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A New Red Coat on the Bike Path

Bright red seems like the best color for city cycling, getting drivers’ attention while still looking stylish off the bike. Chic, classic, and bold.

For this reason, I’ve been searching for the perfect red coat for two years, especially since seeing this post on Copenhagen Cycle Chic. Yesterday, the miraculous happened: I finally found “my” red coat. I was walking through Anthropologie during my lunch break, which I often do to torture myself because I usually can’t afford their beautiful clothes, when I spotted this unique red trench for half off.

Everything about the coat is perfect for me. The bright red “hi-vis” color. The classic trench styling. The length. The cinched waist with a bow.

And the laced back! Just the kind of quirky, personal touch I love.

Best of all, the coat will get me through three Chicago seasons: fall and spring over whatever I happen to be wearing, winter with a cashmere or wool sweater and my lightweight windbreaker underneath. There’s a nice lining that makes it a bit more substantial than the usual trench.

Plus, the red matches my other Oma accessories.

I also purchased something else on sale that I’ve been searching for: a digital camera. I wanted an affordable compact camera with manual controls and sharp photos, which I found in the Panasonic Lumix LX-5. I love shooting film, but for blogging purposes digital is faster and cheaper.  I (and my huge gloved hands) will be able to post more daily photos of my commute, more quickly. Yay!

Moving beyond consumerism to talk about actual biking, I had a lovely commute this morning.  I took the Lakefront Trail for the first time in a while.  I’m going to make a video of this route (with HD video on my new camera!) because it’s so beautiful.

Pure bliss = rolling on Oma down the quiet trail, listening to Jill Scott, enjoying the sun in my face and the wind at my back. Makes me wonder why I ever bother riding to work among car traffic.

Now is the best time of year to bike the trail – the crowds have left, but ice is not yet encroaching from the lake.

The weather today is suddenly colder, in the low-20’s. Winter is pushing its way through, slowly but surely. At least I have my red coat. :)

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Video: a busy Chicago bike commute

Earlier this week, I posted a video of my commute along quiet side streets.  To show how different the ride is along a busy route, on Friday morning I took Lincoln Avenue, a popular street for both bikes and motor vehicles.  I considered this taking one for the team, because I hate this route during rush hour.

A few notes before moving on to the video:

  • Lincoln Avenue is a major bikeway, with either bike lanes or sharrows along the length of it. As I discussed previously, it’s a pathetic set-up for such a popular bike route. Nevertheless, most bicyclists would take this street from my neighborhood to downtown.
  • This route takes about 25 minutes to my work, while the side streets route takes about 40 minutes.  Lincoln is faster because it is diagonal, a straight shot to downtown.
  • The bicyclist who happens to be in front of me for most of the video is carrying a child on the back, very cool.  I position myself a little further in the street and away from the parked cars than she, to avoid the door zone.
  • There’s a lot of traffic during rush hour and I generally filter on the right to get in front at stop lights.  This is the safest place to wait, but it’s important to position yourself in front of cars and trucks, not next to them.  Also, I know the light cycles well and go ahead only when I have enough time to do so safely.
  • The video is sped up by 250% and shows only 1/3 of the ride.  My memory card got full right before I passed three solid blocks of traffic-jammed cars.  That’s always smugly fun.
Without further ado, I present another low-budget LGRAB production:

The song is Beat Culture by Midori and I found it on Free Music Archive (thanks to Vee for the tip!).

Can you see why I prefer the side streets?  Which route would you take?

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Video: a calm Chicago bike commute

Here is a little video I made of my morning bike commute through relatively quiet side streets. Not the most interesting video ever, but I wanted to show how it’s possible to commute into downtown Chicago while avoiding busy streets and scary traffic. This is part of the quiet route that I often take, which I blogged about a few months ago here.

[UPDATE: May not work for international readers. Sorry!]

It’s hard to hear what I’m saying in the beginning and my memory card became full about 1/4 of my way to work, but you get the idea. The speed is 2.5x faster than reality.

I’m no Leslie Knope with iMovie, so please excuse the poor quality. (If you don’t get that reference, you didn’t watch Parks & Rec tonight – shame on you.)

Major shout-out to super sweet reader Ambrose, who gifted me her old bike camera mount after I posted my last ridiculously shaky handheld video. It made a huge difference. Thank you!!

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Lights in the Dark

Now that the sun sets completely by 4:30, I’m sad that my evening commutes are always in the dark.  On the bright side, this gives me the opportunity to enjoy all the beautiful lights that are now decorating downtown for the holidays.  Kind of makes my commutes feel magical.

Of course, I have my own lights, too, but those are not pretty.

Maybe this will be the year when I finally take the time to figure out how to string Oma with Christmas lights. :)

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Mild November

Wow, only five more days until December! Hard to believe that winter and the year’s end are so close. Chicago’s weather has been mercifully mild and is predicted to remain so through the rest of November. I’ve been getting along fine with cashmere sweaters ($6 at the thrift store) and wool mittens.

This pair of fingerless wool mittens is convenient for fiddling with my bike lock and flipping off drivers (only once, I’m doing better!).

This is my favorite time of year. I’m spending my Thanksgiving holiday reading books (on book #3 today), cooking, and eating, but I also have a couple of LGRAB podcasts, a video, and a bike review in progress – hopefully for next week.

I hope everyone else is having a mild season and enjoying the holiday!

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Farmer’s Market Ride

Last Thursday I went to a meeting at the Farmer’s Market before work, and it made for a good opportunity to show you a couple of their new(ish) bike racks that were installed last summer. I chose to lock Kermit Allegra to the cornstalks, which were functional enough as well as pretty.

 

The tomato bike racks, I’m sorry to say, have not garnered such good reviews.

I’m sure the reason will be obvious to anyone who rides: the only way to secure your bike is by threading a very thin cable lock through the tiny holes of the tomato seeds.

Just another example of poor bike rack placement or design trumping the best of intentions.

On a more positive note, I was at the market to get an advance look at a “share the road” campaign that Metro Public Works will be launching in Nashville next spring—right around the time the city is set to extend its bike share program. More details on these developments as they move forward . . .

 

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It’s that time of year…

When I start to look like the Red Barron -

And I have to remove and carry around a bunch of layers and accessories -

Before I look like myself again.

Is everyone else pulling out their hats, ear muffs, gloves, scarves and coats? (Snow is in today’s forecast!)  Or are you smarter than me, living in a warm climate? :)

Here’s our advice on dressing for winter biking, if anyone needs it.

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Chilly but cozy in Chicago

Hello, there! Sorry for the week’s break from posting. I have a bunch of topics piling up, so there will be more frequent blogging now.

Trisha is visiting Chicago again (for a work conference) so we got to commute downtown together this morning and afternoon. We enjoyed our ride on the Lakefront Trail. The weather created a gloomy but atmospheric setting, with misty rain, fog and a placid lake. This effect was exaggerated on the way home, since it was raining a bit and completely dark by 4:30 p.m. due to daylight savings time (I hope everyone has good lights!).

Ever the optimists, we used this as an excuse to tuck into a Scottish pub for fish & chips and whiskey. That’s one reason to like colder weather!  :)

Trisha and Coco

Me and Betty

Lakefront Trail

Sadly, the rain is supposed to pick up tomorrow and we’ll probably be taking the L train.

More tomorrow!

Appreciating Late Fall

The past two days have been rainy and super windy, so I’ve taken public transportation. The L train is no fun compared to my bikes, but I’m grateful for its convenience when needed. The combination of bicycling and access to great public transportation is what allows me to live without a car

Happily, today is sunny and dry, although 39 degrees – brrr.

I’ll not complain about fall weather too much, because I know what’s coming.

Gotta remember to appreciate the present.  Happy Friday!

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Who is the A-hole? Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me…

This is a post where I get to use our “a-holes” tag.

Yesterday morning, during the portion of my commute where I have to use a busy road, I approached an intersection (Wells & Division) with the green light and I kept a sharp eye on opposite traffic to make sure no one turned left in my path. That is a common occurrence because drivers either don’t pay attention or think they are fast enough to dart through, so I’m always looking out for it.

I entered the intersection and the opposite driver, who had a clear view of me, began to turn left at the same time without warning. I started breaking, but I wasn’t sure if I could stop in time, so I called out, “Don’t go! Don’t go!” I’m loud and his window was open, so he stopped and as I went by a split second later, he yelled out his window, “Then hurry up, Asshole!”

Can you believe that? Crazy times!

But I will continue to use my outside voice when necessary to ensure my safety. By the time I arrived at work, I was mostly zen about it, telling myself that he must be a miserable person, whereas I only had to deal with him for a few seconds.

I did stop at the store afterward to buy this amazing Icelandic chocolate bar before going to work. Chocolate is my friend.

And it helped that I had the witty banter of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me whispering in my right ear.

You may have noticed that I was a bit bundled up. With temps in the low 40’s, biking in a suit sans sweat is no problem, and now I have to add earmuffs, a scarf, wool tights and gloves. Not just any gloves – my fingers get very cold, so I had to break out these huge Thinsulate reindeer gloves. They’re so silly looking, they make me laugh.

Mean drivers, cold weather, whatever.

I will still be out there, enjoying my bike rides. :)

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Temporarily car-free in Nashville, Tennessee

So for the past month, after the car accident I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been car-free here in Nashville.

Living in a city that makes only the barest of nods to public transportation, I’d always assumed that being without a car would be a terrible hardship, even though I already rely on my bicycle for most neighborhood trips. Some of my fears turned out to be true and others, not as much. Here’s how a few of my preconceptions ended up playing out in reality.

I’d be limited on what I could do and where I could go.
True, but not to the extent that I had feared. I was able to bum a ride to events that were really important, or take a bus. I also tried out the bike/bus combo for the first time—overcoming my fear that my bike would fall off the rack at the front—and was amazed at how easy it was. That said, with an increased awareness of the energy and time expenditures to get somewhere, I found myself choosing to spend time (and money) in my own neighborhood more often.

My social life would suffer.
The past month has been quieter for me—but having to get most everywhere by bike has made me respect my human limitations and not push myself to do things when I feel sick or tired like I usually do. Surprisingly, being forced to slow down has been more relaxing than frustrating.

I’d be unable to see out-of-town family and friends.
Sadly, true—I missed out on seeing some good friends of mine a couple of weekends ago. (The Greyhound to my hometown takes about 7 hours, vs. 4 hours in the car, which means that taking it for a weekend is impractical. Rental cars are pretty pricey for a weekend.) This continues to be one of the biggest reasons for me to keep a car.

I won’t be able to do everyday things—shop for groceries, etc.
Again, sort of true. My local grocery is close but has crap (aka zero) bike parking, so it’s kind of a pain. I have tagged along with friends to the store a couple of times, which was nice when it came to buying milk, etc. I also found myself buying things at odd places that were for whatever reason more convenient (I’ve never bought milk at Walgreens before! Or butter from the Dollar General.). Random shopping trips just didn’t happen. I would say that was a good thing since I saved some money, but I’m pretty sure I made up for it by buying stuff online. There were some errands I put off while I didn’t have a car, like going to the bank, but then again I do that anyway.

More to come on the response from others, and my own feelings about the experience, but this post is getting pretty long. I know there are others in mid-sized cities, and others here in Nashville, who don’t drive. What has your experience been like? What were your fears about being without a car and how did you deal with them?

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More about skirts and helmets

The past two days, I have worn skirt and blouse outfits similar to what I wore in my last post, with a helmet, and drivers were pretty nice, but not as totally nice as before. Again, maybe it’s in my head, but it’s interesting to ponder.

For anyone who is “meh” about the Mary Poppins Effect talk because they don’t experience it – Mr. Dottie is right there with you and he’s perfectly content to ride a faster bike in construction-site work clothes, thankyouverymuch.

In an unrelated observation, the skirt below came down to my mid-calf, but was nowhere near my back wheel when I sat on the saddle. There are very few skirts that require a skirt guard, so I encourage those apprehensive about biking in mid-length skirts to give it a try. Just make sure your skirt is not touching your back wheel before setting off.

Hey, today’s Friday – happy Friday! I’m excited for the weekend because Trisha, Melissa and Erin, another friend from Nashville, will be in Chicago. I don’t know if Erin will be up for riding in the city, but I know Trisha and Melissa will be. This is when having multiple bikes comes in handy. I’ll be a mini bike share system. :)

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The Mary Poppins Effect and Happy Helmets

I left work yesterday evening, unlocked my bike and prepared to set off when I realized that I forgot my helmet in my office. It was one of those days when the idea of locking my bike again, removing my bag, going upstairs and unlocking my office was unbearable, so I decided to continue on helmetless. If I had a busy route, I would have retrieved my helmet, but my route is a series of calm side-streets.

Me and Betty on yesterday’s evening commute

This was one of my first times riding Betty Foy without a helmet. I have done it more often riding Oma, but Betty is faster and has more aggressive positioning.

My ride home was perfectly fine and I felt comfortable on the road. In fact, drivers were extremely nice to me. No one passed too closely or cut me off, and many drivers gave me an extra wide berth or slowed behind me until they could pass safely. I wonder if this behavior had something to do with the Mary Poppins Effect, as several people commented previously that when they don’t wear helmets, drivers are kinder. But my usual Nutcase helmet is so sweet and happy, I don’t see why wearing it would make drivers treat me any differently. I think a helmet covered with pink and red hearts would contribute to the Mary Poppins Effect.

Maybe the kindness was caused by the perfect fall weather, which put everyone in a really good mood. Or maybe it was partly in my head, since I was already wondering if drivers would treat me differently. Regardless, I’m more worried about drivers who never see me at all, so I will continue to wear my helmet most of the time. Maybe when Chicago gets those 100 miles of protected bike lanes, I’ll feel more comfortable going without. :)

{This post is not meant to be all “yay helmets” or “boo helmets” – simply a bit about my day.}

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