Posts Tagged ‘bike commuting in Chicago’

Bikes Belong!

The Chicago Sun-Times published another super positive piece about biking today, an op-ed by the President of Bikes Belong. To my pleasant surprise, the paper used my picture to accompany the piece.

Photo by Keith Hale, Chicago Sun-Times

The entire op-ed, which also appeared in the Chicago Tribune, is below.

Why just ride to work when you can ride everywhere?

This week, commuters in Chicago are celebrating Bike-to-Work Week. An unprecedented number of commuters will savor the benefits of two wheels for health, fun, the environment and their bank accounts.

While Bike-to-Work Week is a great concept, I like to think of it as Bike-to-Anywhere Week — the store, a friend’s house, a trail, school. More than 70 percent of the trips that Americans take each day aren’t work-related. Nearly half of our trips are three miles or less.

For these short outings, riding a bike makes sense. Going six miles by bike instead of by car saves an average of $3, and three hours of riding a week can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by half.

But after 30 years as a cycling journalist, national bike advocacy leader and regular rider, I think I understand what will discourage most Bike-to-Anywhere neophytes from continuing to pedal next week.

If people are going to bike regularly, riding needs to be safe. It needs to be relaxing. Ideally, the route should be scenic. And when you arrive anywhere, a secure and convenient place to park your bike is essential.

Although cities like Chicago have made big steps toward becoming more bike-friendly, in too many cities and towns across Illinois and our whole country, these conditions don’t exist — at least not yet.

My organization, the Bikes Belong Foundation, is trying to change this. We’ve created a new national bike movement called peoplefor bikes.org. Our goal is to get 1 million Americans to sign a pledge of support for bicycling.

Close to 50 million Americans ride each year. A few cost-effective investments in facilities could help bicycling become even bigger, and more helpful in addressing key national challenges such as obesity, air pollution and dependence on expensive, nonrenewable sources of energy.

We like to say that when people ride bikes, great things happen — for the individual, the community, the nation and the planet.

You’ll see the appeal of two wheels on the faces of the people who ride this week. Look for smiles all around, just from the simple act of riding a bike to anywhere.

Tim Blumenthal,

president,

Bikes Belong Foundation

{Can I get a hell yeah? Sign People for Bikes Pledge here!}

Back to Normal

My world is all better today. I have a renewed appreciation for my regular commute, despite the congestion and car door flinging. At least traffic is slower, there’s a marked bike lane and lots of other bike commuters along the way.

Chicago from a lobby window

This is Bike to Work Week in Chicago and there are definitely more cyclists out and about. I’m team leader at my workplace and five other people have biked so far this week!

My new camera remote and $4 thrifted dress

In random news, I bought a MacBook! Last month, my six-year-old IBM Thinkpad gave out. After all the problems and crashing I put up with on PCs through the years, I decided to join Trisha in the Mac love. I’m giddy over the vastly increased RAM.

My new MacBook (and free iPod Touch)!

More random news: I won a ticket to Cities, Bicycles & the Future of Getting Around, featuring David Byrne! Check back here after Friday for a full report.

Has anyone out there heard Byrne speak about bikes? Or love Macs? :)

Dottie and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Commute

Wanna hear my story? Don’t worry – no dotties or bicycles were harmed in the making of this commute.

Monday and Tuesday I had to work at a satellite office on the west side instead of my office downtown. From my starting point the satellite office is four miles straight west on one street, Belmont Avenue. See the yellow line highlighted on the bike map below? That’s it.

This should have been a simple commute. However, as shown on the map, I had to cross a river and an expressway. No side streets cross both, only arterial streets. I avoid arterial streets due to the heavy and relatively fast traffic. I tweeted for route advice and the general consensus (thanks!) was to avoid Belmont Avenue. After studying the bike map, I decided on a circuitous route to stay on quiet neighborhood streets most of the way, riding on arterial streets only to cross the river and the expressway.

The ride started fine and I crossed the river fairly easily, although mixing it up with the fast traffic got my blood pumping. Back on the neighborhood street, I rolled along happily for a couple of miles, but when I tried to cross the expressway, I kept coming upon dead ends. I had ridden too far and backtracked down several side streets – all dead ends – until finding the big street again.

Time for the next obstacle. Traffic entering and exiting the enormous expressway is fast, aggressive and not looking for bicyclists, so I cautiously road on the sidewalk until I safely crossed over. Not only did I ride on the sidewalk, I also went against a red light. I saw that no one was coming and knew that as soon as the “walk” signal appeared, the cars waiting to my left would turn right onto the expressway with absolutely no regard for lil’ ol’ me. Something about expressway ramps makes drivers insane.

After crossing I had to pull over to get my wits about me. I couldn’t remember which side street I was supposed to take next and called Mr. Dottie for directions, grumbling about traffic and the time. Soon I found the side street that I thought would take me straight to my destination.

Wrong!

The street suddenly ended and dumped me back on the arterial street. By this time I was already late for work, so I sucked it up and pedaled as fast as I could with traffic, an activity not for the faint of heart. Also not for the faint of heart: stopping in the middle of an arterial with no turn lane while waiting to turn left.

Finally, I arrived at my destination – stressed, sweaty and 15 minutes late. But alive!

For the ride home I decided to take a more direct route down a nearby arterial, Diversey Avenue. This route was simple and better than the morning nightmare, but called for some serious vehicular cycling, moving fast and taking the right lane. I was the only bicycle out there, making me long for companions, regardless of whether they stopped at the red lights. This street is busy and relatively fast, but has a bike lane for part of the way and is a marked bike route on the Chicago map.

Just as I was thinking positively about the route, two SUV’s almost hit me while I was crossing the river, one right after the other. They were stopped in traffic in the left turning lane, I was going straight in the right lane and they did not look before impatiently gassing it out of their lane and straight into my path. That was it for me – bike car traffic city sensory overload for the day.

The next morning I took the Belmont Avenue bus, which carried me straight to work with no stress. I stared out the window and read Anna Karenina. I did not regret my decision.

The city needs to do some serious work to make safe east-west routes, because the current set up is absurd. Lucky for me, I can now return to my usual commute downtown.

After I returned home from my bus commute, I set out on my bike to a board meeting a few miles away. En route, rain started pouring. I pushed on until thunder and lightening showed up, then I admitted defeat, turned around and attended my meeting over the phone. Sigh.

So this brief period of time will go down as the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad commute. I guess everyone has bad commutes sometimes.

Carry a Load on Your Bike!

On the way home from work today, I met Mr. Dottie for a bulk food run. We were fresh out of the huge jar of fancy olives! We usually don’t grocery shop by bike because we live a block from a nice store, but we will go out of our way for a great deal on peanut butter: that’s where Costco comes in.

Bulk Grocery Run

The magnitude of this trip did not come close to our last haul with the bakfiets. Since we don’t own a bakfiets, most of our trips involve a basket, panniers and a few select bulk products. Our acquisitions today included 24 bottles of Two Brothers local craft brew (on Greg’s back rack), 4 lbs of organic strawberries, 6 lbs of yogurt, 4 lbs of raw nuts, 3 lbs of chicken sausage and 2 lbs of hummus. Yummy!

Beer Rack

The bikes handled the loads perfectly. A good test ride for the bike-camping trip we’re going on with Melissa and Chanh this weekend!

This is going down as a Summer Games, Part II Learning Experience: Carry a load on your bike.

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Yesterday morning, I fell in with a group of cyclists commuting to work, about six in all. Half-way to work I lost them, as they ran all the red lights and I stopped for all the red lights. As I was waiting for one red light by myself, the group already far ahead, three guys on bikes zipped by me, barely pausing for the light. A woman in a small SUV waiting beside me (about my gram’s age) said, “It’s so nice to see one bicyclist follow the rules of the road – and look so cute doing it. I love your basket!”

My gut reaction was to protest and stick up for cyclists. I could have said, “And it’s so nice to have one driver be nice to me.” But I did not want to be snarky with the well-intentioned woman and, really, there was not much I could say in defense of bicyclists, given the display witnessed moments earlier.  Instead I answered, “Thanks!  I wish more cyclists would.”

We as cyclists need to shape up. There are too many of us in Chicago to continue ignoring traffic laws, especially red lights. I understand the argument that sometimes it’s safer to jump a light instead of idling among trucks, and I’m not going to pretend that I never treat a red light as a stop sign (and don’t even get me started on stop signs). However, there are too many safety, legal and PR reasons not to ignore red lights and general traffic regulations in the city.

On the bright side, lots of bicyclists ride safely and conscientiously. This morning’s commute was totally different from yesterday’s, as the mini-pack of female cyclists I fell in with stopped at all red lights and fostered a calm and happy atmosphere. However, the bad apples are the ones who stand out the most, be they bicyclists or motorists.

What do you think about your city – is it reaching a critical mass where lawless cyclists are embarrassing? Is it time to start putting more pressure on other bike riders to embrace both the rights and the responsibilities of the road? And if so, how do we avoid playing into the hands of the crazed, mouth-foaming masses who use cyclists’ red-light-running to excuse the most abhorrent driving behavior?

Will it ever stop? Yo, I don’t know.

Allergies?

I’ve never been allergic to anything in my life – no food, medicine or plant could get me down. However, this spring I’m wondering if allergies have sprung upon me. For most of April, I had a terrible headache that went away temporarily only when I took Advil Allergy that someone gave me. She said I probably have allergies, and that she never had allergies until her late 20s, either. Now the headache is gone, but all week I’ve had a terrible scratchy throat. This started hours after I frolicked in the park below, where an astonishing amount of dandelion seeds wafted through the air and piled up in gutters.

Among the Enemy

Damn Flowers

Woe, does this mean I have allergies? Could it be exacerbated by riding my bike everywhere? Maybe it’s from city pollution mixed with heat?

If allergies are the culprit, does anyone have advice for medicine or a home remedy?

Roll Models: “Balloon Biker” Jami Krause

Portland gets a lot of attention as a hub for “bike fun,” but that city certainly does not corner the market.

Balloon Biker Jami

Chicago has its fair share of bike fun, thanks to people like our latest Roll Model, Balloon Biker Jami Krause. Read on to learn what inspires her to ride, her advice for new bicyclists and what’s up with the balloons.

How would you describe your bicycling style in three words?

Exuberant, adventurous, utilitarian

How does the bike fit in your daily life?

I use my bike for everything. I commute daily to my day job, go grocery shopping, visit friends, go on trips and socialize.

You have a part-time business, Balloon Biker. Tell us about this!

I do balloon twisting for all kinds of events. Birthday parties, festivals, store openings, restaurant patron appreciation…really anything. I also do deliveries of bouquets or special sculptures. With enough time, I can make anything out of balloons.

Naturally, I can make a balloon bicycle.

If it’s at all feasible to bike to the event, I will do so. I also sometimes do street performance and use my bike for transportation for that.

Given enough time I can make anything from balloons. My website has information on hiring me for events.

Often I’ll attach balloons to my helmet at group rides and it always makes people smile. This past weekend I helped out with the new Kidical Mass ride. It was great to see so many kids enjoying helmet décor.

Has Chicago’s bicycle culture changed since you’ve been around? If so, how?

I’ve only really been riding for 3 year, but things have changed a little bit. I think that The Chainlink is a great resource for finding rides and riding companions. I’ve met some really great people through that and have gone on some amazing rides. My perspective has also changed. I’m a lot more confident and have begun organizing my own rides and events.

Jami's Sea Creature

What inspires you to keep cycling?

It just makes sense. Within the city it’s usually the best way to get around. I don’t have to worry about parking or about the train and it’s easy to stop and do errands.

I’ve also met some amazing people through biking. If I were to stop cycling it’s like a third of my social circle would be much harder to see.

It’s great to have pedal powered adventures. I’ve gone on several bike camping trips and I love that. I’d really like to do a long distance tour, supporting myself by making balloons along the way.

Jami on her Halloween bike

What advice would you give others, especially women, who are interested in or new to cycling?

Just try it out. Other than a bike, a helmet and a lock, you really don’t need anything special. You don’t need to be in-shape or to have the latest and greatest of anything. I’m a plus-sized woman and have had no problems. If I can do it, really anyone can.

You can start with a visit to the store, or to a friends or to the park. It’s very easy.

As for fashion…it’s really about your own comfort levels. I wear what I’m comfortable in. You can dress nice if that’s what you like to do…or you can wear normal jeans, or office clothes or yoga pants. Heck you can even wear spandex if that’s really what you want to do.

I’d really recommend trying out some group rides. Join The Chainlink and see what is coming up. Think of the rides as a party…sometimes you need to approach people and strike up a conversation. Just like at a party, not everyone is going to be friendly or interesting. This was something that I struggled with at first, but now I see the same people over and over again and really find it a welcoming community.

Thanks so much, Jami!

Jami and I started talking at a stop light on our way to work a few months ago. From there we moved on to email, which resulted in this profile. Isn’t it so much fun to meet people while riding? :)

Kitted Out

Last week I talked about riding slowly to avoid sweating and last year I talked about fresh summer cycling.  However, when the temperature is 90 degrees, changing into work clothes after the commute may be simpler than worrying about sweat marks and riding super slowly, especially when you’ll have to duck into the bathroom to freshen up anyway. Such was the case today, when I “kitted out” after suffering through a terribly sweaty ride in my work clothes the day before.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to introduce my LGRAB team kit.

As always, I have the Nutcase helmet and Po Campo bag. I might get a breezier helmet for the summer to cool my head better – a sporty helmet with lots of air vents. In the alternative, I’ll ride my Dutch bike on the bike path more often to forgo the helmet. Sweaty hair is my least favorite part of bike commuting (well, after cars).

I wear these crochet and leather fingerless gloves for longer hot rides with my Betty Foy. The combination of sweat and cork grips causes callouses otherwise.

My first summer of riding, I bought a lot of clothes specifically for commuting. Any old summer dress or tank and short combo would do, but I like Patagonia’s skorts (looks like a skirt with shorts underneath) and tanks with build in bras. Anything in merino wool is also good.

Keen cycling sandals are ugly as sin, but keep my feet cool and are odor resistant – a huge benefit when they’re sitting around my office all day. They have built in things on the bottom to connect clipless somethings. I ignore those.

Essential eye gear, of course.

The whole shebang.

My skirt and blouse were rolled up in my basket, but I’m gonna start leaving some suits in my office, along with my work heels.

Whether you prefer to ride in work clothes, casual clothes or special cycling clothes, it’s all good. Mix it up. Experiment. Just do what works for you.

Anyone else making accommodations for the heat (or cold, for the Australians out there)?

Ride Slowly, Don’t Sweat

After the group ride on Wednesday – cycling no faster than 12 mph – I realized that I was not sweaty at all. That was a pretty big deal, especially for a 10 mile ride in 70 degrees, since I tend to sweat while riding. I’m no rocket scientist, but I managed to put together that if you ride slooowly, you won’t sweat. This is not exactly breaking news, but it’s a good reminder of the different riding options out there. I’m not a “fast” rider, but I usually push myself just enough to break a sweat.

During my morning commute, I decided to test this on my own. Without the constraints of a group ride, I had to remind myself continually to slow down. Usually in the morning when riding Betty, I enjoy riding fast and really working my legs and lungs. The slower pace was enjoyable, though. I was able to take in the scenery of Lake Michigan and turn my face up to the sun. And, like magic (a really obvious card trick, perhaps), I arrived at work after my 6 mile ride sweat-free.

I wouldn’t want to be so relaxed in my riding every day, but slow riding is handy if the weather is warm and you really need to look presentable immediately upon arrival. How about you – do you take it super relaxed or push yourself and deal with the consequences later? Or maybe you either sweat or don’t sweat no matter what?

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