Tag Archives: safety

Chicago’s First Protected Bike Lane + Bike Box

Yesterday, while waiting at a red light on my bike, a woman with a baby on the back of her bike rolled up and stopped next to me. I waved and cooed to the baby until he smiled. Then his mother said, “Say hi,” and he did, flapping his chubby little hand, eyes shining under his helmet. The light turned green, she told me to go ahead and I told her to have a good day.

My friend Ash's daughter, whom I photographed last week. Not the baby I saw yesterday, but equally adorable.

In an ideal world, sweet meetings like that would happen all the time. In reality, I very rarely see anyone bicycling on Chicago streets with a child. Even as more and more people, men and women, start bicycling for transportation, the venture still seems risky to most. The only way to get a substantial amount of people to bicycle in the city, especially parents with children, is to provide safe, separated infrastructure. Chicago needs protected bike lanes.

For 3 years I have been bicycling in Chicago on a daily basis. During this time, I have seen how easily and cheaply the city’s streets could be adjusted to accommodate protected bike lanes. (Easy and cheap relative to all the other construction projects going on. I know all of Portland’s bike infrastructure was created for the same cost as one highway interchange). This knowledge left me perpetually frustrated, because no one with power in Chicago seemed to care, despite the fact that bicyclists make up ~1/4 of the traffic along my commute route.

This week, Chicago’s disgraceful apathy has ended. All in the past 3 days, new Mayor Emanuel announced the first protected bike lane, CDOT started construction, and the scheduled complete date is next week. The city’s first protected bike lane will be on Kinzie Avenue where it crosses Milwaukee Avenue, leading into downtown. Currently, bicyclists make up 22% of the traffic along this stretch.

There are a few different ways bike lanes can be “protected.”  For this project, the street pattern will follow this order: sidewalk, curb, bike lane, painted buffer zone, parallel car parking, motor vehicle travel lane. While visiting the construction site, Steven Can Plan noticed that they are also building a bike box (where bicyclists can wait in front of motor vehicles at red lights) and a bike-only left turning lane at a big intersection.  Those are also firsts for Chicago.

You can watch the Mayor’s press conference below:

View more videos at: http://www.nbcchicago.com.

[You have to sit through a car commercial before watching the press conference.]

Some choice quotes from Mayor Emanuel:

I want Chicago to be the bike friendliest city in the nation.

Speaking of the role bicycling plays in the city, he pointed out three factors for the future:

1) another means of transportation
2) people can do it with safety
3) as we attract businesses to Chicago, an integrated biking system to and from work is essential to the type of workers I want to see in the city of Chicago.

He noted that bicycling is:

Both an economic development essential tool and it adds to a quality of life that is essential to the city.

This particular project is only 1/2 a mile. But the Mayor announced that Chicago will build 100 MILES OF PROTECTED BIKE LANES OVER THE NEXT 4 YEARS!

Yes, you read that right: 100 miles of protected bike lanes.

Obviously, I am excited about these developments. My approval is conditioned on the city following through with its promises here, but for the first time since I started bicycling in Chicago 3 years ago, I’m seeing real and positive change.

I encourage everyone in Chicago to write the Mayor and thank him for his trailblazing support of safe bicycling infrastructure. Also, even more importantly, reach out to your Alderman to state your strong support for protected bike lanes and bike boxes. On June 21, I will attend an Active Trans Social with my Alderman Waguespack to voice my support. You can attend or organize a social in your neighborhood with the help of Active Trans.

{For much more detailed information on the Kinzie Avenue project, check out Steven Can Plan. He’s been doing an excellent job of reporting on this project and others around the city.}

{For more information about cycling with children, check out Kidical Mass.}

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Introducing Chicago’s Critical Lass Ride

I am pleased to introduce a new addition to Chicago’s growing women-bicycling scene: Critical Lass!  Every third Thursday, 6:00 pm, at the Polish Triangle.

The ride’s name is self explanatory: think Critical Mass but exclusively for women and with an extra dose of friendliness.

The Critical Lass concept was – I think – created last year by Loop Frame Love in Edmonton, Canada.   Girls and Bicycles and Breaking Chains Taking Lanes also participate in the Edmonton ride.  Now my friend Ash of One Less Minivan has picked up the idea and worked to bring the ride to life in Chicago.  As far as I know, Chicago is the second city to host a ride using the Critical Lass name (always the Second City).

From the Critical Lass Chicago Facebook page:

Critical Lass is a monthly 5-8 mile bike ride exclusively for women/trans cyclists. In situations where childcare is not available to you, children who can ride independently while maintaining a 10MPH pace and younger kids in bike seats/trailers will be welcome to join the ride.

We meet on the third Thursday of each month at Polish Triangle (Division/Ashland/Milwaukee) in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Begin arriving at 6pm for a 6:30 departure.

The route will change monthly, always ending at a restaurant or bar for drinks, nosh and conversation.

I’m excited!  Hope to see many of you Chicagoans there.  If not this month, then June, July, August, September, etc.  :)

{p.s. Wondering how to find – or create – a bicycling community in your own town?  Check out Simply Bike for some great tips.}

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A Lovely Bike Commute?

My bike commutes this week have been lovely, full of sunshine and flowers and blue skies.  That’s what I was thinking, anyway…

Then I read Sam’s “Bike to Work Week” post, which is hilarious (as always), but sadly too true.  You gotta read the post yourself, but basically it has me wondering how lovely my bike commutes really are – objectively.

I have so much experience riding in the city now, the stress mostly rolls off my back: speeding SUVs buzzing me, car doors flung open in my path, cabs idling in the bike lane.  All of that craziness is a dim hum in the background for me, but a new bike commuter would be totally freaked out – and with good reason.

But there’s a lot to be said for sticking with bicycling long enough to get over those initial freak-outs.  Because, as Sam discusses, once you move beyond all that, bicycling “will be the most blissful state of existence you will ever know.”  That’s where I’m coming from when I rhapsodize about my lovely bike commutes every day.  Totally subjective.  :)


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Ride of Silence

Dear fellow cyclists,

As the Ride of Silence approaches — Wednesday night, May 18, 2011 for most communities — let’s take a moment now to reflect why we ride in silence and for whom. As someone commented on the Ride of Silence’s Facebook page – “the great thing about the Ride of SILENCE, it’s the same spoken in any language.” Silence is truly a universal and powerful language.

Below in the comments, please list the name of a bicyclist (could be yourself as a crash survivor) that you honor and wish to always be remembered.

Then please take a moment to also add this honoree info here (which will be collected by official ROS organizers for possible inclusion on the memorial page, which hopes to soon include injured cyclists). To see a list of all cyclists who have already been memorialized on the ROS site, visit the “In Memoriam” page.

Now – fellow bike bloggers… help us make another “silent” statement before the night of the ROS silent procession. Please re-post this exact post on your own blog asking the same of your readership (to comment with the names of bicyclists they honor and remember and to repost).

This is our “honor roll” for all bicyclists that the Ride of Silence (the global bike community) will never forget! We honor in this “silent” way all those who have been killed or injured by respectfully saying nothing at all… as we put a name to all cycling crash victims who we will never forget.

Please also add the names of cyclists we honor to the ROS Honor Roll database for statistical collection purposes –http://bit.ly/mnFne9

Let the Silence ROAR.

{Much love to our friend Elizabeth, who started this message at Bike Commuters, and who puts so much energy into organizing Chicago’s ride and spreading the message of remembrance.}

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Unexpected Thunderstorms

Last weekend a friend asked me and Trisha what we do about thunderstorms, and we both agreed that we simply do not bike in them. However, that is a simplified, partially true statement. The full explanation is that I choose not to bike in the morning if, at the time of leaving, hard rain is actively falling or the forecast all but guarantees thunderstorms. I tend to ignore vague forecasts for the possibility of thunderstorms in the evening, because so many times when I started bike commuting, I was tricked into not biking when the weather was fine.

Which is how I now end up biking home in thunderstorms more than I would like.

My commute is long enough to give the weather ample time to change (30 minutes) but short enough that I feel okay pushing through bad weather. I wait out storms with thunder and lightening, but the most common scenario has me leaving work just before the sky opens up, and once I’m already on my bike, only the worst conditions could stop me. Otherwise, I push on through cautiously but assertively.

Such was the case last night.

Photo from last year. Imagine this, but dark.

Leaving a fundraiser benefit for my employer, the weather seemed fine, although the night sky was too dark to see clouds. Only after I biked half a mile did the rain suddenly start pouring. Thunder and lightening soon followed.

I was wearing an elegant black ensemble: a silk dress, blazer, tights and dress shoes.  I had a raincoat tied around my waist because my new dress became way too short on the bike (more about that later) and for visibility, not because I anticipated rain.  After the storm started, I considered pulling over to put the raincoat on, but did not want to lose momentum, so I continued all the way home as I was.  Of course, by the end of my commute, the storm had calmed to a drizzle. Arriving home, drenched and drowned-rat-esque, I immediately hung my clothes to dry and took a hot shower.  This morning, both the clothes and I are fine. My Po Campo bag, which is advertised only as water resistant, amazingly kept all of my contents safe and dry.

There is a lot of talk on bike blogs and forums about gear like rain pants, ponchos, etc.  Those accessories are important in some situations (like if I were on my way to the event), but if you’re going straight home, there is nothing terrible about getting caught in the rain in your regular clothes. I do not want newer bike commuters to worry that they are not properly prepared for bicycling until they acquire all that stuff.

I am grateful that I had my Planet Bike Superflash.  Powerful lights are always important when riding in the rain, especially at night.

Somebody tell me that I’m not the only one with bad luck when it comes to getting stuck in the rain. What do you do when unexpected thunderstorms hit?

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A Shared Bike-Cab Moment

Q: What would cause a bicyclist and a cab driver to share a moment in the middle of a busy Chicago intersection?

A: Nearly falling victim to a supremely stupid and dangerous move by another driver.

On my way home yesterday, as I waited in the middle of an busy three-way intersection to turn left – my light was green but through traffic from the other direction had the right-of-way – a big SUV pulled next to me and then awkwardly inched itself half-way in front of me at a turning angle, effectively cutting me off and placing me dangerously within its turning radius. I was thinking, “What the hell, moron??” and had to walk my bike backward. (True to stereotypical form, the driver was a woman talking on a cell phone.)

We sat there as one, two, three cars went by coming from the other direction. There was one more car, a cab, in the line of right-of-way traffic. Our light was still green. Shockingly, the SUV driver turned left right in front of the cab. She did not dart out quickly; she simply turned as if she had all the time in the world.

For a split second I was sure the cab would crash into the her and both would crash into me. Thankfully, the cab driver managed to stop in time by slamming on his brakes and the SUV continued on as if nothing strange had happened, leaving the cab driver and me stopped in the middle of the busy intersection, staring at each other and shaking our heads in disbelief. Happy to have someone to commiserate with, he made a “What was she thinking????” gesture and I responded with a “I have no idea, but that shit was crazy!” gesture. We shared a moment. Then he continued straight and I turned left, strangely giddy for the rest of my ride home.

I deal with so much ridiculousness on my bike every day, connecting with a driver about the confirmed idiocy of another driver was oddly comforting. It reassured me that I am not the crazy one. It also reminded me that cars are not my natural enemy; rather, stupid drivers are a common enemy to all. I prefer to focus on that part of the incident, rather than think too much about the fact that there are so many drivers distracted by cell phones that they don’t know or even care what they’re doing on the roads. After all, if the cab had crashed into this woman, she probably would not have been injured in her huge SUV and I’m sure she has insurance, so why should she care enough to follow the law and not talk on her cell phone while driving? That would be terribly inconvenient.

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Air Pollution and Bicycling

Breathing behind the exhaust pipes of cars, trucks and SUVs is one of the worst parts of bike commuting. Although passengers in motor vehicles breathe in extra pollution from the toxic chemicals leaching off the car interior itself, a recent study found that bicyclists in Brussels breathe in 5 times more air pollution than drivers or pedestrians. On the other hand, I remember a study that declared bicyclists breathe in less air pollution, but I cannot find a link to it now. What I know for sure is my own experience and I feel like I breathe in a lot of pollution while cycling.

Air Pollution - Image (c) Tom Krymkowski

This subject is on my mind due to a recent experience. Yesterday morning a truck, similar to the one pictured above, passed me and belched out a horrific plume of thick, black smoke from the top. The plume was at least 5 times as big and thick as the picture above. I almost pulled off the road, but there was no escaping, so I ducked my body over my handlebars and held my breath until I made it through the other side. The truck continued hurtling from block to block, releasing a disgusting plume of smoke as it accelerated from each stop sign, before mercifully turning onto another street. Surely, this truck would never pass a city inspection, but nevertheless it was out there on the road, spewing its disgustingness around.

This incident, although rare, was troubling. I hate to think how much pollution I breathe in while cycling through the city. I often say that I love cycling because it’s a chance to get out in the “fresh air,” but I shouldn’t kid myself: the air is not so fresh in Chicago. That is a depressing fact.

I am not sure what to do or say about this problem. Complaining about trucks in general would be hypocritical, since they carry food to my grocery store, deliver my packages, sweep my streets and remove my garbage. Living in the Bike Lane wrote about this problem last year and offered some solutions for both individuals and cities.

What have your experiences with air pollution been? I’m especially interested to read the responses of the country mice versus the city mice.

Hopefully, air pollution will not progress to the point where bicyclists feel the need to don surgical masks, as they do in other countries.

{Image courtesy of Tom Krymkowski via Flickr}

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Chicago’s New Mayor on Bicycling

Rahm Emanuel has been elected the next mayor of Chicago!

Here is a bit of what our new mayor has to say about bicycling in Chicago:

Rahm supports full implementation of Chicago’s Bike Plan and will initiate a review of its goals and timelines to identify opportunities to expand the plan and accelerate the pace of implementation.

Chicago’s 125 miles of bike lanes cover a small portion of the city’s 5000 miles of roads. Rahm wants to dramatically increase the number of miles added each year – from 8 to 25 – and prioritize the creation of protected bike lanes. His plan is based on a simple premise: create a bike lane network that allows every Chicagoan – from kids on their first ride to senior citizens on their way to the grocery store – to feel safe on our streets.

Under the plan, Chicago would be a pioneer in the creation and expansion of protected bike lanes, which are separated from traveling cars and sit between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars that shield cyclists from street traffic. He will prioritize the lanes on major thoroughfares that link communities to downtown and each other.

I was surprised and impressed by the specificity of these campaign promises, especially the emphasis on protected bike lanes, which the city so desperately needs to encourage more people to ride a bike.

Mayor Daley has done a lot for bicycling in Chicago, but I’ve seen very little progress in the last couple of years.  I’m excited for a fresh start!

You can read more about Emanuel’s transportation plans here, with sections on public transportation, bicycling and high speed rail.

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Winter Maintenance of the Lakefront Trail

I’m still annoyed by winter, but I’ll think back to happier times: Friday, when I biked to work and then took a joyride to the lakefront during my lunch break.

This was two days post-blizzard. Access to the trail is through an underpass below Lakeshore Drive and this was the most difficult section to manage due to the snow, as only a narrow path was shoveled and not very well.

Once I emerged on the other side, the plowed bike path pleasantly surprised me. I biked a ways up and down the path just for fun, but it was slow going, mostly because I’m a baby when it comes to biking on packed snow, even with my studded tires, and always want to be able to put a foot down if necessary.

At this moment, I joined Lovely Bicycle in really wanting a Surly Pugsly for the massive snow tires. I also wondered if Coco would be better in this particular snow situation with her Fat Frank tires. I’ll have to take her for a spin in the alley this weekend for research.

It’s a good thing that my visit to the Lakefront Trail was only for fun and not for transportation. Although I commend the city for plowing the trail so quickly after the blizzard, clearing away all the snow would take a little more time.

For Chicagoans who want to use the trail for transportation in the winter, the Active Transportation Alliance posts regular updates of conditions on its blog, along with helpful pictures. You may also be able to find useful information on The Chainlink, a Chicago bicycling online community.

Is anyone relying on trails and bike paths to commute during the winter? If so, how are the conditions as far as upkeep and lighting?

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Post-Blizzard Bike Ride Details

Yesterday I posted pictures I took while playing in the blizzard and I mentioned my bike ride the day after the storm. Here is a detailed account of that ride and a look at the blizzard’s not-so-pretty aftermath.

After pulling Oma out of the garage and into the alley, I began doubting my decision to ride my bike one day after 20 inches of snow poured down on Chicago.

The condition of the first street I came upon did not increase my self-confidence.

However, I had a plan to take arterial streets that I usually avoid due to scary car traffic. I knew they would be plowed and a bit calmer than usual, and I was right.

Once I reached my destination, I just had to find a parking spot…

This bike called dibs way earlier. I’d say he earned it.

Luckily I found a bike rack that was not totally consumed by snow.

Once on foot, I realized that bicycling in the road was much easier than walking down un-shoveled sidewalks.

Well, except for streets like this one. The side streets still had a ridiculous amount of snow.

Want some?

Overall, the ride was a pretty low-key adventure. My intimate familiarity with the area, bicycling confidence and studded tires helped the situation. For sure, I was happy to return home at sunset, safe and sound and feeling a little bad ass.

Today I biked 10 miles roundtrip to work, plus a couple of miles during lunch, plus a few more miles tonight to see the Decemberists play a live show (so good!). The rides were more stressful and obstacle-course-like than usual, especially when some [censored] honked at me, but enjoyable nevertheless.

Now what’s that news story about a groundhog seeing his shadow?

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How Preparation and Maintenance Affect Winter Bicycling

Trisha’s post yesterday about the difficulty of riding in Nashville after snow has me thinking about the important role that city preparation and maintenance play in winter commuting. If streets are not cleared quickly after a storm, even a modest snowfall can ruin several bike commuting days.

Southern cities are getting more wintry weather this year than they’re equipped to handle. I heard on the news that Atlanta has 8 snow plows; in contrast, Chicago has hundreds. I assume road salt is in similarly limited supply.

Without salt and plows, Trisha has to walk her bike over large icy patches in Nashville

On top of this, Southern bicyclists are likewise less equipped to handle the weather, as there’s usually not enough snow to justify purchasing snow tires or studded tires. This results in more of Trisha’s commutes in Nashville being thwarted than mine in Chicago, despite the much greater snow totals in Chicago. You can see this happen with Bike Skirt Elisa’s commute in Alabama, too.

Meanwhile, this week in Chicago, I took one day off bicycling when the snow was actively falling on Tuesday. The next day, after 5 inches of snow, all but the small side roads had been cleared of snow and ice.  Plus, to handle any surprises, I have studded tires.

Streets are reasonably clear a day after a Chicago snowstorm

Unfortunately, the bike lanes are still a complete mess, which is something the city needs to work on improving, but at least I could ride in the main lanes safely.

Unfortunately, bike lanes are mostly ignored in the snow-clearing process

Therefore, it seems like so far this winter, snow and ice have been more problematic for bicyclists in the South than in areas to the north that regularly get snow.

Of course, I have not forgotten about the crazy blizzard action going on around New York and New England. How long does it take after one foot of snow falls before roads are reasonably clear for bicycling?

And for everyone else, feel free to leave a comment stating your location and how well your city has been dealing with wintry weather this year.

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In Defense of Studded Tires

I must say a few words about a post on Copenhagenize that ruffled my feathers. I’m a huge fan of Copenhaganize, but the internet is all about criticizing people for every little imperfection, so I’m taking issue with one small part of one post in the Copenhaganize archive. The post is called “Cycling in Winter in Copenhagen” and starts out nice enough until this part:

“And no bicycle studs were harmed in the making of this blogpost. I never see them here and wouldn’t possibly know where to buy them.

When you have as much urban cycling experience as the people of Copenhagen or a city like Amsterdam, you are pretty much trained to cycle in any weather. I’ll just let my fellow citizens do the talking…”

He then shows numerous photos of Copenhageners riding along in the snow, a beautiful and inspirational sight. However, look closely and you will notice that every picture shows the bicyclists physically separated from motor vehicle traffic.

Photo (c) Mikael Colville-Andersen

May I submit that the use of studded tires by people like, ahem, me has a lot to do with the high risk of serious injury that comes with a slip? As in, if I were to slip on ice during my work commute, it is more likely than not that a car, truck or SUV would immediately run me over.

I am not a fearmonger, but hundreds of huge, speeding vehicles pass me within a couple of feet every day.  I have a good idea of what would happen if I were to fall beside one of them. A lot of my cycling friends in Chicago feel okay riding without studs, but I prefer the peace of mind that comes with them, along with the ability to ride on any day and any route, regardless of the weather or the city’s thoroughness in plowing.

My bicycle route: unprotected bike lane full of ice, directly next to heavy car and truck traffic

A calm part of my bicycle route, where unfortunately SUVs love to squeeze by me

Moreover, cycling experience does not prevent one from slipping on ice. I have lifelong experience walking, but I still slip and slide on icy sidewalks. Ice is slippery.  Mikael himself has acknowledged “some slip-sliding moments and fishtailing” while riding his cargo bike in the snow.  Sure, I don’t mind slip-sliding or even falling when I’m on the lakefront bike path, but a cavalier attitude about such is not advisable when sharing the lanes with cars.

I’m certainly not telling everyone to buy studded tires or advocating for laws requiring their use or creating stickers announcing “you’d look studlier in studded tires.”  But in defense of those who use studded tires, I’m pretty sure such use is not based on lack of urban cycling skills or the general inferiority of goofy non-Danes.

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FAQ’s – Part II

Earlier this year, Trisha and I opened a Formspring account and welcomed you all to ask us questions.  We’ve been answering the questions on Formspring individually as they come in.  Now we’re putting the answers together as a cohesive FAQ section, although some of the questions are not so frequent.  :)  This is the second half.  Read the first half here.

Amsterdam is flat. Chicago is flat. Is Nashville flat? What effect does topology have on how bike-friendly a city is? I suppose Portland is not flat.

I don’t think Portland is flat, no. And Nashville definitely isn’t! IMO that is not the biggest consideration for bike-friendliness, although it may be an obstacle in developing a large bicycling culture since hills can be intimidating. You will develop the necessary muscles, and there’s always the downhill stretches! And hey, as Dottie pointed out in a recent post, there’s no shame in walking your bike up a hill if you need to.

Don’t your feet get sweaty when wearing heels? Even when I wear just flats its definitely not as comfortable as when I wear socks + some sort of sneaker

No, my feet are actually cooler when I’m not wearing socks and sneakers. Maybe you could throw a bit of talcum or baby powder into your heels before you set off and see if that makes a difference.

Continue reading

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FAQ’s – Part I

Earlier this year, Trisha and I opened a Formspring account and welcomed you all to ask us questions.  We’ve been answering the questions on Formspring individually as they come in.  Now we’re putting the answers together as a cohesive FAQ section, although some of the questions are not so frequent.  :)  This is the first half.  We’ll post the second half soon.

How and when did Dottie and Trisha meet?

Trisha and I met through our mutual friend, Erin, at a group happy hour. The first meeting I really remember was at a Russian dinner party I threw at my apartment. Trisha showed up with a shirt that said, in Russian, “I love Russian.” Awesomeness. Soon after, we went to a midnight showing of Gremlins and I drank too much beer and had to leave before the movie ended (beer buzz + crowded theater + gremlins driving Barbie cars = overwhelming). From then on, we were fast friends.  :)  That was, I think, about 4 years ago when I lived in Nashville for law school.

What saddles do you use on your bikes?

I (Dottie) have Brooks saddles, which I love. On Oma it’s the B67 with springs – the most comfortable saddle ever. On Betty it’s the B17S – no springs and took longer to break in, but still great. Trisha’s Batavus came with a Selle Royale and her Peug has a vintage saddle.

Continue reading

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The Return of My Winter Wheels

Ladies and gentlemen, my winter wheels are back!  After choosing not to ride on Monday due to road conditions, I set out Tuesday morning enthusiastically, but my enthusiasm was short-lived.

The edges of the streets and the bike lanes were still full of slush, forcing me to take the lane.   The rising sun created massive glares on the wet roads and snow, making it hard for me to see and surely hard for drivers to see me.

I almost turned around to ride back home, but instead I turned on a shady side street with less sun but more slush.  Half-way to work, I decided to drop Oma off at Dutch Bike Chicago to have her studded tires put on.  The shop wasn’t open yet, so I locked her up, dropped the key through the mail slot and left them a message.  Today I dropped off the studded tires and then picked up modified-Oma after work (Thanks to the shop manager Vince!  You can read about his own studded tire transition here.)

Finally!  My cycling confidence is back and the ride home was wonderful!

I felt totally confident on my two wheels, even riding through the icy slush.  Although I likely would have been perfectly fine riding without studded tires, I am miserable the whole time if I’m stressing about slipping.

Drivers were especially careful around me, possibly afraid I would slip in front of them (they don’t know about my studs) but whatever keeps them cautious is fine with me.  I smiled and laughed the whole time, in response to my Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me podcast (yay, WBEZ Chicago!).  As a cherry on top, I went by a man riding something like a WorkCycles Fr8 with a kid on back and we dinged bells at each other.

This is going to be a good winter, now that I have my wheels back.  Who’s with me?  :)

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A Story of a Bike Light Giveaway

This is a guest post by Steve Vance of Steven Can Plan.

Last Monday someone on the sidewalk yelled “Happy birthday” to me while I was riding to Bridgeport through University Village (UIC’s south campus). It was my birthday. I turned around to identify the shouting person. Joe was a classmate and now I most often see him at a local bike shop or playing bike polo. We went inside the store and chatted for awhile.

The bicycle is an extremely social tool. While it helps me get to the places I need to go, it does so in such a way that fosters community and interaction. As I ride, I’m exposed to the whims of the street: the noises, the chatter, the honks, the people, and the people I know. But it also helps me get to know new people.

I participated in another bike light distribution with Active Transportation Alliance on November 17, 2010. I photographed a previous distribution in Wicker Park a week earlier. This time around, at the corner of Halsted and Roosevelt at the UIC campus, I took a more direct role by flagging people riding bikes without lights to pull over and stop. I would then attach a brand new headlight to their bicycle, courtesy of customers of Groupon and the law office of Jim Freeman. During the two minutes I had their undivided attention, I told them about the state law requiring a front light and the role of Active Transportation Alliance in the city and suburbs.

This time I wanted to record more information about all the people I helped and talked to. I kept a little note card in my pocket and recorded the revealed reasons why the person didn’t have a headlight, how many men and women I helped (I only recorded two categories), and some select quotes.

I think six people refused my offer for a free headlight – this is because they couldn’t hear me (several wore headphones), didn’t understand our intentions, or both. Also confused, a man driving a car said, “You little bastard with your bikes,” but I won’t let anyone distract me.

Genaro gives a free headlight to someone without it

Genaro installs a headlight to someone riding on Halsted Street in University Village.

Of all the people I stopped, I identified 21 men and 11 women (32 total). Four people said they lost their lights or had them stolen and hadn’t yet replaced the lights. One person forgot their lights. 27 of the 32 people riding bikes didn’t know it was state law to ride a bike with a headlight on at night. Here’s what some riders had to say:

“No one told me that!” I suspect this is an extremely common explanation. This is definitely an opportunity for local bike shops to educate their customers, but there are other places people can get this information, like resident advisers at dorms, churches, and workplaces. The Active Transportation Alliance fights tirelessly to instill basic information into the minds of people riding bikes around town.

One person I was talking to hadn’t heard of the Active Transportation Alliance and after I explained to him what the organization does, he said, “My friends and I want to start our own group.”

Someone on foot asked me, “How long are you going to be here? I want my friend to get one.” This guy came back with his friend and they both got free headlights.

Speaking of the bicycling leading me to meetings with people I know, three friends were walking by and said hello. I had met one of them, Andrew, at the same spot, in front of the UIC Skyspace as we both raced in an October 2006 scavenger hunt.

Blues unite!

Walk under the Skyspace to get a direct and undistracted view of the sky and space.

Great story!  Read more from Steve at his excellent blog about urban planning, cities and transportation, Steven Can Plan.

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My No-Bike Commute

When the side streets look like this:

My commute looks like this:

I pulled Oma out of the garage this morning, but then I put her back and walked to the L train.  I could have biked, as Mr. Dottie did, but I felt like taking the stress-free route.

Now that I’ve successfully biked through two winters, I don’t need to prove myself over and over again.  If I’m not feeling it, I don’t force it.  I think some people expect winter bicyclists to be extreme-sport masochist types, but that’s so not my motivation.

I’ll be more adventurous once I get my studded tires on for the season.  Without them, my nerves fray easily, but I’ve been too lazy to either switch them myself or bring them into the shop.  Soon, soon.

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The LGRAB Guide to Winter Bicycling

Do you want to be as happy this winter as Mr. Snowman?  Ride your bike!  There’s nothing like spending time outside engaged in physical activity every day, enjoying the crisp air and scenery while everyone else hibernates.

We won’t claim that winter cycling is always a big party, but it’s certainly not the nightmare scenario that most seem to imagine.  As with any activity, knowledge is power: the more you understand about biking in the winter, the more comfortable you’ll be and the more you’ll enjoy yourself.

As we enter our third winter of biking and blogging, our archives offer a wealth of information for new and experienced winter cyclists alike.  Hence we bring you the LGRAB Guide to Winter Bicycling.

Seriously?

Yes!

What should I wear?  A spacesuit or footie pajamas with ski goggles or what??

That’s the easiest question to answer: absolutely, but only if you can rock it.  Otherwise, you may want to stick with your normal winter clothes.  Once you see the basics of how to dress for winter cycling, you’ll say, “aha” and move on.  You may even find that dressing for winter cycling can be effortlessly chic.

Like all superheroes (be prepared: co-workers will call you that), you will have a weakness.  For example, freezing fingers, but it is possible to keep hands toasty warm.  Embrace your weakness and then overcome it.

What about the awful weather?  Rain, snow, wind, ice, freezing cold?

Take it one day at a time.  Some days fluffy snow creates a winter wonderland and bike paths are perfectly plowed.  Other days the snow is dirty and nasty and in the bike lane.  At the extremes, you may set out on your bike and then give up due to ice or extreme cold. No shame in trying!

Your winter may consist of a lot of cold rain, but luckily women don’t get Jane-Bennet-ill from cold rain anymore, especially if you know what to wear.  Just make sure that your brakes are in good shape.  Then on the rare days when it snows, riding could be a fun adventure.

If the weather on a particular day is really bad, simply choose not to ride that day.  The most important thing is that you honestly differentiate reasons from excuses.

Or maybe you live in Southern California.  If so, #@!% you.

I slip walking down the sidewalk.  What chance do I have on a bicycle?

A really good chance, actually.  The roads, maintained by the city, are in much better condition than sidewalks.  Once plows come by after a snow, main streets in the city are generally clear and dry.  Depending on your city’s climate and your preference for sidestreets and bike trails, you may benefit from studded tires.  Or if there’s just a bit of ice, you could simply walk your bike through the slick patch.

Doesn’t it get old, riding in the dark all the time?

Sometimes riding home from work in the dark everyday is a drag, but sometimes it makes everything seem quiet and calm.  Just make sure you are cognizant of safety and security concerns and have good lights.

I see you have fancy bikes.  I don’t.  So…?

While our Dutch bikes (WorkCycles and Batavus) are great for winter riding, due to enclosed brakes and chains, a fancy bike is not necessary for winter riding.  In fact, some people intentionally use old beaters for winter.

Most bikes in good condition would make decent winter bikes, although some may require more caution and more maintenance.  Be aware of what kind of brakes and tires you have and ride with caution in bad weather accordingly.  If you have old steel rims, seriously consider replacing them.  Decide whether you would benefit from studded tires.  Remember that fenders are your friend and install some.

If you plan to ride extensively in the winter, investing in a solid bike is worth it.

Will I be the only crazy person out there?

Maybe you’ll be the only bicyclist out there, maybe not.  You may find and appreciate a whole winter cycling community or just enjoy the alone time.  Even if there aren’t many other winter cyclists, you’re bound to meet colorful characters and bloodthirsty dogs simply by spending a lot of time outside.

But can I really do it?

If we did it, you can!  For inspiration, check out a retrospective of the first winter biking.  Is winter cycling a simple act or sheer will? Both!

Hey, it’s really cold.  Why am I doing this again?

Because winter bicycling will change your life.  You will better appreciate the differences between summer and winter cycling (for example, not smelling like B.O).  You will feel the yin, the yang, etc.  By season’s end, you will shed grateful tears over the first buds of spring, the first delicate bird’s nest.  Also, for hot legs.  Obviously.

How can I verify that you’re not lying to me for kicks?

You really can’t – welcome to the internet!  But other resources are out there pretty much verify our advice.  See, Bike Winter. Also, those other bike blogs listed to the right.

Anything else I should know?

The secret to bike commuting (hint: it’s not that bad).

If you have questions or would like to leave your own winter bicycling tips, please share in the comments!

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Women in Motion

Streetsfilms created this wonderful short film, Women in Motion: New Lady Riders Reflect on NYC Cycling. The film highlights women who started riding their bikes only recently, inspired by the new infrastructure and growing number of other everyday cyclists.

Meanwhile, Steven Can Plan highlights numbers showing that the frequency of Chicago women riding their bikes to work is down this year.

Trisha and I have been bicycling for 2.5 years now. I suppose we’re slowly but surely becoming members of the old guard, but our message remains the same: anyone can start bicycling for transportation right now, even if they have never done it before. And the goal of sharing our experiences is to encourage more women to start and continue to ride bikes.

We bloggers can’t do this alone. As the news above from NYC and Chicago shows, safe bicycle infrastructure is a major factor in whether people will ride their bikes. If you agree, make sure to contact your government representatives and let them know how important bicycle infrastructure is to you!

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Freezing Rain

Today’s evening commute brought on freezing rain. Not the most fun weather, but not insurmountable. There was no ice on the road, so the only issue was staying dry and warm. A tweed skirt, long wool winter coat, knee-high leather boots, earmuffs and huge mittens did the job admirably. A thick leather Coach purse in my basket kept my belongings dry. As long as the rain is mild to moderate, this kind of set up works well – no raincoat and waterproof panniers needed.

The photo below shows why I hate to ride downtown in the rain at night. With the wet pavement reflections, I doubt my bike lights and reflectors bring much attention from drivers, which is why I choose routes with as few cars as possible during times like these.

I’m grateful that Chicago does not have a long rainy season. Soon this rain will turn into snow, which – although bringing its own host of problems – is more enjoyable to me.

{For another take on riding in the rain, read about my friend Elizabeth’s wet commute on Bike Commuters.}

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