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Category Archives: Around Town

Bike Commute Diaries: Change is Good

I missed the train today. After years of doing the “same old, same old” you think you have it all dialed in. Then something screws up your routine and you react like the grumpy curmudgeons that you roll your eyes at during City Council meetings. Change is good. This change is good. I just need to tweak my routine.

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About the Bike Commute Diaries: Launched in May 2012 for National Bike Month, this series explores the unexpected and surprising things I’ve seen and learned while bicycling for transportation.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Commute Diaries

 

Shop by Bike: Big Box Store, Little Bike Trailer

Because of attention this blog has received from dedicated readers like you, I’m getting requests for stories from other media outlets. I’ve been writing a thrice-monthly Bike Fun blog for Mountain View Voice since May. Starting next week I will be contributing to Pedal Love, a California-based site dedicated to the joy of bicycling. And soon, one of my bike travel stories will be featured on Adventure Cycling’s Bike Overnights. Occasionally, I’ll cross-post content here, but to keep up with all I write, please bookmark these sites or follow me on Twitter. For those dealing with holiday shopping (and traffic), here’s my latest from Bike Fun in the Voice.

For the vast majority of my shopping trips, my bikes do a great job. Between a pair of oversized panniers in the back and an ample basket in the front, I can carry up to three bags of groceries filled to up to 40 pounds. I’ve also figured out how to attach garment bag to my rear rack for dry cleaning or for buying clothing at the mall. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to carry things on a bike if you’re creative.

But every once in a while I make one of those shopping trips where what I’m buying something too heavy or too bulky for my bike alone. So last year I asked Santa for a cute little bike cargo trailer. It felt a little frivolous. After all, we have a car we can use for those rare, big load shopping trips.

Little Trailer

But now that I have the trailer, I realize it’s pretty darn useful. Especially during those times, like right now, where driving to the mall or shopping center is painful and parking is a nightmare. So when our microwave gave up the ghost last week, I hitched up my little trailer and pedaled over to a few big box stores for some comparison shopping, holiday shoppers be damned.

Best Buy

Target, Costco and Best Buy are all within 2-3 miles from home and it wasn’t tough to plot a route that hit them all. Before I left home, I checked online for what each store carried and read the product reviews, but I wanted to buy locally so I could have a replacement immediately. You’d be surprised how some microwaves had really poor ratings after hundreds of reviews, by the way.

With the critical consumer data in hand, my little trailer and I rolled out in search of an oven with all the features I wanted, in the color I wanted and sized to fit my countertop. It took visiting all three stores, but I found the perfect oven. I probably should have measured to see if the box would fit in my trailer before checking out, but it fit nicely with several inches to spare. The ride home was delightfully uneventful and my new microwave fits my kitchen as well as it fit my trailer. Thank you, Santa, for my fun bike toy.

Microwave in Trailer

If you’re new to or haven’t done much shopping by bike, here are some tips:

  • A rear rack with large panniers can carry more than you think. Most are built to carry 40 pounds or more.
  • Front baskets are great for overflow items, but be aware that heavy items up front can affect steering.
  • Bring bungee cords for securing bulky items on top of the rear rack or to secure them in a front basket. A deep pothole or hard bump can bounce your purchases right off of your bike.
  • Treat packing your purchases on your bike like a working a puzzle. Sometimes I'm sure I've bought too much, but it always works out. Knock on wood, I've never had to return anything.
  • If it’s dark or dim out, make sure your purchases don’t block your bike lights.
  • Bike trailers don’t have to be expensive. My cargo trailer cost $250 new and is holding up well after a year. Another alternative is buying a used child trailer from someone whose kids have outgrown it.
  • Parking can be more challenging for bikes with trailers. Bike racks are designed for single bikes and many are placed without enough room for the extra length of trailers. Bring an extra lock to secure the trailer, either to the bike or to the bike rack.

What’s the most awkward thing you’ve purchased by bike? What made it tough? What made it work?

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Posted by on December 15, 2013 in Around Town, Gear Talk

 

Bike Commute Diaries: Ice Cold Slippery Slope

It’s day five of freezing temperatures here in sunny California and every day it just seems to keep getting colder. Today’s surprise: a thin sheet of ice spanning the Guadalupe River Trail. A big thank you to the San Jose Parks & Trails work team who set out orange cones as a warning of this unexpected and potentially painful surprise.

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About the Bike Commute Diaries: Launched in May 2012 for National Bike Month, this series explores the unexpected and surprising things I’ve seen and learned while bicycling for transportation.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2013 in Commute Diaries

 

You’re Invited: Bright Lights, Bike City Cruise

You and your friends are invited to a holiday lights tour leading to “Bike Lights, Bike City”, the SVBC Winter Party, on Friday, December 6, 2013. Tour rolls out from the Caltrain Station in downtown Palo Alto at 5:45 pm.

The only thing better than riding down quiet neighborhood streets after dark is riding down streets where the neighbors have decked out their homes and yards for the winter holidays. It takes a pretty hard-hearted grinch to not to smile at shimmering lights brightening a dark sky on a chilly night. And there’s no better way to tour holiday lights than on a bicycle. Fast enough to cover the whole neighborhood, slow enough to take it all in, and easy enough to pull over and gaze in awe and snap photos. No flash required.

City Hall

The 4.4 mile city cruise will roll from Caltrain in downtown Palo Alto with a brief stop at Palo Alto City Hall to see Aurora, a life-size metal and electronic Weeping Willow tree sculpture that is now gracing City Hall Plaza. From there, we’ll cruise down the Bryant Street Bike Boulevard through Professorville and Old Palo Alto.

After a turnaround in Midtown we’ll head back up to the historic Lucie Stern Center where we’ll join Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition members for “Bike Lights, Bike City,” their annual Winter Party. We’ll celebrate the season with delicious food and refreshing beverages, make a play on hot auction items. Then we’ll turn down the lights, turn up the music, and dance under disco lights until they kick us out.

Start: The Palo Alto Caltrain station at 5:45 PM, timed for Caltrain #375 and #370 train arrivals. Meet near the bike lockers near Alma Street and Lytton Avenue.
Route: 4.4 miles on quiet streets with no hills. See map below for details. Contact me for mid-ride meet-ups.
Please Bring: Bike lights! The more the better. Show off your amazing bike lights. And warm clothes, too.
RSVP: Please RSVP for the Winter Party through the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, our event sponsor.

The SVBC Winter Party is a members-only affair. If you’re not a member, or need to renew, you can sign up when you RSVP for the event or at the door. At only $20/person, it’s a fun way to support a great cause.

Click on the thumbtacks on the map to see the holiday lights display locations.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2013 in Around Town

 

Anything Goes Challenge: Leah, SPURred by Options

You may recognize Leah from a Fashion Friday photos I shot the day I rode with her on her first Bay Area Bike Share commute just after the system launched last summer. As the Director of SPUR San Jose, Leah works in San Jose four days a week and spends the fifth day at SPUR headquarters 50 miles away in San Franscisco. As an urbanist she defaults to non-driving travel and she’s fortunate to have many transit and bike options available. That makes her Anything Goes Commute Challenge all the more interesting. This is her story.

When Janet asked me to capture not only my commute modes to and from work, but my decision process for each mode, I was anxious to oblige. I had been meaning to see if the data backed up my first choice, my bicycle. As a long time bike lover, it’s my default mode of transportation if given an option. But is it really the most effective? And so here goes – a data comparison of the top ways I can get to work.

Leah in Office

I live two miles from the SPUR office in San Jose. My commute streets are laid out in a straight-forward, flat grid pattern, beginning in Japantown and ending in downtown San Jose. I travel this commute four days a week and head to our office in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena district one day a week.

This October I set out to find out which of my various commutes took the most time, money, energy, planning, etc. And like those combination math problems in middle school, I took to testing the options and used simple parameters: door to door time, ease of travel, cost. Here are the options for my San Jose commute:

Bike (my own)
There are several connecting bike lanes along Third and Fourth Street and low auto traffic speeds that make it particularly easy to commute by bike. We also have a bike rack outside of our office so I can lock up securely.

San Jose Protected Bike Lanes

Walk + VTA Light Rail + Walk
The Light Rail Stations near work are on the same block as our office, which make arrival to and departure from work very convenient. I’m only three stops from work from where I get on at Civic Center and from there it’s about a 10 minute walk home from the station. This works best when I am looking for a walking start and finish to the day, but I need to pay more attention to time in order to catch the train when I arrive at the station and weight/amount of material I need to take to work with me (i.e. carry).

Light Rail

Walk + Bike Share + Walk
The closest bike share station to my house is in Japantown and the closest station to work is at City Hall. Getting to and from this option require upwards of 15 minutes of walking, but the bike share bikes are great with an upright position and place for my bag in front.

Leah Bike Share Bike

Drive
My car commute is a pretty straight forward two mile drive with low traffic. Early bird (arrival before 9:45am) parking at the garage across the street from my office costs $8 for the day.

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First consideration for commute choice begins with how I organize my calendar. I make a point to coordinate my work meetings and personal errand running to the following criteria (as much as possible):

  • Schedule as many meetings as possible within walking distance of the office so that I don’t have to drive. Aim for this 3-4 days a week.
  • Schedule meetings that require car travel all on the same day. Typically, meetings outside of downtown San Jose or more than 1-2 Light Rail stops away default to driving to maximize efficiency (and because there is rarely a parking cost on the other end of meetings).
  • On days that require car travel, plan errand running (dry cleaners, grocery shopping, ‘big’/bulk shopping, etc) on the same day.

Second consideration with commute choice is weather. Unless it’s raining or aiming to be 90 degrees, I’ll choose not to drive. Otherwise, with such flat terrain and short distance, it’s easy to walk, bike or take transit. Third consideration is time. What is the quickest way I can get where I need to go and how can I travel most efficiently between meetings? Fourth consideration is money. How much will it cost in work time (driving vs. Caltrain), gas and parking vs. the alternatives.

There are other considerations that pop in and out and impact my mode decision (if I need to move things in and out of the office, if I feel at all under the weather, if my bike is out of commission (or stolen…it’s happened), if my work day will go very late, etc), but these are the less frequent occasions.

San Jose Commute

The options for my San Francisco commute are to ride my bike to Caltrain San Jose station, take it aboard and bike to the SPUR headquarters in San Francisco, or drive to Caltrain and walk from the San Francisco station to the office, or drive and pay for garage parking.

Caltrain Night

San Francisco Commute

The Upshot: What I didn’t add above were the other benefits that come with each mode. With any mode except the car, there is exercise, time outdoors and in my neighborhood, taking a car and its CO2 emissions off the road and usually the opportunity to discover something new along the route. But with the car comes a slightly faster commute, complete independence and, at $8 a day for parking, not a terribly expensive option, especially for one day a week. Adding that up over time though would equate to a great deal of cash and it’s quickly the lease desirable option by virtue of cost. And so my winning option is – bike commute!

Leah BIke crop

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2013 in Anything Goes

 

Bike Commute Diaries: One Step Forward

One day you’re flying high seeing bold green lanes installed on a major east-west bike route. The next you discover a bike lane on a high-speed north-south boulevard is being quietly rubbed out. You ride the green lane and you’re bullied by a bus into the coned-off area before the paint is dry. Where the paint is dry, there’s a car stopped and waiting in the green lane for no obvious reason and you have to merge back with the buses.

One step forward, how many steps back? It’s hard not to get discouraged sometimes.

San Fernando Green Lane

About the Bike Commute Diaries: Launched in May 2012 for National Bike Month, this series explores the unexpected and surprising things I’ve learned about bicycling for transportation.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2013 in Commute Diaries

 

Bike Commute Diaries: Gear Check for Fall Riding

Leather gloves, check. Full-length coat, check. Warm scarf, check. High-powered headlight, check. Backup headlight, check. I’ve made a few adjustments for morning temperatures in the 40s and 5 o’clock sunsets. What about you? Does your work commute change at all with the change in season?

Really, I’d like you to tell me. I’m opening up a “Fall Edition” of the Anything Goes Challenge that focuses on how darkness, snow, ice and rain also affect your commute choices. How to enter is below, but you can read stories from our Spring participants to see how it works. Leah has already started on hers. Who’s next?

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To enter the Anything Goes Challenge: Take two or more distinct transportation modes to a specific destination you visit regularly (work, school, store, etc). Take the same mode a least twice in different conditions to give it a fair shake. Collect data, tabulate your scorecard, and assess each mode according to your own value equation. Explain which mode works best for you and why.

Send your summary to ladyfleur500@gmail.com by November 22. Please include one or more photos that I can include in a post about you, as well as your scorecard data and your personal value equation. Selected stories will be featured on this blog as they come in. If you’re private about things, just let me know and I’ll use your first name only or an alias of your choosing. I can’t wait to hear from you!

About the Bike Commute Diaries: Launched in May 2012 for National Bike Month, this series explores the unexpected and surprising things I’ve learned about bicycling for transportation.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on November 5, 2013 in Commute Diaries

 
 
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