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Category Archives: Around Town

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.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2013 in Commute Diaries

 

Roadside Attractions: Little Free Libraries

When you travel down a street at 10 mph in the open air instead of boxed inside a car moving 30 mph, you’re bound to notice more. Last week I was rolling through Palo Alto’s Professorville neighborhood on my way to meet a girlfriend for dinner downtown, and out of the corner of my eye I saw something jutting above a picket fence. Mounted on a post with a steep A-line roof, it was too large to be a mailbox.

I pulled over to investigate. The sign said “Little Free Library.” Inside was a small collection of books protected behind a glass door and instructions that simply said to take a book and return it when you’re done.

Palo Alto Little Free Library

Little did I know that know that Little Free Libraries are found worldwide, on every continent except Antarctica. The first little free library was built in 2009 by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin as a tribute to his mother, a former schoolteacher who loved reading. He placed on a post in his front yard with a sign “Free Books.”

It was so popular he built more and gave them away for other locations. The concept took off. In three years they met their initial goal of 2500 Little Free Libraries and by January 2014, they expect to pass 10,000.

San Jose Little Free Library

I checked their map for ones near me and found two that weren’t far out of the way of my daily commute: one in front of an Victorian in downtown San Jose and one in front of a suburban ranch-style home in Mountain View.

Mountain View

Now I want one. Given I live in a managed neighborhood, I don’t know where I can put it and be in compliance with the association rules. But I have a father who’s really handy in the woodworking shop and is always looking for new projects. And what design? Would I go with a red British phone booth? A Scandinavian cottage? Or maybe a Cajun shack made of reclaimed materials like my cousin’s chicken coop?

Would you like a Little Free Library in your yard? What style would you choose? What kinds of books? Is there a Little Free Library in your neighborhood?

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Posted by on October 10, 2013 in Around Town, Family Rides

 

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You’re Invited: Art Lovers City Cruise & Picnic

You and your friends are invited to a Art Lovers City Cruise and Picnic on Saturday, October 19, 2013. Tour rolls out from the Caltrain Station in downtown Menlo Park, California at 10:35 am.

Art is best savored at a slower pace, by walking through a gallery or through a sculpture garden. When public art is sprinkled all over town, the whole city becomes an art museum and your bicycle lets you wander from gallery to gallery at a leisurely pace. On a bike, it’s easy pull over, hop off and reflect.

This 10 mile city cruise rolls through low traffic, relaxing neighborhoods in Menlo Park and Palo Alto sampling public art and then heads into Stanford University, home the world’s second largest collection of sculptures by Auguste Rodin. Twenty large bronzes, including Rodin’s massive “The Gates of Hell” grace the sculpture garden at the Cantor Center on the Stanford campus. But this is just one of three art sites we’ll visit.

Art Tour Profile Pic Adam Wide

The agenda is simple: we’ll cruise, stop, gaze, reflect, chat, and then picnic at the well-shaded tables at the Rodin Garden. We’ll have an artist or two along for a little color commentary and give us a little insight into the mind of an artist. So pack a picnic lunch, grab your favorite cruising bicycle and join us.

Start & Finish: The Menlo Park Caltrain station at 10:35 AM, timed for Caltrain #427 and #424 train arrivals.
Route: 10 miles on quiet streets with no hills. See map for details. Contact me for mid-ride starting points.
Please bring: Picnic lunch, water, bike and bike lock. Feel free to bring a dessert to share at our picnic.
RSVP: Please RSVP through Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, our event sponsor.

Art Tour Map

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2013 in Around Town

 

The Bright Colors of Summer Have Washed Away

Here in sunny California the festival season is officially over. Not because summer is officially over (which it is), but because an early season rain storm blew in and shut down the fun at festivals throughout the Bay Area. For those who don’t realize how good we have it here, California is blessed with a Mediterranean climate, so rain is concentrated in late fall, winter and early spring, leaving summers predictably and pleasantly dry.

That makes it easy for event planners, from weddings to baseball games to street fairs. Plan something between June 1 and October 1 and you’re 99% safe weather-wise. Except this past weekend, where heavy rain sent people scurrying at outdoor events from San Francisco’s Tour de Fat to Lafayette’s Art & Wine Festival. But I think the hardest hit was San Jose’s Luna Park Chalk Art Festival. Chalk art and rain is a disaster.

Luna Park Chalk Art Festival

Being optimists, we ignored the weather report which said 75% chance of rain between noon and 1pm. Most storms in the South Bay are pretty light, especially in the off-season. But there we were, riding in heavy rain to an outdoor chalk art festival. Whose dumb idea was it anyway? That’s right, mine. I owe Dick big time.

Riding in Rain Wide

As expected, most of the chalk art was smeared into a watercolored mess by the time we arrived. As cold and wet as we were, we felt worse for the disappointed artists who could do little to save their art.

Disappointed Chalk Artist

The sun is back out today and it’s warmed up a bit, but there’s no mistaking that fall is on its way. Time to hunt down my raincoat and boots, and my heavy coat too. The carefree days of warm-weather riding are numbered.

What signs of the end of summer do you see? What will you miss? What do you look forward to for fall?

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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Around Town

 
 
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