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Category Archives: Issues & Infrastructure

What Tea Societies Can Do for Women & Bikes

Garden clubs, sewing circles, and bridge groups for socializing. Benevolent societies and church groups to assist the needy. Women’s leagues, committees, unions and movements for social change and political action. Women have a long history of gathering apart from their menfolk, whether it’s simply to carve their own space in the conversation or to have a stronger voice in the decision-making. And it’s just fun to do girly things, like promenade around town on our bikes and drink tea outdoors from fancy cups in summer hats.

Jacquie Katie Darcy

The thing about women’s groups is once they get started, they spread. My friend Katie heard of the Ladies Tea & Bike Social we held in Palo Alto last August and loved the idea. In February she pedaled trough a rainstorm and took a ferry and train to San Jose for our Wine, Women & Chocolate. By March she had jumped headfirst into organizing her own Ladies Tea for the “Critical Misses” up in Marin County. Through word of mouth, social media and the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, she had dozens women lined up and raring to roll.

I simply had to make the trip up there, even before I heard that mountain bike pioneer Jacquie Phelan would be attending. As founder of Women’s Mountain Bike & Tea Society (WOMBATS), Jacquie wouldn’t miss a bike and tea party in her own backyard. As always, she added color to the occasion in her own inimitable style.

Jacquie Phelan Ladies Tea

Jacquie may have been comfortable bombing down trails and racing dirt along with the likes of Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Charlie Cunningham and other male mountain bike pioneers, but she founded the WOMBATS way back in 1987 because she wanted a place for women in this new and growing sport. Through WOMBATS, Jacquie taught skills clinics and camps to give women confidence to try something new, and hosted dirt rides that included tea stops. Only in Jacquie’s imagination would a Teacup Tango be a mountain biking party.

Why a tea society? As she explained to me as we rode together to the Marin Ladies Tea, “Guys have a way of taking over and I didn’t want that. I knew if it was a tea society they wouldn’t even want to join.” It worked.

Having organized and led women’s group rides and events, I understand that completely. As much as I enjoy riding with my husband and “the guys” sometimes, there’s something different about riding with women. The conversation changes, the tone changes, and for many women it means a relaxed environment where they can push themselves a little harder. If that sounds like an oxymoron to you, this post explains my point of view.

Bikes at Tea Party

The Marin Ladies Tea was all the success I expected. Women who were old friends arrived together, others who knew no one arrived alone. One woman had just returned home after months bike touring in South America. Another arrived for tea by wheelchair. You don’t need a bike to join a bike social that’s a tea party in a park.

After these events I often hear from women, “Oh, I wish we had a bike tea society here.” Here’s a secret: it’s not hard to host a bike tea party. First, find a park in a beautiful setting, map out a bike route on quiet streets or on a bike path, and pick a date when you know a few friends can join. Then send out an invitation to others through your local bike club or advocacy group, asking everyone to bring a tea cup and a snack or thermos of tea to share. Whether you end up with a group of four or forty, I promise it will be fun. Just ask Katie.

Have you ever hosted a bike ride or bike-specific event? Did it have a theme? How did it work out?

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Posted by on August 13, 2014 in Women & Bikes

 

The Now and Not-So-Zen of Car Maintenance

I drove my car to work Tuesday even though I didn’t want to. My vehicle registration was overdue and required a smog inspection, and I need to do it quickly to avoid additional charges. That’s what happens when you don’t drive your car much, you don’t think about it much. While I was at it, I checked the mileage: 3500 miles since my last oil change…two and a half years ago. So it was Jiffy Lube before work, Smog Hut after work.

As much I never liked paying to fill my gas tank (every other week when I drove every day), I hated paying for maintenance more. A minor 15,000 mile service that should cost a few hundred dollars can easily mushroom into eight hundred dollars of charges. And you have little assurance that the repairs are actually necessary.

Smog Test

At Jiffy Lube I turned down an engine flush and air filter replacement. That’s far less than the over $500 in questionable services I turned down at the full-service shop 3500 miles ago. Smog Hut was a flat fee so no issue there. Total cost: $134 or about the cost of a month’s worth of gas when I drove daily.

You might wonder: if we don’t drive it much, why do we keep the car? Well, we are selling a car, just not this one. If you know someone in the San Francisco Bay Area who want a quality 2007 Mazda 3 hatchback, let me know. At 31,000 miles in seven years it’s obvious we aren’t driving it much either.

For those who commute to work or do errands by bike: have you calculated how much less you drive because of it? Or do you end up driving more on the weekends to go somewhere new and fun to ride?

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Posted by on August 7, 2014 in Issues & Infrastructure

 

You’re Invited: 2nd Annual Ladies Tea & Bike Social

You are cordially invited to our second annual Ladies Tea & Bike Social on Saturday the sixteenth of August, twenty-fourteen at eleven o’clock in the morning at the Elizabeth Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, California.

It’s back! Our garden party was such a success last year, we’re repeating it this year. What can you expect at a ladies tea and bike social? Twenty or so bicycle-loving ladies, gathered to share “laughter, stories, advice and new friends. Cucumber sandwiches, macaroons, cookies and fruit. Nicely hot tea poured from real tea pots into tea cups of all shapes, sizes and styles, just like the women.” That’s what I wrote after last year’s party.

Ladies Tea Table
We’ll host our garden party once again at the Elizabeth Gamble Gardens, where you can stroll the historic estate of the heir to the Proctor & Gamble fortune. Bequeathed to the city of Palo Alto with Elizabeth’s death in 1981, the impeccably maintained grounds include a cut flower garden, vegetable plots, fruit trees and a shade garden between the main house and the carriage and tea houses. Our ladies tea is timed to catch the dahlias and zinnias in bloom, apples ripening in the orchard and pumpkins in the vegetable garden. The weather will likely be warm in the sun, but comfortable under the old oak trees where we’ll have our tea.

We’ll bring the tea, we ask you to bring your favorite tea cup and cookies or a tea time snack to share. Hats and gloves are encouraged, but not required. What’s important is bringing a desire to meet other women who ride in our area to share stories, to swap advice and to relax with other women who have a passion for bikes.

Gamble Garden Gazebo

For those riding up from the south or arriving by Caltrain, I’ll also be leading a pre-party ride starting at Caltrain’s San Antonio Station in Mountain View at 10:25, timed for the arrivals of the #427 train from San Jose & #424 train from San Francisco. The route is about four flat miles one-way along low traffic, mostly shady residential streets. I’ll be pulling a trailer full of tea, teapots and tablecloths, so the pace will be city cruise easy.

Will you join us? Please RSVP here so we’ll know to bring enough tea for everyone, and don’t forget your tea cup or mug. I’d love to meet some of you ladies that I only know in the virtual world.

Ride to Palo Alto

Ladies Tea & Bike Social at the Elizabeth Gamble Garden
1431 Waverly Street, Palo Alto, California
Saturday, August 16, 2014, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm.
Space is limited, so RSVP is required.
Questions? Contact ladyfleur500 at gmail.com

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2014 in Around Town, Women & Bikes

 

Bicycle Travel: Last Minute Escape to San Francisco

Oh, the lazy days of summer. After a fast-paced spring, I spent most of June cocooned at home, riding only for easy trips, and barely writing at all. When relaxation turned to boredom that was headed for depression, I knew I needed to break out of my dull rhythm with a weekend getaway. In a few clicks of the mouse and a quick chat with my husband, my Friday afternoon hair appointment in Burlingame became the start of a micro-vacation in San Francisco. I was halfway up the Peninsula anyway, why not meet Dick on Caltrain and head for the city?

Dinner was a multi-bike share experience that started in North Beach...

Our agenda included bicycling every day: our traditional bike date on Friday night, a ride across town to the Legion of Honor for a Matisse exhibit on Saturday, and ride in the SF Pride Parade with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. So like usual, we loaded our panniers and brought our touring bikes with us on the train.

But unlike most cities we’ve visited, San Francisco has Bay Area Bike Share bikes available and we’re annual members. We had bike options. Which bike we chose for which trip and why answered a question asked frequently when the system launched: “Why would people who have their own bikes use bike share?”

Bike Share on Embarcadero

Security. We were staying at the W Hotel downtown on the same block where our saddles were stolen last year. Even though we knew we’d be going out for dinner soon, we checked our touring bikes in at the bell desk and checked out bike share for our Bike Date Friday at Palamino Restaurant near the Bay Bridge. In fact, we avoided parking our bikes anywhere downtown all weekend by taking bike share instead of our own bikes.

Convenience. There was a bike share station across the street from the W hotel, and one in front of Palomino. There was one by the market where I picked up snacks and breakfast for us, and one within two blocks of 3 course, 3 restaurant meal we had on Saturday. (I admit I chose restaurants closer to bike share for those) The one time the bike station by our hotel was empty, we walked a couple of blocks to another one.

Speed. Stay with me on this one. The bikes may be upright, heavy, lumbering beasts, but docking and undocking them from the station is far speedier than locking and unlocking our own bikes. Especially in the big city where you have to secure not only the frame, but both wheels and the saddle. For the short trips we made around downtown we definitely came out ahead time-wise, even discounting the time searching for a bike rack.

Bike Share at Night

So why did we even bring our own bikes? Why not just ride bike share?

Location, Location, Location! The bike share is limited to the city’s downtown core on the city’s east edge and we wanted to ride out to the Legion of Honor in the city’s northwest corner.

Long-Distance Travel The ride to the Legion of Honor was close to twenty miles round trip which not only would mean a long time on a slow bike, it would mean frequent dock-surfing or high overage charges. Add to that a few long or steep climbs that wouldn’t have been fun on a 50-pound bike, even with its low low gears.

At the end of the weekend our mileage stats were: 10 miles on bike share in nine trips (aqua routes on map), 25 miles on our touring bikes in four trips (brown routes) and 64 miles in two trips by train (blue route). Zoom the map and click icons for details, or click here for a larger view.

What struck me about the way we used bikes was how it paralleled what many people might do with cars: drive to the city in their own car, park it at the hotel ($55 a day!), take taxi around downtown for drinks and dinner where parking is inconvenient or expensive, and only driving themselves to further out destinations like the Legion of Honor. Our touring bike rides were like a personal car trips, the bike share rides were like taxi rides.

It all worked so well we’re already plotting our next weekend escape. Will we bring our own bikes, or will we just walk, take transit and use bike share? It all depends on what city we’re visiting and our agenda.

If you’ve ridden a bike share bike before: why did you choose to ride them instead of riding your own bike? What worked, what didn’t? Did you wish you were riding your own bike instead?

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Posted by on July 10, 2014 in Issues & Infrastructure, Travel

 

Bike Lane FAIL: Painful Squeeze in Mountain View

Another busy intersection, another re-design, another vanishing bike lane. Caltrain wanted to keep cars from getting caught on the tracks when the signal turns red. The county engineers wanted to push more cars through the intersection. Too bad no one considered what happens to people riding in the bike lane.

Rengstorff at Caltrain

The county’s plan shoehorned in a second left turn lane, which meant shoving the right lane further to the right, squeezing out the bike lane and forcing bikes and cars into an unexpected merge. Caltrain may be happy and the drivers turning left may be happy, but the right lane is now a painful squeeze for everyone. Is it too much to ask the traffic engineers to consider bike safety along with rail safety and vehicle throughput?

When the plans for this crossing and the crossing at Moffett were presented to the city council transportation committee, I spoke at the meeting and complained. The city engineer basically said it was the county’s design and there was little the city could do. I knew the changes would be bad, but they’re worse than I expected.

Location: Rengstorff Avenue at the Caltrain tracks/Central Expressway, Mountain View, California, USA.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2014 in Bike Lane FAIL

 

Caltrain, Bikes and 21st Century Choices

If you don’t know me in real life or follow me on Twitter you may not realize how much I spend at planning meetings in my city. It’s not fun, believe me. I’m there because the people who make important decisions have a hard time seeing things from non-Baby Boomer perspective. I speak up in the hope that a different point of view will be considered. Last week I was honored to be asked to write an opinion piece on Caltrain and bikes by the editor of the Mountain View Voice. Here it is, as it appeared in the May 23 print edition, now available online.

All it takes is a trip downtown at 6 p.m. on a weeknight to see the changes. Bikes overflow the racks on Castro Street and are locked to every available tree and post. Crowds of people cross Central Expressway on foot and on bikes with each signal cycle. The Caltrain platform teems with riders pushing their way onto trains that are standing room-only by the time they reach Palo Alto.

Caltrain Platform

This is not just casual observation either. Caltrain recently released the results of their passenger counts and triennial customer survey: ridership is at an all-time high with a 54% increase since 2010; ridership growth continues to strain capacity in peak periods; and all but one station saw growth. Caltrain sees this growth as a sign of continued economic recovery, as would anyone who fights workday traffic on Hwy 101 can attest.

Much of Caltrain’s growth comes from bikes. The number of people bringing bikes aboard has grown a whopping 121 percent since 2010, more than double the overall ridership growth rate. While the growth is partly due to Caltrain adding a second bike car to every train in 2011, bike-aboard ridership has continued to increase, up 19.6 percent last year. This year bike-aboard riders make up over 11 percent of all riders, making Caltrain the nation’s leader in bikes-on-transit.

Caltrain Bike car

And yet, despite a capacity of 80 bikes on most trains, people with bikes are still regularly denied boarding due to overcrowding, primarily in Peninsula cities from Millbrae to Mountain View. That’s how popular the service is.

What’s more, how people arrive and depart stations is rapidly changing. While walking to reach stations has increased modestly by 7 percent since 2010, taking transit (VTA, BART, Muni or shuttles) is flat at 4 to 7 percent. The most dramatic changes are that driving to and parking at stations has dropped by 24 percent and bicycling to the station is up 30 percent. And that’s just the last three years.

Crossing Central Expwy

So what does this mean? It means that some commonly-held assumptions that we’re too suburban to rely on walking, biking and transit, and that people won’t shift from solo driving, are wrong. People already are. In fact, 40 percent of Caltrain riders report they are car-free and that doesn’t include “car-lite” riders like me who own a car they rarely use.

Today’s transit-dependent riders are not low-income either. The average Caltrain rider makes $117,000 a year. Most riders are making a conscious choice to not drive that’s not simply driven by economics. It’s driven by a desire to escape wasting time driving in traffic.

Caltrain Beer

For Caltrain, it means recognizing that for many riders, bikes are the most convenient first and last mile solution, faster than shuttles for trips up to 3 miles when there’s congestion, and cheaper than car parking at stations, both for the rider and for Caltrain. It means ensuring that bike capacity of new electrified trains is at least 10 percent of total capacity. It means expanding bike share into office areas like North Bayshore and into popular housing areas like the Mission in San Francisco.

Bay Area Bike Share

For cities, it means not spending money on expensive parking garages that will bring more vehicles into congested areas, and instead improve walking and biking connections to existing and emerging office and housing areas like San Antonio Center and El Camino Real. It means implementing Transportation Demand Management programs (TDMs) like Stanford did, with incentives that go beyond shuttles to include benefits for people who take transit, bike, walk, carpool or drive at off-peak times. And consider charging for parking at office sites. It’s hard to compete with free.

Times have changed and people are showing they want options other than driving. How will we invest to support them?

In your city, is vehicle traffic heavier with the economic recovery? Is your city investing in bicycling, transit or widening roads to accommodate more cars? What would you like your city to do to improve transportation?

Caltrain Family Bikes

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2014 in Issues & Infrastructure

 

Strava Heatmaps: What Do They Truly Measure?

Last week, Strava, the company that provides tools for cyclists to track their rides via GPS, was making the news for their Global Heatmap A project of Strava Labs, the Global Heatmap compiles GPS tracking data from 100 million rides and runs by their members (about 80% are rides). Routes that Strava users travel more frequently light up brightly on the Heatmap. In this map red is highest use, then bright green, then faint green.

The Heatmap for Palo Alto is what I’d expect. The most popular routes are a pair of roads with bike lanes that offer direct, fast routes, and a bike boulevard designed with few stop signs and diverters that reduce car traffic.

Palo Alto Routes Heat Map

Bike advocates, who often struggle to get ridership data, jumped on the Heatmap with glee. With this data, they could refute claims that people don’t bicycle on certain roads or streets. One example: El Camino in Mountain View shows green sections, meaning significant use, something city officials and the public are quick to deny.

I see that value, and yet I’m concerned about how Heatmap data is used, namely because it’s gathered from a select subset of cyclists. Strava doesn’t reveal demographics on who uses its service, but I’ve seen estimates in reports that it’s about 90% men. And I know that within my circle of cycling friends, Strava is more heavily used by those who are training to race or complete an endurance event. They’re mostly road riders and mountain bike racers who have raced at some point, if not currently training to race.

That mirrors Strava’s goal-oriented “prove it” marketing messages highlighted on their web site: “Prove It: Track your progress and challenge your friends” and “Prove Your Story”, “Prove Your Efforts”, “Prove To Others”, “Prove To Yourself.” These are all messages aimed at the Type A folks in the bike world.

I’m sure there are significant numbers of Strava users who never race (unless you count the Cat 6 racing on the trail), and others who track both their training rides and their casual rides. But I agree with a friend who wrote: “The data is skewed to longer rides done be people who take the effort to log their ride on Strava using a smart phone or GPS. A 4 block ride for shopping or to the library is not likely to be logged.”

A bigger problem is what he wrote in the next sentence: “Since [Strava users] are likely to be more experienced riders, they tend to know the easiest, safest, fastest routes.” I accept that Strava users are more experienced riders. But are they choosing routes that are easiest and safest? Or just popular with Strava users, who likely prefer straighter routes with fewer stops, even if that means it’s on the shoulder of a 50 mph expressway with heavy vehicle traffic. That’s hardly a representative set of riders to use for bike infrastructure decisions.

Without demographic data, it’s hard to counter or defend these assessments. But I got new insight from examining “hot spots” on the Heatmap where cyclists stop on their rides, based on a story by Cyclelicious.

Here’s the Town & County shopping center in Palo Alto near Stanford University. Car parking is painfully crowded so many visitors arrive by bike. Where do they go? According to the Heatmap, these two locations: a Peet’s Coffee Shop and a bike rack around the corner by Gott’s Roadhouse, a popular restaurant.

Strava Heat Map Hot Spots Palo Alto

What’s missing? The mass of people who park their bikes to shop at Trader Joe’s on the other side of the center. The main rack holds a dozen bikes and has frequent turnover. It’s often full or crowded so bikes spill over to a nearby rack at Calafia. This was the situation last Sunday at around 12:30 pm: 13 bikes near Trader Joe’s, five at Peets and four at the Roadhouse. Why don’t the bikes at TJs create a hot spot?

Strava Heat Map Palo Alto

Sunday at 12:30 pm isn’t a peak time for groceries, nor a slow time for a coffee shop. It’s clear that people who shop by bike at Trader Joe’s are not tracking their trips on Strava. That’s a lot of everyday bike trips to ignore.

So before you’re tempted to use Strava data to support bicycle policy or infrastructure changes, think carefully. If Strava data included trips by the average Joe, Jane, José or Jin-Wei biking across town to grocery shop instead of training data from cyclists tracking achievements, how would your recommendation change?

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Posted by on April 29, 2014 in Issues & Infrastructure

 
 
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