The City Bicycle

The City Bicycle

0 comment Saturday, April 19, 2014 |
Day 9
The night we camped at Summit Pass, I woke up early in the pre-dawn fog and hiked an old access trail a few miles into an alpine valley of rolling green scrub encircled by the Rockies. The peaks were wide and almost plateau-like with uniformly steep faces of crumbling scree and even though I was only a half hours' walk from the highway, it was completely silent.
We biked in the cold fog all morning, and ate lunch at a rest stop on the top of Steamboat Pass where, had we not been completely socked in, we would have seen what we were told was the best view along the Alaska Highway. The fog turned to rain as we descended from Steamboat into the almost tropical swamps of birch and pine. We stopped riding 30 miles outside of Fort Nelson and made camp in the muskeg swamp. The bugs, as promised, were terrible. Within minutes of unloading my panniers, I got a bite on my pinky which swelled to the size of my thumb. I sprayed DEET everywhere, took two Benadryl, and crawled into bed.
A thunderstorm rolled through in the middle of the night, and then another one at 6:30 am when we were supposed to be getting up to pack. We stayed in our tents till 8:30 am, hoping the rain would stop, but it continued. The moisture started condensing on the inside of my fly and dripping down onto my forehead. I tucked myself further into my sleeping bag and tried to curl away from the puddle of water that was gathering on the left side of my tent floor. Finally, still in the rain, we dragged ourselves from our tents. Lake-like puddles of water had collected in most of the camp. The sun had come out the evening before, so we left all our drenched gear out to dry overnight. Now stuffing our even wetter gear into panniers, we dragged our bikes up the embankment to the freeway and continued on.
Day 10
We're camped on the banks of a small creek tonight, next to an Alaska Highway overpass. The creek runs brown here from the tannins in the trees. It�s hard get accustomed to drinking brown water, but it tastes fine and no one has gotten sick yet.
There's an older couple camping in their RV at this river-crossing turnout with us. They tell us they are on their way back to Oregon after four months on the road. I think that if middle class retired folks can still afford to fill these behemoths with gas and drive them around North America for months on end, than perhaps the price of gas hasn�t risen enough to encourage conservation.
Photo: Dinner prep (Isan Brant)

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0 comment Friday, April 18, 2014 |

I want to apologize for my dearth of January posts. It's been a difficult month. I had eye surgery a few weeks ago in an effort to improve my vision. Unfortunately, I had an allergic reaction to the sutures they used, which left me bleary-eyed and unable to read or use a computer. Last week, as my vision finally was getting back to normal, I got laid off from my day job as a videographer for the ACLU. The layoff didn't come as a complete surprise - the organization had lost a major donor - but that fact didn't ease the emotional difficulty of the situation.
The good news is that, with the economy as it is, I don't anticipate I'll be back at a nine-to-fiver any time soon, so I'm planning a solo bike trip in Arizona and Utah. I'm also looking forward to having the freedom to work on some longer investigative pieces I've had shelved, like the fate of the free Ikea water-taxi and other benefits Ikea promised to Red Hook residents. So stay tuned for the fruits of "funemploymnet."

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0 comment Thursday, April 17, 2014 |
"Get on the sidewalk."
"You're not supposed to be in the street, honey."
"Don't ride in the road, cunt."
At least once a week the driver of a motor vehicle choses to enlighten me with their firm belief that bicycles do not belong on the road.
So yesterday, I was doing a little reading - John Rae's The American Automobile: A Brief History - and I couldn't resist sharing the following piece in response to all the bike-haters out there.
In his explanation for why automobile production finally took off in the United States.
Rae quotes American automotive pioneer Hiram Percy Maxim, who wrote in his autobiography:
"It has been the habit to give the gasoline engine all the credit for bringing the automobile - in my opinion this is the wrong explanation. We could have built steam vehicles in 1880, or indeed in 1870. But we did not. We waited until 1895. The reason why we did no build road vehicles before this...was because the bicycle had not yet come in numbers and had not directed men's minds to the possibilities of long-distance travel over the ordinary highway. We thought the railway was good enough. The bicycle created a new demand which it was beyond the ability of the railroad to supply."
Beyond creating a demand for longer-distance road travel, Rae also discusses how automobiles inherited many technologies originally developed for the bicycle, including lightweight steel-tube framing, the chain drive, ball and roller bearings, differential gearing, and most significantly the pneumatic tire, which was invented in 1888 specifically for use on bicycles.
Rae goes on to discuss how public support for the creation of hard-surface roads was driven by the bicycling lobby:
"In the United States, for example, an organization known as the League of American Wheelmen was able to get action for the state and local authorizes to improve the condition of roads. In 1893...pressure from the bicyclists induced Congress to appropriate $10,000 for a Bureau of Road Inquiry...This was the forerunner of the the Bureau of Public Roads and of the federal highway program.
"The combination of the pneumatic tire and the hard-surface road were indispensable to the success of the motor vehicle, Without both, highway travel could never have competed with rail transport in comfort or speed."
So to all you drivers out there who refuse to share the road, just remember: without us cyclists, you might never have had the privilege of resting your lard-cushioned derriere in your Cadillac Escalade.

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0 comment Wednesday, April 16, 2014 |
I discovered the Amtrak bathroom trick by accident. It was a Friday night in March, almost three years ago and I was running late. As I scuttled into the Providence train station, "Departing Now" was blinking on the track assignment board. If I didn�t catch this train, I wouldn�t be able to spend the weekend with my partner in New Haven. I ran down the stairs to the platform and squeezed through the gap in the doors.
It wasn�t until we�d pulled out of the station that I realized I didn�t have enough cash to buy a ticket onboard. So I decided to hide. I slipped into one of the bathrooms and shut the door. The bathroom was smelly and unheated and in the frigid air I could see my breath. For two hours I did jumping jacks and swung my arms to stay warm. Occasionally someone would knock on the door, but I figured my safest bet was to remain silent. I couldn�t hear the conductor announcing the stations, but I counted the stops and slunk of the train as we pulled into New Haven. I was shaking from the cold and from my nerves, but I had made it.
And for the rest of my time in Providence, I never paid for an Amtrak trip again - a huge relief since the $70 one-way tickets were eating up a significant portion of my $400 weekly stipend. I started sneaking on the Acela trains, which made the two-hour trip in only an hour and 20 minutes, plus their bathrooms were much cleaner and even had little frosted windows. Best of all, they were heated. But even with the heat I�d be shaking when I got off the train, fearing that my luck had run out and the cops would be waiting for me as I stepped onto the platform.
Despite the cost of tickets, as an alternative to car or airplane travel, passenger rail does have real advantages. As Governor Mike Dukakis points out in a recent interview on Wired's Autopia blog, contrary to popular belief, America is not too spread out geographically for rail service to be a practical travel option. "From the Mississippi River east, we actually look a lot like Europe. There's similar population density and distance between cities," he notes. By using our existing rights of way with minimal new track construction, we could, Dukakis argues, expand our transnational rail network with train service that reaches between 110 and 125 mph.
If the price of gas rises, as it did this past summer, the economies of rail transit become even more apparent - last July, Amtrak carried more passengers than any other single month in its history. But if we're serious about building an interstate rail network that can compete with cars and air travel, we'd need to invest in building a separate track system for high-speed trains. Unlike our neighbors in Europe and Asia, there are no high-speed trains in the United States. Amtrak�s Acela trains reach speeds nearing 150 mph only on two small pieces of track in New Hampshire and Massachusetts; most of the Acela route train speeds are much slower due to aging rail infrastructure and train congestion. Amtrak owns only about a third of its 21,000 "route miles" of track, so it must negotiate with freight trains for the right of way on the majority of its routes.
Under the Bush Administration, the Federal government decided to fund one high-speed rail project, giving $45 million in seed money for the California Nevada Interstate Maglev Project to build a train from Disneyland to Las Vegas. (With no help from the federal government, the state of California has started planning for an 800 mile, $40 billion high-speed transit system that will stretch from San Diego to San Francisco. A voter referendum on this fall's ballot won approval for the first $9.95 billion of funding.)
Looking back, I can't say my Amtrak fare avoidance trick is a discovery I am particularly proud of, especially as passenger rail undergoes another round of attacks in the stimulation bill debates in Congress. Before gas prices rise again, leaving American's stranded with cars they can't afford to drive, I'm hoping that we take this opportunity to invest in our rail system. With higher ridership and more support from the Federal government, maybe train travel will be an efficient and affordable alternative, even for underpaid interns.

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0 comment Tuesday, April 15, 2014 |
I had a video shoot in Greenpoint today. Normally, when I'm going somewhere with my camera, I take the train because I'm paranoid I'll get hit and my new and expensive HD Canon will be reduced to a collection of broken black plastic pieces. (I do recognize that it is somewhat problematic that I am willing to trust my physical well-being - and potentially my life - to New York traffic, but unwilling to place my camera in the same situation).
I used to really dread trying to get in between North and South Brooklyn because Flushing Ave. was so terrifying, but I'd read that new bike lanes were being installed, and so I decided to give it a try.
It was a completely different experience. Instead of trying to share a lane with speeding dump trucks and other large cargo vehicles, I felt pretty safe in the new bike lane. I particularly loved the section closer to Williamsburg where there is a two-way protected segment (see photo).
Then only slightly dangerous and highly annoying part of my commute was having to swerve out into the lane of traffic to avoid the NYPD Traffic van that was parked in the unprotected part of the Flushing Ave. bike lane. (Photo 2 - thanks NYPD for furthering the argument for why protected bike lanes are necessary).
But honestly, having bike lanes - even non-protected bike lanes - along Flushing Avenue made such huge difference. Next week, when I have a video shoot in LIC, I may feel brave enough, and safe enough, to bike there.

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0 comment Monday, April 14, 2014 |
Check out the new Atlantic Yards stadium design images.

Clearly, crossing the six lanes of speeding traffic will be a breeze for you and your tots.

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0 comment Sunday, April 13, 2014 |
I've known for a month or so that my brakes have been squealing ridiculously. But I was kind of enjoying the noise they made as it was far effective than my bell as a warning to tourists who walked blindly into the bike side of the Brooklyn bridge path.
When I finally got around to taking off and replacing my brakes, I was horrified. Somehow I'd managed to not only wear through most of the rubber, I'd actually eaten into the metal core of the brake pad as well (image 1)
My cherished squealing noise had actually been metal on metal - as the gouges on my rims can attest (image 2 - click to zoom in and view the carnage up close). Now I am not only replacing my brake pads, I'm going to have to get a new set of wheels as well. Lesson learned, but this wasn't exactly what I wanted to be buying myself for Christmas.
Though if I were more mechanically inclined, I'd start manufacturing the squealing brake bike horn. A preliminary Google search indicates that such a product does not currently exist.

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