Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bicycle Commuting

Rep. Blumenauer got the Bicycle Commuter Act passed. This amends the law concerning transportation fringe benefits offered to employees, expanding it to include up to $20/month for bicycle expense.

This is certainly a welcome step but it still leaves 26 U.S.C. §132 heavily tilted toward subsidizing driving. Look at the law before amemndment
and you see that parking is worth $175/month. Mass transit is worth $100/month. While $240/year is a nice sum for operating expense of a bicycle it doesn't address acquiring the bicycle -- or the lock and related upgrades to make the bike safe to lock up on the street -- in the first place.

All this about money for the employee, which is a deduction for the employer and therefore not really going to help those who work for the public sector or non-profits, aside there remain two serious issues:
  1. What do you do with your bike when you get to work? We need indoor bicycle parking and we need it in quantity. Many cities already have indoor parking garages but they are not set up for bicycles. The garages need a proper bicycle rack and ready access to it for cyclists. Take some of the space currently used for cars and convert it to bicycle parking. In the space used for 4 cars you could put enough bike rack slots for over a dozen bikes -- I estimate about 16 inches of horizontal space per bike.
  2. Not everyone has a short ride, and may need to change out of bicycle riding clothes into office clothes. My own commute isn't terrible at 8 miles each way and in temperate months I can and do commute in street clothes with the sole concession of mountain bike shoes (so that I can walk in them when I'm off the bike). I have winter cycling gear: I am not up for just putting on long johns and a parka and pedaling to work, I want to wear my insulated tights and so forth. Am I to just show up at my office and change clothes in a bathroom stall in the men's room? I've tried that in the summer, its annoying at best (and the door to the stall has an annoying habit of swinging open as I lean against the stall trying to get my pants on or off). A locker room would sure help.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Congressional Bike Caucus

Rep. Earl Blumenauer is the leader of the Congressional Bike Caucus.
The Caucus is bipartisan with many members. The NY Times published an article on Rep. Blumenauer and the Caucus. There is also a Senate Bike Caucus. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is a member as is Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT).

Anthony Weiner (D-NY)is listed as a member of the Congressional Caucus but I don't have an impression of him as particularly pro-bicycle considering his opposition to congestion pricing.

I see that my local Congressman Jerrold Nadler is a member. He certainly needs to get out on a bike a lot more.

I see a potential for organizing rides with the various members in their home districts / states. For NYC I imagine such an event could get the attention of DOT Commissioner (and cyclist beyond question) Khan. Senator cyclists are potentially interested in highlighting the state of bikes on trains with a train + bike ride. Probably not reasonable to drag Sen. Schumer from GCT to Poughkeepsie but you never know (its not THAT long a train ride and perhaps he would like to walk the train gladhanding people).

Representatives not on a rail-related committee are probably not interested in riding the rails with a bike, but a bike tour of the district doesn't seem an unreasonable concept.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bikes on transit

I use mass transit extensively, I don't own a car. Trains sometimes work well with bikes and sometimes not. I can and do bike to Penn Station (or Jamaica for a longer ride), and take the LIRR on a Sunday to my Mom by biking the 3 miles from my destination station to her house and then reverse at night. But if I want to go there on a "holiday" such as President's Day, my bike is not allowed on the LIRR. This makes sense on Memorial Day / 4th July / Labor Day on the Montauk line which is always crowded with passengers on those days (and therefore under-serviced. -- if every train in the daytime is standing room only, the railroad needs to add another train to the schedule). I never see such crowding on the Port Jefferson or Ronkonkoma/Greenport branche but the policy stands.

Metro Noth has the same rule. NJ Transit is worse, forbidding bikes the day before a holiday. That may make sense in summer on the Long Branch lne, the Jersey Shore is no doubt popular. But how many people can possibly be going to Long Branch on Columbus Day or Port Jervis is summer? Sure in winter perhaps someone is going to ski. -- and the bulky ski equipment is not only welcome on these winter holiday trains, the railroad has getaway pacages which include lift tickets, rail fare and a shuttle bus!

Looking beyond commuter rail Amtrak needs to upgrade its policy on bikes. All baggage cars need a bike rack so one can roll on lockup and go. I would prefer it in the passenger car but having ridden Amtrak in the Northeast I don't see where they could fit a bike rack (and I have yet to see a car with a wheelchair area such as is on LIRR and Metro North; obviously if they had such one could reserve it for wheelchair or bikes). A baggage car I have no sympathy whatsoever they could relatively inexpensively securely put a proper bike rack in if they wanted. Some lines do have it but not in the Northeast.

We cyclists need to work with the congressional Bike Caucus and get legislation passed (with a little funding for commuter rail; Amtrak charges for a reservation for the bike rack just as for checked luggage so that is potentially a profit center not just self-funding) requiring bike access. It makes tremendous sense and I understand this is available on many European railroads. Once again we are behind on mass transit.

All this really came to a head for me trying to organize a rail-based self-contained overnight trip for Sunday/Monday of Memorial Day weekend. As it is I put the return on Tuesday so all concerned have to take the day off which is limiting the audience. That of course results in less room nights for the hotel and less money spent in resturaunts in the destination area.

Indeed some folks may want a day trip to someplace because they have a day off but they can't bring their bikes on the train so they don't go

The 5BBC does do "weekend" trips with vans but that's more expensive, requires 2 van-certified leaders (for insurance reasons) per van and is not ecologically friendly as you're burning fossil fuels etc.

We'll see how things turn out for my trip. Technically, on a weekeday offpeak train its 4 bikes/train. Indeed there is a 8 bike limit on Sunday bike trains. In both cases its up to the train crew I have seen us get away with more bikes on Sunday to Brewster. It comes down to available space and cooperation with the crew. Which while the reality today is wrong: bikes onboard should not be subject o expulsion to make room for passengers getting on at a later stop. This isn't Jim Crow South and we are fare paying passengers we don't deserve 2nd class treatment. Another item for the Bike Caucus but their clout is small (more than just the one legislator has but limited)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

GPS track for 12/25

the title is a link to the GPS track for the 12/25/2008 Teaneck lunch ride.

Cross Country Mule #1

I went on my first NYCC ride early Wednesday morning. It was a training ride for hill work: 6 laps around the top of Central Park. I barely kept up on the first lap. On the second I caught up on the level ground at the top before the Harlem Hill and then the group got away, but I saw them turn after the bottom. By the 3rd time up the hill I never saw them again.

I need to work out and get stronger and faster on the bike.
The link here is to the track from my GPS.

Next Wednesday weather permitting 7 AM at the Boathouse again. I think it doesn't help that I live so close to the park that I barely got breakfast down before the ride; next time I will get up on time and eat earlier so that my food has a chance to digest before the ride.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Polar Pancakes

New Years Day was quite cold with single digit temperatures in the morning and enough of a northerly wind that it slowed and chilled me on the way to the start: as I pedaled down Centre Street the wind was strong enough that I barely made forward progress. My new Answer Kashmir boots worked pretty well. Wearing leg warmers under my slightly ripped but oh-so-comfy Perl Izumi insulated bib tights kept my legs warm. My core was good, I wore my Perl Izumi Winter Slice jersey and then an uninsulated long-sleeve jersey and then my Gore-Tex jacket as an outer layer. Face and head no problem thanks to my pSolar balaclava. Despite Perl Izumi glove liners, my Louis Garneau Inferno lobster gloves were quite inadequate and my fingers quite cold (palms were fine); this wasn't a problem last year, but I've worn them just regular around town so I suppose the insulation or something inside is worn. OTOH I wasn't out in weather below 20 degrees last winter.

The ride went well and everyone (all 3 trippers and my co-leader Ed Defreitas) liked Garden of Eatin. The route worked out quite well. Unfortunately, I didn't finish the ride as I became aware at lunch that I was feeling rather ill: another kidney stone attack on the rise. I bailed, leaving the ride to continue with Ed and Lee Ann, and took the subway home. I heard later that they had a great time, we'll do this again next year.

Upon reaching home, I lay down on a heating pad and took some painkillers and drank water. That helped enough to allow me to write the previous post. Things got worse and eventually I ended up in the hospital where on Sunday the stone was removed with laser lithotripsy. I went home Monday to recover. Eventually, I did recover and this past Sunday I got back on my bike and went for a ride for the day to scout my March 1st trip.