Snow Plowing by Bike

Yes, for those of you who pointed out that properly clearing snow from sidewalks would require burning more fossil fuels ... I present the bike snow plow:

You could add a salt spreader to the back if you really want to excel.

My second response is that even if you did use motorized plows, there would be a measurable decrease in the number of people who drive because streets and transit stops are not accessible to pedestrians.

Transit Tip 6. Implement a proof-of-payment fare system.

I remember once speaking to a DART Light Rail fare enforcement officer and mentioning that in Boston we still collect fares at the front door. She was speechless.  Other rich Western countries would similarly laugh at us if they understood that still happens on almost every bus line in America. Requiring people to line up at the front door, delaying all passengers and paying an expensive professionally trained operator to waste up to 30 percent of running time collecting fares, at a time when we're cutting crowded service for lack of money, is beyond ridiculous.

A proof-of-payment fare collection system (TCRP Report 96) drastically reduces travel times and lets us use the savings to spend our resources where they are needed: more service.

Tour update: across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Time for some bike touring! While I won't be camping quite yet, I am excited to ride in what has been described as one of the best biking environments in the United States.

I had a great few weeks in Minneapolis and another week in Duluth, Minnesota, before boarding an overnight Indian Trails bus across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My preference was a day trip but it's a state-subsidized bus line that runs once a day. Buses from each direction (Duluth, St Ignace, Hancock and Milwaukee) meet in the small town of Escanaba at 4 AM for connections. Mine will arrive in the "unincorporated place" called Engadine shortly after 6 AM so I can ride along the northern shore of Lake Michigan toward St Ignace. Then I'll do a loop of the eastern Upper Peninsula ending with a ferry ride to car-free Mackinac Island.

Should be a great ride, as long as my internal hub doesn't cause trouble again. I think I finally fixed it right ... And hope so ... Probably no bike shops on my route!

Bicycling in Minneapolis: city of lakes and trails

Aside from the cold, Minneapolis is a great city to get around by bike. Unlike other cities which have been working hard to add bike lanes, the backbone of Twin Cities bicycle network is its system of off-street paths.  Trails around the lakes have existed for decades the spine is the newer Midtown Greenway. Built in an old railroad trench, the greenway ranges from an arterial to a limited access highway, with separate spaces for bikes and pedestrians. It provides a safe, fast and direct route across the city and connects with several other trails. Experienced bicyclists tell me that once the greenway opened bicycling took off everywhere. I am impressed by how many people are biking through the winter (at least according to the weather it's not spring yet). The city does an overall excellent job of clearing snow from the trails, especially compared to other cities that pretend bikeways are for recreational use only. It's hard to overstate the importance of the trail network: it's easier for new cyclists to get started, more comfortable for everyone, and accommodates all types of bikes and bicyclists. Perhaps most important, when ice and snow are present, I would much rather be on a wet path than with drivers who don't pay attention even in good weather. That's what makes it so casual and peaceful.

In recent years the city has worked to connect the trail network to more neighborhoods and downtown with bike lanes and bike boulevards. Most of these leave a lot to be desired, especially where narrow bike lanes exist on very wide one-way streets, but hopefully the city is learning from its experiments and willing to revisit them.

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Another factor is the personal interaction. Apparently many car drivers also bike at least sometimes, probably on trails. (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised in this region has comparatively high rates of recreational biking.)  That's the only way I can explain the common occurrence of drivers yielding to me when they are supposed to and even when they are not. I wish I could say the same about riding in other cities.

Have you visited or lived in Minneapolis?  Do you share my assessment?  Should I move here?

Security and possible reactions to the Boston marathon explosion

It's very sad to hear of today's Boston marathon explosions.  It's unusual that nobody has claimed responsibility yet, so while we don't know much, it's important to take a deep breath and not react irrationally. Just a few friendly requests: Let's not use this as an excuse to start more wars for oil, like we did 12 years ago.

Let's not pretend that militarizing our cities will keep us safe or secure. It's already been reported that police with machine guns are patrolling buses in Baltimore and probably happening elsewhere. How exactly does that help anything?

If this turns out to be a foreign terrorist attack, before we react, let's remember the violence that is being committed in our name. We have killed and maimed thousands around the world in the past decade, and we continue to shoot random people in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere. We even purposely kill first responders in follow-up strikes. Either way, can we please stop?!

If it turns out to be a domestic terrorist attack, let's think about what would cause someone to take such drastic action, and fix those things.

Perhaps it was just gas leak or something.

Chicago's new L cars

I have been riding the elevated ("L") around Chicago over the past few weeks and recently had the chance to ride some of the new CTA rail cars. They look very similar to the old cars and have the same automated announcements and seat type, but they feature mostly longitudinal seating. This arrangement is preferably to the traditional layout (where most seats face the ends of the car) because it sacrifices a few seats to maximize standing capacity and circulation. That allows the car to carry more people and minimizes congestion as people get off and on. ChicagoPics13  CTA_new_car_exterior

Also notice the sign at the end of the cars which shows the next station as well as the date and time. This is the first in-vehicle sign that I've seen which has more than one line so hopefully that will become the norm. Displaying the time is incredibly useful for passengers looking to make connections, but what would be even more useful is real-time departure information for connecting routes. The technology is available to have the AVL system report information relevant to the next few stops based on your current location. On buses it could be located behind the driver's seat. I expect that we'll see this somewhere in the next few years.

There are currently 200 new cars operating, or about 15% of the fleet, with more on the way.  All "L" cars are 9 feet wide but only 48 feet long because of the many tight curves in the system. That means they can only fit two doors per car, which limits capacity and increases dwell time. However, unlike in some other large cities, CTA can use any car on any line.


Libraries are a traveler's best friend

One of the difficulties of traveling while running a web site is the need to have regular internet access. A smartphone and wifi from the local cafe is usually sufficient, but sometimes you need an actual computer. I travel without a data plan so I need reliable wifi to make phone calls (from outside the quiet areas of course). Even small town libraries always have free wifi and a computer you can use for anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours. And they can be good places to get work done on a rainy day since you can zone out and don't need to buy anything. This post comes to you courtesy of the Logan Square branch library in Chicago. image

Episode 18: Washington, DC & Bikes on BART trains

This week I am at the annual TRB conference in Washington, DC, so I begin with a brief update on the city's newest transportation options. Most of the episode is my conversation with Steve Beroldo, a daily bike commuter and Manager of Access Programs at Bay Area Rapid Transit, about his efforts to better facilitate multimodal travel by integrating bikes and trains. We hear about some innovative secure bike parking facilities, a pilot program to lift the rush hour bike ban, and some insights into the challenges of accommodating bikes and other large objects on a busy subway system.

BART is the only rapid transit link between San Francisco and the east bay cities of Oakland and Berkeley, a distance of over 7 miles for which no bike route exists.  Cyclists must use BART to make the trip, but bikes are not allowed on any rush hour trains to San Francisco. The alternative is being stuck in traffic on the limited Caltrans bike shuttle or a crowded AC Transit bus, not great for sustainable transportation.

Washington, DC - Transit, Bike Sharing, Pedicabs ...

I am in Washington, DC for the annual conference of the Transportation Research Board (TRB), learning about the latest research on transportation policies and practices. There's a lot going on here, so much that it's impossible to see half of what I want to see, but I look forward to presenting you the most interesting research over the coming months. Washington is becoming easier to get around each time I visit.  The DC Circulator bus system continues to grow since its start in 2005, filling gaps in Metro service for short trips within the central city with service every 10 minutes for only $1. My regular route skirts the trendy Adams Morgan area en route from the conference hotel to the Columbia Heights Metro station; I wish it would go through Adams Morgan to Dupont Circle, but it does provide a convenient link from the Red Line to the Green Line.

Capital Bikeshare launched just a few years ago and continues to expand both in geographic coverage and density (number and proximity of stations), now offering 1,670 bikes at 175 stations in DC and Virginia. After buying a three-day pass ($15) I have taken about a dozen convenient rides so far during short conference breaks.

Metro added peak period service this summer to increase capacity at both ends of the Blue Line and on the northern end of the Green Line. They are now busy preparing for the presidential inauguration this weekend, focusing on efforts to mitigate overcrowding everywhere, reduce congestion in major downtown transfer stations, and ensure buses keep moving in a useful way.

Over the inauguration weekend I will be busy driving a pedicab around downtown and other parts of the city. No one really knows what it will be like but we all hope it's easier than driving one in New York. If all goes well I can have some fun and meet people while bringing in some funds to support my work on this site.