Thursday, December 28, 2006

tracking the Ride with AATA

Homeless Dave tipped us off to the new goings on over at AATA. They have released a way to track the buses from the AATA website. You choose a route and AATA tells you the most recent timepoint, the status (behind or ahead of schedule), and the next timpoint, for both ingoing and outgoing buses.

After trying it out, our immediate reaction was, "Awesome! We're half way to a useful tool for bu riders." We saw two improvements that would make this great tool a whole lot greater: RSS feeds and mobile phone interface, and displaying the time the bus will arrive at my stop instead of the arcane timepoint-status-timepoint format. So we wrote to AATA and told them so via the comments/suggestion link.

Bobbie MacDonald, IT Manager at AATA, offered a speedy and helpful response to both queries. As for the RSS and mobile interface, she says, "we do have plans for PDA and cell phone interface, but all this takes money and right now it's tight."

The second issue requires a little journey into the guts of transit scheduling. First of all, it is really difficult to accurately predict future arrival times based on the current location of a bus. And the further out you try to predict, the worse it gets. It is much easier to mark a few spots along the route with expected arrival times and report whether the bus was ahead or behind schedule at that point. AATA calls these timepoints and uses them to measure schedule adherence on a route. A timepoint isn't the same as a bus stop. Timepoints may be bus stops, but not all bus stops are timepoints. As McDonald explains,

"We do not guarantee that we will be at all stops at a certain time, just timepoints as listed in the ride guide. Therefore, what we are displaying is the last timpoint the bus passed, what the schedule adherence is to that timepoint, the next timpoint on the route and the SCHEDULED departure time from that timepoint."

This timepoint system has been in place at AATA for quite a while. It's used in the paper guides and pdf versions of the schedule as well. The GPS system the implemented a while back incorporated to same concept and now it has been similarly passed on to the web tracker. So it's a little like the rocket based on a horse's ass.

We now understand the reason behind the format. And based on the "status" reports we've seen, you can pretty much expect the bus to be within a couple minutes of schedule anyway. However, all that doesn't keep us from wanting to know when the bus will pick us up at our stop.

We'd love to hear other's thoughts on the new feature, and so would AATA. Be sure to give some feedback when you try it out. We should also remind folks that UM buses offer a similar feature in a different format as we mentioned before.

For those reading this hot of the press, Bobbie warns that they are moving servers in response to high volume and this may affect service for a brief period. So don't give up if it fails on your first try.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

shoe tips, tricks, and crafts

Flitting around the Internets today, we came across a few shoe tips that might be useful for those who get the most out of their footwear. We've even thrown in a witty (or snarky) comment for each!

fix freyed laces
Note that plain ole scotch tape will also work, though it wears out faster.

boot drying rack
Call us lazy, but we just prop our boots up against the heat register.
Note smart people say that you shouldn't dry leather with forced air!

a faster knot
Ian offers what he swears is the fastest shoe knot known to man and 17 other ways to tie your shoes.

shoe size conversion chart
Yes, your size 10 foot is a a 44 European. But did you know it is 273 mm, the measure used in Korea? Print this one out for your next shoe-shopping binge in Tokyo or Mexico City!

shoe snow chains
Shockingly, the comments on the Lifehacker post actually rave about this slip on foot traction. Worth a try?

DIY reheeling
For those dedicated DIY folks, Mother Earth News shows how to resole your shoes with a tire.

Monday, December 25, 2006

ann arbor alley cats

we're slipping over the edge to bike-junky posts again!

While most folks think of century rides, time trials and Tours De [Insert Location] to be the epitome of cycling prowess, there is a special place in our hearts for the raw, unadulterated thrill of alley cat races. Finally, a semi-organized effort to promote and organize the cyclist version of Main street drag racing has hit Ann Arbor, and we couldn't be happier about it. Jimmy Rigged has set up two races already, and he talks about them on the teeter-totter.

We wish him the best of luck with this important addition to A2 cycling culture and look forward to hearing about the next race.

platewire: reporting bad (and good) drivers

Our holiday web surfing introduced us to a new site called platewire. This blog allows road users to post complaints and praise of other drivers by posting a license plate number and brief message. Platewire describes itself as a place where "commuters can communicate their thoughts and feelings in regards to driving on today's roadways."

Naturally, our thoughts drifted to the potential for carfree commuters to express their many gripes about drivers. We could report cars parked in bikelanes, drivers who block the crosswalk while waiting to make a right turn, vehicles that don't yield enough space to cyclists on the road, and other various complaints. The site sort of assumes that drivers will be reporting other drivers.

We see two potential benefits to Ann Arbor pedestrians and cyclists posting here. First, it would generally raise awareness that roads are not reserved for automobiles and that cagers behavior on the road has an impact extending beyond other drivers. Secondly, lots of reports from Ann Arbor would help build our fair city's image as supporting and consisting of a carfree community. One might argue that a third benefit is that this is a good forum to make direct appeals to the driving community. But the level of discourse on the threads we've read suggests that advocating the non-motorized position is just troll bait. Don't expect to teach many lessons.

There are only a few posts about pedestrians and cycling so far. As you might imagine, those threads don't offer much intelligent discussion on sharing the road. Here is an example. The question is whether an increase in bike/ped posts would indicate the dangers that automobiles pose to other road users, or jsut come accross as whining from people who don't pay gas tax.

the weather outside is frightful...

We've been keeping an eye on the weather report for Ann Arbor from our temporary home office in Bangkok, Thailand. It appears that a brisk Christmas walk through the crisp new-fallen snow is out again this year. is repeatedly advertising our Midwestern winter days as "a slushy accumulation of one inch or less."

So hopefully you can snuggle up to a fire that is so delightful for the next few days with friends and family and enjoy the holiday season despite the rain and slush. If there is a tip buried in this post, it is that sometimes the weather wins; trips out are dismal.

Yet we find that bad weather tends to relax most obligations to hurry around and get things done. These days can be considered a sort of "get out of jail free" card for all sort of obligations. If you can find an excuse to stay indoors and celebrate, do it. Before you know it the weather will break and you'll have missed your chance.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

who will Google bring to town?

A recent AANEws article announces that Google is moving downtown, at least for the next four years. The seemingly good news for the city is followed up by another article pointing our that the addition is not all wine and roses. Specifically, parking is an issue again (yes we agree that it probably never stopped being an issue; the framing is just different).

In an effort to accomodate Google's four year stay in the McKinley Town Centre and show a commitment to providing infrastructure that will allow them to stay downtown as they ramp up to 1,000 employees and look for permenant offices in four years, the city guarenteed the internet giant...
go!passes for all employees?
expansion of the Zipcar program to include downtown locations?
increased funding to AATA to expand routes and extend service hours?
a commitment to improving bike and ped facilities downtown?

Sorry gang. The city took the easy way out (or, rather, foolishly dug themselves further into a parking hole) by offering 200 guaranteed parking spaces. Promising 200 parking spaces at a time when permits for downtown parking have a waiting list is a pretty clear indication that Ann Arbor is planning to build more parking.

The article poses the question "As downtown evolves with a flurry of development and visions, one question stands out: Does the city have enough parking to support it?" Hopefully this narrow perspective is to representative of Ann Arbor's view on mobility. By viewing parking as the major constraint to increased density, the reporter boxes us into a one-track (or lane) mobility solution. More people = more cars = more parking.

Really, there are lots of programs in our fair city that support alternatives to driving. We are reassured by programs like the DDA sponsored getDowntown program, which advocates and promotes a variety of transportation options. We are expanding our cycling facilities, the Link is up and running, and the Mayor is pushing for rail service to neighboring areas. It seems feasible that increasing density with the right mix of transportation services could reduce Ann Arbor's car/household ratio.

Yet the policy and infrastructure will do little if the new residents and employees coming to town are only interested in having a parking spot. When wooing Google and other potential business to Ann Arbor, and particularly to downtown, we would like to see a greater effort by the city and business associations to promote the city's complete mobility package, instead of just throwing a stack of parking permits on the bargaining table.

McKinley CEO Albert Berriz says he's ready to house goolites across the street from the office. By promoting the mobility and flexibility of a go!pass, safe bike/ped experience, and a Zipcar membership to new residents and employers, we take a good first step to attracting the kind of people who are more likely to support and use the facilities we want to build and improve.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

cycling through West Hall arch

The diag is one of those cycling short-cuts that can really cut time off your trip, unless classes have just let out and you find yourself caught in a sea of pedestrians chatting on mobile phones. But even if the way is mostly clear, the path funnels at the Southeast corner as you pass through the West Hall arch. There are doors on either side inside that arch where students step out without much thought as to cross traffic.

Despite the politely phrased sign requesting that cyclists walk their bikes through the arch, we see a lot of bikers ride right through. A recent email to WBWC members mentioned that a girl was recent hit by a bike in the arch. Apparently the cyclists didn't even stop.

We've talked previously about the pointless bickering between pedestrians and cyclists. This is one location where cyclists can vastly improve both pedestrian's safety, and pedestrian's image of cyclists. When you ride the road, you can own it. But when cutting through the diag, you're on pedestrian turf. Please slow down and dismount in the arch.

carfree and drunk in Ann Arbor: getting home

As the season's festivities pick up pace and the snow (hopefully) falls thick and cold, carfree folks around Ann Arbor gain a distinct advantage over cagers. With mulled wine, eggnog, and a variety of other social lubricants flowing freely as we gather repeatedly with friends, families, and co-workers in jovial celebration, drivers are faced with drunk-driving concerns. How on earth is anyone supposed to get home from a drinking binge if they aren't allowed to drive?

Fortunately, while cagers have raged the year away behind the wheel, we've grown quite accustomed to traveling (drunk or sober) without a car. We tend to visit local bars within easy walking distance from home. We are already familiar with the bus routes for events that end before AATA service does. We've got a few cab companies already programed into our phones and we know that we can get a flat rate cab by calling Nightride (734.528.5432) once AATA service ends. We all likely know a few designated drivers who are willing to offer a ride. And a few of us have, for better or worse, probably become somewhat adept at operating a bicycle after a few drinks.

In regards to the last, we certainly don't advocate biking drunk, even if it is a helluva lot safer for others than drunk driving. Besides, it is against the law to operate a bicycle under the influence, even though we have never heard of anyone getting pulled over for it. The biggest risk for an apres-soir cycists is likely to be (as usual) cars. Despite increased enforcement and a media blitz reminding the public of the dangers, there is a significant increase in alcohal-related car crashes every holiday season. We're not saying sobriety will save you from these idiots, but it may give you that vital edge in veering into the bushes to avoid cars drifting from the opposing lane. Remember that it would be easy to call a cab or catch a ride and come back tomorrow to grab your bike. Just make sure it is locked up.

Also, keep in mind that non-car options are likely to be a little more in demand. You may want to call your cab a little earlier (or later).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Amtrak business class, worth the ten bucks?

There is a good chance that you weren't even aware that Amtrak offers business class seating from Ann Arbor to Chicago. If you're anything like us, it gets overlooked in the mad dash to the weekly specials page. A BC upgrade to Chicago only adds $11 to the one-way ticket price. However, you can't upgrade from the drastically reduced fares in the weekly specials. As a result, we've never taken the upgrade, but many people have recommended it.

According to Amtrak, the upgrade includes:
electrical outlets for every pair of seats
complimentary, non-alcohalic beverage
in-car Railfone
lots more leg room

Now, coach is already quite comfortable. Those who associate "coach" with the cramped quarters on airplanes will be pleasantly surprised at the space Amtrak offers. The seats also recline much further than the airline variety. So unless you need lots of legroom, coach will do the trick. Railfone isn't a priority for us. Your cell phone will work at least at either end of the journey (we tend to lose signal in Southwest Michigan) and paying for calls by credit card is a pain in the ass, especially since Amtrak says those calls may cut out just like your mobile. Electrical outlets are nice, but can usually be found in coach as well; they just aren't guarenteed in every seat. That leaves a glass of juice and a newspaper, which isn't worth the $10 to us.

But we forgot to mention one important benefit to BC. You get a reserved seat. Regular Amtrak riders may recall that familiar knot that forms in one's stomach as the train aproaches the Ann Arbor station and passengers begin jockeying for position. Coach riders have a guarenteed seat, but that seat doesn't have a location. When you board the train, chances are that most pairs of seats have one person either pretending to be asleep or making every effort to look like an unpleasant seatmate in hopes that they can ride next to an "empty". God forbid that you are traveling with someone that you actually want to sit next to. The staff will sometimes act as negotiators in seat trades, but don't count on it. In comparison, sauntering on to the BC car and being shown to your seat is worth a little extra.

In a recent teetering interview, Homeless Dave gives BC upgrades the thumbs up. If he says it is worth the money, maybe there is more to gain than juice and paper.

The galsguide gives a full rundown on riding from Chicago to Detroit. She opts for the BC upgrade. Her advice includes choosing the side of the train for sun exposure (in Michigan the north side of the train will almost always be the shady side) and priceless tips like "doubling as a scarf, a Pashmina is a chic way to stay fashionable and warm at the same time."

If you've got any thoughts on riding business class on Amtrak, let us hear them in the comments.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

contribute to survey of winter bike racks

Why do cyclists give up their bike commute in the winter? Well, it certainly couldn't be the weather. After all, we're Michiganders, right? We're used to the cold and look forward to the invigorating freshness of a winter morning, the snow crunching crisply under our wheels...

We have a sneaking suspicion that parking might play a role in deterring winter rides. We've seen a number of plowed-in, drifted-over, and otherwise unaccessible bike racks around A2 in the winter. The UM racks are some of the worst examples. We've seen bikes crumpled by the force of a plow that left a rack buried in a mountain of brown, salty snow. Unfortunately we can't prove it. So we're looking for descriptions and/or photos of winter bike racks around town and campus. Prove us wrong or back us up with your own stories and images. Send photos to or just post a comment here.

We don't have anything to give away as a prize for the best entry, but if we did, it would be mittens.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

pedestrian hit by car on Packard

The Michigan Daily is reporting that a student is in serious condition after being hit by a driver while walking in the bike lane on Packard St. A reprotedly elderly woman swerved across the road, striking the pedestrian, and then back across both lanes eventually running the car into a tree.

There are no details on how this all happened, and we won't be the ones to speculate. However, it is frighteningly similar to a crash that Urbana-Champaign Bicycle Commute reported about a woman who was downloading ringtones when she ran over a cyclist. That driver killed someone with their car through their own care(or reck)lessness and got ticketed for improper lane use.

As Ann Arbor works to develop the Share the Road educational program and we continue to expand our bike and pedestrian facilities, we wonder what role enforcement will play. Will AAPD and the courts consider this assualt with a deadly weapon or a minor driving error? Since this wasn't a cyclist, we thankfully will not have to endure inane inquiries into whether she was wearing a helmet when she was run over. However, we are not above making our own snarky inquiries as to whether the driver of the car was wearing one.

Be assured that we will keep on top of this story. We encourage anyone with more info to add it to the comments here. In the meantime our healing thoughts are with the victim.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

bike-powered laundry

Three posts today! I guess we're feeling chatty.

The focus of this site is carfee life and we try to keep posts relevant to getting around Ann Arbor without a car. There are lots of bike junky websites out there. While we often link to them, we don't aim to become one of them.

That said, once in a while something comes along that isn't directly related to our topic but just can't be overlooked. Homeless Dave's DIY human-powered laundry spinner is an obvious example. His set-up uses a bike, indoor trainer, and broken washer to spin the water out of his hand-washed clothes.

Normally we'd argue that stationary bikes are the only bike related thing less practical for getting around than the superhero outfits that are so popular on Huron River Drive on Saturday mornings. For off-season racers and health nuts they may be great, but we find nothing more frustrating than pedaling for an hour only to get off the bike not an inch closer to the grocery store. No fresh air, no cool breeze, no changing scenery, no thanks.

But HD's documentation (like the rest of his site) is a work of art in itself. It is a joy to read his inovative effort to reduce energy consumption and waste, both of which tend to be goals for carfree folks. And while his invention may not get you to work in the morning, at least your laundry is done at the end of the ride.


Think it is too snowy to be riding your bike? Dreading the slippy trip on your downhill commute? Can't decide whether to bike or ski to work? Why not take the best of both and put them together?

Yes, the skibike is the Reeses peanutbutter cup of winter transportation. Certainly there are limits to its usefulness (can only go downhill, no brakes, generally unsafe for rider and onlookers), but for those with no sense of safety and a two-way downhill commute, this may be just the ticket. CommutebyBike pointed us to a dirtrag DIY skibike. The Do-It-Yourself aspect adds that extra sense of danger that off-theshelf models can't satisfy. Build and ride at your own risk.

more on snowy sidewalks

We previously mentioned the snow removal requirements for the City of Ann Arbor. As we trudge our way through the cold season, it's worth referring back to that advice. WBWC has posted info on sidewalk shoveling requirements for all area governmental units.

In apparent agreement with our advice to make personal, friendly, and neighborly contact before filing official complaints, WBWC also is providing printable Sidewalk Clearing Reminders and Thank You Letters (both are PDFs).

who rides the bus?

AATA recently released a report on ridership (PDF) done by the UofM Urban Planning department last spring. The results indicate that the M-ride program has had a big impact and that we can probably expect that to continue.

55% of riders are between 18 and 29 years old. 42% of riders make less than $15k per year. So yeah, there are a lot of students riding the bus now. In fact, just under half of the surveyed riders were students.

Because students make up such a large portion of the ridership, about 60% of trips are for work or school. However 5% of trips were "social/cultural" and another 3% were "dining/food" trips. So the "bus date" has yet to realize its full potential, but the early adapters are starting to show.

More than 60% of riders use the bus five or more days each week. That same percentage of riders have increased the frequency of their bus rides. More than half of the riders started using the bus in the last 19 months (since the M-ride program started).

People seem to be generally satisfied with AATA's service. All aspects got an above average rating. Service frequency and availability of bus shelters received the lowest scores.

Monday, December 11, 2006

carfree gift list

It seems like everyone is posting gift ideas on their blogs right now. So, in an effort to keep up with the Jones, here are a few ideas for carfree gifts for Ann Arborites. You can pick one up for that special carfree person in your life or add these to your own wish list.

blinky- good stocking stuffer for any cyclist or pedestrian in your life
bike locker- $75/year gets you covered bike parking at one of a number of downtown locations. This is exactly the kind of thing that people wouldn't buy for themselves but would really appreciate
go!pass- Downtown employers looking for a way to appreciate employees should definitely consider signing up for the go!pass. For $5/employee you can provide staff with free, unlimited bus rides for a year. Contact the getDowntown program for more info.
monthly bus pass or tokens- Regular bus riders will certainly appreciate a few free rides. You can pick these stocking stuffers up at the Blake Transit Center.
Zipcar membership- Sick of your carfree neighbor bumming rides? Give them a chance to try out Zipcar, the new carsharing service in town. You can cover the first year's membership fee to get them started.
Rental car gift certificates- great for vacations and weekend trips
Amtrak gift certificates- Great for people who make the occasional trip to Chicago. You can buy them online.

Friday, December 08, 2006


You want to bike to work, but need to smell professional when you arrive. The fact that your office doesn't have lockers or shower facilities makes that pretty much impossible, right?
Actually, a shower is often overkill in cleaning up for work. Keep in mind that fresh sweat doesn't stink. It's the waste product of bacteria eating the old sweat that creates a nasty odor. Wiping of the old sweat and changing clothes will work just fine, unless you are really using your commute for a work-out.
Here are a few different methods for a mini-shower you can manage in any bathroom stall.

Wash cloth
Keep one at work and dampen. It's the simplest solution. Soap is not necessary. It does require some place to hang the cloth to dry and getting it in the laundry once in a while.

Baby Wipes
Baby wipes have the versitility of duck tape. They are cheap, widely available, easy to carry and do a fine job of knocking the sweat off before work.

Rocket Shower
If you can't get over the association of baby wipes with dirty diapers, or you just prefer over-priced, sport-marketed liquid in a flashy container, you might give this a try. It does get good reviews. Alternatively, combined the listed ingredients at home for a cheaper DIY version.

Armpit diapers
Zajido offers pads that you can stick either directly on your armpit, or on the armpit of your clothing. If you aren't totally weirded out by the idea, maybe you can give it a try and report back.

No matter what method or product you use to wipe down, remember to let yourself cool of and stop sweating first.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

shopping tips for the bus

We love reading the Buschick column from Seattle. This week she gave a nice little list of tips for holiday shopping by bus. Even though she writes about Seattle, most of her points are easily transferrable to Ann Arbor. Here are the main points, but you should definitly read her article for the full explanation on each topic.

1. Buy less
2. Use the internet to shop and/or pre-shop
3. Concentrate. Bus shopping requires planning ahead.
4. Shop on the way. Take advantage of transfer times and make each trip a multitasker
5. Be flexible. Try Zipcar.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

triggering traffic lights on a bike

Ever find yourself stuck in a traffic purgatory, waiting for a light change that never seems to come? Have you ever gotten so frustrated at not being able to activate a left-turn signal, that you eventually decide to blow the light? For cagers, this is usually just a lack of patience. But for cyclists on the road, this can be a real and frustrating problem. We used to have a terrible time turning left at the light at the bottom of Broadway hill.

In Ann Arbor, we use inductive loop sensors to trigger many traffic signals. They are built into the pavement where traffic should wait at a signal. The larger size and greater conductivity of cars makes them much more likely to trigger the light than a bike. However, all the signals should be sensitive enough for bikes. These loops can detect any conductive material, so aluminum frames and wheels work as well as steel. Even if you ride a carbon fiber frame you should be able to trip the signal trigger since the best "signal" comes from the wheels.

For the best chance of detection, try to get both your wheels over the wire. If you are lucky, there will be a saw-cut in the pavement indicating where the wire was placed. If not look for a mark or stop on one side of the lane and lean your bike towards the center of the lane to improve your chances. You can read a more detailed description of the how and why here.

Indestructables has a quick-and-dirty HOWTO on installing magnets in your bike shoes. It's questionable whether this really helps at all since it is conductivity, not magnatism, that the coil reacts to. Certainly it is more effective to find the sweet spot in the loop.

Some communities actually post signs or mark the pavement to assist cyclists in triggering the signals. Unfortunately, the Good People of Ann Arbor are not so lucky. If you do run into a problem tripping the signal trigger on your bike, call the city to report it (734-994-2744). It's possible (at least, for someone who knows what they are doing, like a city employee) to adjust the sensitivity of the coils at the control box. If you find a sweet spot for signal changes, maybe this is an appropriate time for community-minded graffiti. Spray paint two little "x"s with a circle around each (so they look like 4-spoke wheels) to indicate the proper place to rest your wheels.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

the future of downtown parking and why you should care

A lot of the benefits to car-free living remain unconvincing for the vast majority of drivers. Better health, cleaner environment, and more a livable city all sound good, but don't measure up to the collosal sacrifice of reducing auto-dependence. Even the pretty obvious cost savings seems to get muddled. However, no one can argue one luxury of giving up the car: you never have to worry about parking.

Wednesday, Dec 6 the DDA is hosting a community discussion on the future of parking downtown. The AANews didn't list a time or place in their article, but we think it is at the DTE center on Main and Williams. A consultant has already been collecting information for a final report in January on how the Ann Arbor parking system should react to the increase in downtown jobs and residents. The community comments will be included in the final report. Thank heavens we don't have to get involved in that headache! We don't drive downtown so why should we care what happens with parking?

Unfortuantely, finding parking and living with community parking decisions are two separate problems. As much as we may like to gloat over being above the difficulties of finding a Main Street parking spot on the weekend, we have to recognize that parking system decisions affect everyone, not just drivers.

That is why we feel it is important for the carfree and carlite community to be represented at this meeting. We carfree folks depend on a dense and diverse downtown that does not prioritize the storage of vehicles over safe pedestrian routes, adaquate transit provision, and accessible downtown resources.

If you have a little free time tonight, stop by the meeting and let them know there are people living in town without a car and we care what happens to the parking system. We see this as a great time to promote Ann Arbor as supporting carfree lifestyles instead of expansion of more of the same

advice from the bike pile

Paul at carfreefamily has a lot of bikes and trailers to haul kids, groceries, and stuff around his farm. He has a tandem. He has a three seat tandem. None of this stops him from adding to his extensive bike wishlist. He talks about how to better manage a carfree life and massive bike inventory and whether selling his car saved him money or just redirected it to more bike parts. It's a good read (as is the rest of his blog) for bike lovers on a budget. Also a good advice for those making their carfree Christmas lists.

Monday, December 04, 2006

AATA reaches 5 million rider milestone

"As for buses? Blech. A perfect way to keep us in our cars.", quips an AANews colmnist recently.

But the Good People of Ann Arbor appear to disagree. In early December AATA will celebrate their 5 millionth ride this year, the highest ridership in the organizations history. A large portion of this increase is probably a result of the M-ride program, which allows UofM students, faculty and staff to ride for free since ridership has jumped over the last four months. But the increase is not just from UofM. Ridership has increased 29% over the last five years.

AATA will be giving away free passes and other prizes in early December. They are also seeking essay submissions on their transit experiences. See their news release (PDF) for more details.

Congratulations, AATA!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

recent posting black-out attributed to Dengue fever

Our main content contributor came down with this exotic disease last week, resulting in a week hooked up to an IV in the local hospital. After numerous blood tests and hospital meals, he has been released and we hope to have regular postings again.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

bikes: lost and found and unclaimed

After visiting the AAPD lost and found list, we fear that disrespect for bikes is hardly limited to road-raging car-muters. It extends to bike owners themselves.

The L&F list shows 168 items collected as far back as October, 2005. Nearly half of the list is bicycles! In fact, more than 50 bikes collected over the past 3 months are now clogging up police storage facilities. Note that this number does not include any bikes abandoned on University racks, which are dealt with by the University.

If you've "lost" a bike recently, you should stop by the police station to see if you can make a match. It's heart-wrenching to think of all those orphaned bikes.

If you've registered your bike, the process should be easy. Even if you haven't registered your bike, a good description should be sufficient. Based on the number of bikes they have to store, the police are probably willing to work with you if it means reducing their inventory.

You can contact them at
100 N. Fifth Ave, 1st floor of City Hall,
Go to the Police Reception Desk
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.- 3:30 p.m.
Phone: (734) 994-2874

AAPD used to hold semi-annual bike auctions in order to empty our their warehouse. It was a great place to pick up a cheap and functional bike, and sometimes walk away with classic parts and frames for only a few dollars. Sadly, the bike auction is no more. We believe that unclaimed bikes are now donated to a local charity, but that is not confirmed.

It would be great if the immediate and direct reuse of bikes that the auction provided could return. This could be a great fundraiser for WBWC and would be a great event for promoting bike culture in town.

Buy Nothing Day

Friday, November 24 is Buy Nothing Day. The protest/celebration higlights the manner in which consumerism has overshadowed the importance of quality time with friends and family.

We're not aware of any events organized in Ann Arbor, but you can show your support simply by not shopping for the day (harder than some may think). We encourage all carfree folks to continue to supportlocal businesses on Saturday.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bike Winter events

Winter is, of course, the best time of the year for cycling in Ann Arbor. There's less tourist traffic, no blaring sun in your eyes, no oppressive summer heat & humidity, and no construction. The potholes are iced over, the air is crisp and the scenery is covered in a soft blanket of snowy goodness. It makes you wish spring would never come, doesn't it?

If you are humbugging the winter roads while you hoist your bike into the rafters for its annual hibernation, the getDowntown program is hoping to change your mind and turn you on to the joys of winter riding. They just announced the schedule for this year's Bike Winter events. They've organized a few winter workshops on maintenance, riding skills, and DIY bike lights. You can meet up with other winter riders for food and drinks at Friday night socials and ride in the "Worst Day of the Year Ride" on January 21.

We got this info from the getDowntown newsletter. This newsletter is quite informative and had some up-to-date carfree info that we hadn't seen elsewhere. It might be worth signing up to receive it by email. gDt also doesn't send a lot of extra announcements, so you don't have to worry about spam.

Monday, November 20, 2006

crosswalk buttons

That shiny silver button beckons pedestrians with the promise of parting traffic like the Red Sea to allow safe passage through the otherwise perilous journey across the street. Surely the crosswalk button is evidence of the miraculous ways in which technology improves our every-day lives in so many subtle ways. Or is it? From a broader perspective, one must ask why we need such a device at all. Why does of street traffic flow uninhibited while those on foot have to beg permission to procede? If by envisioning the key, we create our own prison, then perhaps by providing a button, society casts pedestrians as second-class travellers?

Some cities are making an effort to improve the pedestrian cross walk button-punching experience. The Vancuver Transportation Plan calls for system-wide reduction in pedestrian wait times. They also provide crossing buttons for bike lanes.

At the same time, massive pedestrian crowds don't guarentee government attention. For example, in New York city the majority of cross walk buttons are simply placebos! Updates to the traffic control system included disabling thousands of crosswalk buttons that still get pushed every day by anxious pedestrians.

We contacted the city engineering department to find out how our fair city addresses the issue. As has always been our experience, the city provided us with a speedy and detailed (a little too detailed in some ways) explanation. We've sifted through the engineer-speak to give carfree folks the straight scoop on Ann Arbor actuated pedestrian crossings and, yes, it is just as exciting as it sounds.

We've got about 150 traffic signals in town and most of them include pedestrian signals. Those that do not are mostly freeway signals and areas without sidewalks. This city does plan to include pedestrian signals with any future traffic signal additions whether there is a side walk or not.

There are two types of pedestrian signals, pre-timed and actuated. Pre-timed signals have a pedestrian crossing built into the traffic light cycle and don't provide a button. Actuated signals are the ones that provide a button to request crossing permission. There are a few places on main roads with a hybrid system that include pedestrian signals in the regular cycle, but also provide a request button.

There are a few tips worth noting for pedestrians, though walkers have probably already figured out the subtlies of signals along their regular routes.

* If there is a button, you should push it. Unlike NYC, Ann Arbor's buttons actually do something. They ensure that you will get a chance to cross and that you have enough time to complete the journey once you step into the street.

* Pressing the button queues up a pedestrian crossing once demand for the current (vehicle) cycle has ended. Once demand ends, the current cycle is completed and then the pedestrian cycle starts. That means that if traffic is heavy, you may still have to wait a while before you get a "walk" signal. This is probably where you (justifiably) start to feel like a second-class citizen. Make up for it with a jaunty stroll or happy skipping in front of the line of cars that is forced to wait for you when the light turns.

* It is a basic human instinct to push the crosswalk button repeatedly, even if you just saw someone else push it before you. We are sad to report that the city denies any beneficial response by the traffic system to such behavior. Once the button is pushed, the request is in and the system is apparently not designed to recognize repeated taps as an expression of urgency of the pedestrian. No doubt this is a shortfall in the system, but the city does not appear to be willing to commit resources to making this change. Additionally, bloggers across the country agree: people who push the crosswalk button repeatedly are annoying.

A while back some witty pranksters published a list of cross walk button hacks. Punching the crosswalk button with these secret codes would would allow for instant crossing, permanent walk signal, and other pedestrian advatages. The codes would do so, that is, if they existed. They don't. The original website that published these fake hacks is gone, but references to the legend of the crosswalk button hack lingers on. In case you won't take our word for it, you are welcome to try the "instant walk" hack next time you are waiting at an intersection:

thanks to carfreeChicago for leads on some of this info

Update on TRU meeting

The Rapid Transit Meet-up has been rescheduled:

Interested in bringing quality rapid transit to southeast Michigan? Want to help push for commuter trains from Ann Arbor and Ypsi to Detroit, metro Airport, Chelsea, and Livingston County? Curious about the latest findings from the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) on transit in our area? Come to a meet-up with Transportation Riders United (TRU), a non-profit group working to improve public transit in southeast Michigan. Eli Cooper, Transportation Program Manager for the City of Ann Arbor, will discuss Ann Arbor's efforts for rapid transit. TRU Director Megan Owens will discuss regional transit issues, the proposed Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter train, SEMCOG's upcoming public meeting on that issue, and opportunities to get involved. Q&A follows. Free.
7 p.m. Tuesday, November 28th
Ann Arbor District Library Freespace (third floor)
343 S. Fifth Ave., at William
(313) 963-8872

Sunday, November 19, 2006


A cool event that combines buying local, riding bikes, and donating to foodbanks took place in Iowa this year.

It's a scavenger hunt for donated food. Riders all get a grocery list of 10 items that must all be collected from different stores. The first one back with a complete list and receipt to prove it wins. The limit of one item per store means that knowing your local merchants will be much more important than being fast on a bike. All the food collected is donated to the local food bank.

It's a great way to increase awareness of all the local sources for groceries, as well as a fun way to promote cycling as an good way to get around town. We would bet that even with the petrol "advantage" cagers (car drivers) couldn't complete this task faster than cyclists.

What do you say, Ann Arbor? Cranksgiving next year?

Thanks to CommutebyBike for the lead

Share the Road campaign kick-off meeting

The getDowntown program is starting the ball rolling on a campaign to promote sharing the road. The announcement email says that the committee will,

help to guide the look & key messages of a Share the Road educational campaign that will be launched next May/June in Ann Arbor. This campaign will be aimed at educating cyclists, motorists and potentially pedestrians to understand their rights and responsibilities on the road.

The first planning meeting will be scheduled for Wednesday Monday, December 4th
from 6:30-8pm here at the Ann Arbor Chamber offices in the DTE buidling on the corner of Main and Williams. Pizza and drinks provided. Contact Erica Briggs at 734.214.0100 to let her know you are coming and ensure there is enough pizza.

This is an important component to better carfee living, whether you bike, walk, or bus. Thanks to Erica for taking the initiative.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Update on UTN meeting

The UTN meeting that we announced previously has been cancelled due to overlap with a SEMCOG transit plan public meeting. Fear not, the meeting will be rescheduled, and we'll announce it here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

internet round-up: crazy bike infrastructure

We try to keep posts focused on the Ann Arbor area, but it's good to step out of the box once in a while to gain some perspective. Here is a little collection of bike infrastructure projects that have stepped way outside the traditional sidewalk vs. road paradimgn of cycling infrastructure.

A few years back, significant effort was put into the idea of a bike tunnel under the railroad tracks near Depot St. That is about as radical as Ann Arbor has gotten. Sure, big expensive projects may not be the way to spend our litmited NMV budget, but what if we were to dream big? Are any of these options worth considering in our fair city?

Bicycle Lift currently operating in Norway assists cyclists on ascending steep hills. Need a little boost up Hospital Hill or Broadway St?

Water-cooled bike path designed for Qatar beats the heat with a solar-powered water-misting system on a shaded bikepath. Ann Arbor doesn't have the heat to warrant this kind of project, let alone the oil money to pay for it. Still, simply providing cover from rain, snow, and sun makes cycling and walking a lot more attractive.

Elevated bike wind-powered bike highways have yet to meet a city with the forward-thinking leaders and deep pockets required for implementation. They system provides a tailwind making cycling "90% more efficient" in the weather protected corridors. Connect North and Central Campus, a bike express route to Ypsi running above Washtenaw, ...maybe not.

The McDonalds Cycle Center in Chicago is one of the few dream resources that came to fruition. The center offers secure parking, repair service, rentals, lockers, showers, and towel service, as well as hosting tours, classes and other events. Certainly a big city can more easily support big projects like this. Maybe we could start smaller by getting the YMCA to offer a "Shower Pass" and some bike lockers.

But innovative does not have to mean expensive. Check out this commissioned bike lane in Montreal.

Monday, November 13, 2006

eating on the bus

The nice thing about riding the bus is you don't have to focus on the road. You can redirect all of the energy that is wasted as stress in motorists to other tasks like reading, knitting, writing a grocery list, listening to language tapes, grabbing a bite to eat...

Er, well, actually your not allowed to eat on the bus. While the bus may seem like the perfect place to lounge with a good book and a cappaccino, AATA states pretty clearly that no open food or beverage is allowed on the bus. And there are some pretty good reasons why they make that rule.

1. Cleanliness- The AATA buses are kept pretty clean, and the bus drivers are busy. they don't schedule in time to mop up the croisant crumbs soaking in a puddle of latte that you spilled on the floor. Of course you would never do such a thing on the bus. But if we let you do it, we have to let everyone else do it, too. Take a quick look around on your next bus ride. Can you vouch for all these people not dropping crumbs or wrappers?

2. Passenger annoyance- Your carmel mochaccino might smell good to you, but that doesn't mean everyone is enjoying it. The lady in front of you hates the smell of coffee, and the guy across the aisle just decided to bring a hot anchovie and onion sandwich to eat on tomorrows commute.

3. Safety- AATA doesn't want you choking on a muffin because of a sudden stop or pothole. And no one wants to slip on the 2% milk you spilled on the stairs.

But you're not convinced, are you? If you still think you can sneak a snack past the driver, then we'll suggest a few ways to minimize the imapact of your illicit munchies.

1. Don't be conspicuous. A BBQ is going to draw attention. Consider small, bite-sized snacks that you can keep in your bag and eat one at a time. People are less likely to notice and you are less likely to make a mess. Grapes, Teddy-grams, dried fruit, etc.

2. Don't make a mess. Avoid crumbly, goopy, or sloshy foods that leave evidence. Again, bite-sized snacks are a good solution.

3. Clean up your mess. Bring something to wipe up any crumbs or spills that might happen even though you are being really careful.

4. Avoid stinky snacks. Cheese and meat, garlic or onion flavorings, and hot foods stink up the bus. That attracts attention and makes an unpleasant ride for other passengers.

5. Keep drinks in an air-tight container. They are less likely to spill and smell.

6. Share. Maybe the driver will be more understanding if s/he has something to munch on, too.

7. If you do get caught by the driver or another passenger, don't make a big fuss. We all know you broke the rules. Be an adult about it and put the food away.

bike valet

We recently came across a video of professional bike valets in Japan. In uniforms including white gloves, these gentlemen are staioned throughout Tokyo to park and protect bikes while their owners are shopping, dining, or attending class.

You may be thinking, "ah, yes, another example of bike infrastructure that would never work in the US." But did you know about the extremely successful bike valet program at SBC park in SanFransisco? The park has been offering valet bike parking for Giants games for over a year now.

We've even had valet for bikes in Ann Arbor a few times. The getDowntown program has organized valet service for event like Midnight Madness and outdoor film screenings. This leads us to contemplate other events with heavy traffic within easy biking distance from downtown and campus. Yes, we're talking about UofM football games.

Ypsidixit recently reported on a sustainability meeting where the speaker mentioned the need to link sustainability with fun. Over 100,000 people show up on game days for the rivalry and revelry of UofM football. The biggest hassle of the day is getting to the game. Bike valets could help link the fun of football with the benefits (and fun!) of getting around by bike.

What do you think? Would townies and students be more likely to bike to games if they knew they would have a safe place to park? Would you be willing to volunteer an afternoon as a bike valet?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Transportation Riders United meeting on AADTS

Transportation Riders United (TRU), is a Detroit-based non-profit advocating better transportation access and mobility for "greater Detroit". Is Ann Arbor really part of "greater Detroit"? Well, if it was debatable before, the Ann Arbor Detroit Rapid Transit Study (AADRTS) is (extremely) slowly removing any doubts.

The recent update (PDF) from AADRTS has ruled out light rail as too expensive and is now focusing on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Michigan Ave. and commuter rail on existing tracks. SEMCOG has some concern that the costs of the commuter rail will be too high and the ridership too low, and so seems to be leaning toward the BRT solution.

TRU voices concern over this opinion on their website:

The presentation gave no explanation for the ridership or cost estimates and SEMCOG does not currently plan to release an actual report. TRU has concerns about the estimates for commuter rail, which we believe is the best option. The cost estimates are 3-10 times higher than most cities and the ridership estimate is just 2,000 riders a day - below current daily People Mover ridership.

To encourage community participation on this important decision, TRU has organized a bunch of local meetings with experts. The Ann Arbor meeting is on December 4 at 7pm on the third floor of the downtown library being rescheduled. From TRU:
Director Megan Owens will discuss regional transit issues, the proposed Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter train, and how to get involved. Invited guest Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor transportation program manager, will discuss Ann Arbor's efforts for rapid transit. There'll be Q&A and suggestions on next steps for people who care about and want to work on this issue. Please check out for more information.

Carfree folks should make this issue, if not this meeting, a priority as it will certainly play a large role in shaping regional transit, and finally provide decent carfree access to Detroit.

(We had no idea it was possible to design a transit system with a lower ridership than the People Mover. Does this extra effort account for the dragging pace of this project?)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

traveling with a bike

For anyone planning to escape the cold over one of the up-coming holiday weekends, BikeAccess.Net has a decent collection on tips for traveling with a bike. the site covers every aspect of with-bike travel including:
*how to get to and from airports by bike
*airline policies on bike lugggage
*bike boxes and packaging
*folding bikes
*shipping bikes via UPS and FedEx
*Renting bikes
*Bikes on trains
*the impact of post 9-11 TSA policy on traveling with bikes

The content is completely user generated. While they have info from all over the world, we didn't find much about the Detroit-Ann Arbor area. Important info for our region is missing, like the fact that you can't take a bike on Amtrak trains from the Ann Arbor station. There is also no bike route posted for DTW. But there are a couple horror stories about people trying to get their bike on a NWA flight. Maybe you can sympathize.

AATA lost and found

Cold, rain and snow require a bunch of little extras like hat, scarf, gloves (Mittens!), and umbrellas. Unfortunately, these are also easily forgotten if you take them off on the bus.

If you get home from your bus commute one mitten short, AATA has a couple ways to get it back. They offer an online form to submit lost and found inquiries. But you can also call (734) 996-0400, or ask at the desk in the Blakely Transit Center (BTC). AATA staff will search their database of lost items and let you know if they find anything that matches. Lost & found is collected off the buses every evening and held at the BTC, so your best bet for quick recovery is probably to just stop in there. But remember that a lost item may not be turned in until the end of the day.

Hats and gloves are not the only thing that go missing on the bus. We've heard stories of laptops, mobile phones, and bikes left on the rack that turn up in the AATA Lost & Found, and some are never claimed! Valuable items like this are held in more secure facilities at the AATA headquarters, so they aren't as easy to pick up, but they are safer until you retrieve them.

Lots of stuff is never reclaimed. AATA holds all items for at least a month. Eventually, anything useful is donated to a local non-profit. So clip your mittens to your sleeves, keep your hat in your pocket, and check your seat before you leave the bus. And call if something is missing. We're sure AATA would be happy to get it trim the pile a little.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

bikers vs. pedestrians: scuffles over scraps

The New York Times posted an op-ed on bike-ped conflicts in NYC (login required). The writer, a previous Department of Transporation assistant commissioner, blames the battle on a lack of policy and infrastructure recognizing cyclists as legitimate road users.

Ann Arbor faces similar problems where incomplete bike lanes, mixed messages on where to ride (sidewalk bike route signs, mixed use arrows, University-endorsed sidewalk biking) and street perceived to be unsafe by cyclist lead to sidewalk cycling, bike-ped conflicts, and, eventually, pedestrians cursing "those damn bikers!"

The solution presented in the op-ed is in three parts:

First, we need to establish a clear hierarchy for the use of city streets. Pedestrians come first; we started out as a walking city and it will be our greatest strength going forward. This means bikers must yield to pedestrians — even errant ones. Biking is a superb form of transport we should encourage. Drivers must yield to bike riders — even errant ones.
Second, we must enforce the rules. Police officers should write summonses specifically for “failure to yield” by bike riders (and car drivers). ...
Third, let’s advance the network of bike lanes citywide. I’d even re-introduce physically separate bike lanes. ...
Finally, we need to recognize that our economic and physical well-being are advanced when more people are able to enjoy our streets.

An write-up on streetsblog breaks that op-ed down to argue that cyclists and pedestrians are wasting their efforts in-fighting over the scraps of the transportation budget, instead of recognizing their similar position of disregard and organizing to petition for safer, less auto-centric streets.

While the Good People of Ann Arbor do make an effort to advocate for pedestrians and cyclists (WBWC, getDowntown, and this blog are examples), we still have our share of Letters to the Editor regarding renagade cyclists. Over on Arborupdate, divisions are even forming between yard-rakers and bike-riders over how to manage leaf pick-up in bike lanes.

Of course we'll always have some level of within-group conflict: helmet vs no helmet, power-walkers annoyed with meanderers, law abiding cyclists cursing J-walkers, the list goes on. But hopefully we as a community can keep the larger vision of working to improve policy and infrastructure for all carfree folks.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

view from the bus

We've got to come up with a new category for these posts that are not really announcements, and not tips either. They are just personal reflections on carfree travel in Ann Arbor. Ideas?

Dawn describes the variety of driver personalities and community spirit that can only be experienced on a bus ride. While she is not specific, the locations indicate that this is an AATA route.

She considers

other drivers I’ve come in contact with during this first semester at UM. There’s the 60’s leftover hippy with long grey hair that smiles (sometimes) at students. And the, well, no other way to describe her, librarian, in her long navy skirt and navy sweater who reads books at the red light on Plymouth and Huron Parkway, and who smiles and waves at every group of departing passengers. They each have their personality and distinctive driving style.

Monday, November 06, 2006

dressing for cold weather biking

Not sure why it took us so long to find the Commute By Bike blog. It's full of good informationfor commuters. More importantly, it is presented well. For example, the write-up on winter clothing breaks cold weather rides into temperature ranges, each with a picture of appropriate dress. Also, this write-up isn't thinly veiled product placement like so many similarly themed atricles in bike magazines. You probably have most of the stuff you need in your closet already.

Main points are standard: don't overdress, use layers, block the wind and stay dry.
As usual, there is a lot of good info in the comments section.

hauling with a sled

You are already struggling to lug a 40 pound bag of dog food home from the pet store. Now Old Man Winter is preparing to add extra obstacles to the effort. Or is he?

From another point of view, his generous, frozen hand offers a distinct advantage to heavy hauling. That heavy load that currently hangs off you body could also glide effortlessly over the snowy ground on a sled! The combination of snowy weather, winter recreation plastic technology, and a little DIY rigging to meet your needs makes winter the perfect time to haul heavy loads, and without over-heating in the process.

While we prefer the inexpensive and readily available red plastic sled, Kifaru offers what they claim to be the best sled made in America.

If you usually push a shopping cart home, this patent may someday develop into the solutions to your winter shopping woes.

This write-up on winter sled camping provides good info on building a camping sled. The suggestions are easily transferable to hauling a sled full of groceries, kids, or firewood around town. The best bit is the DIY harness made from an old backpack belt.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ypsidixit on winter biking

Our favorite Ypsi cyclist, Ypsidixit, is toughening up and waxing poetic on her plans for her winter bike commute. She is fortunate to have the Gallup Park trail as a large section of that ride. This leads us to wonder how well-maintained that trail is in the winter. Anyone know?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

cfa2 makes the news (sort of)

Finally, after all our references to News articles, we get a link-back.

It's not headlines, but we got a little mention in the Talk About Town section of the AANews. While we prefer to think of the posts here as practical and informative, we'll take the "amusing" moniker for now.

Thanks, Bruce, for the heads-up.

cyclist killed in collision with car

The AANews reports that a cyclist was killed on the road in Chelsea yesterday. Our most sincere condolences go out to the family of the as-yet unidentified man.

Since the police have yet to release any details of the collision, we won't speculate on fault except to note that the car and bike were traveling in the same direction.

We'll post more information as it becomes available. In the meantime, ride safely.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Thursday night bike/ped meetings

The planning commission meeting scheduled for Thursday night includes reconsideration of the Nonmotorized Plan, part of which will entail discussion on signs peppered throughout town encouraging cyclists to use the sidewalk. WBWC has been advocating the removal of these signs for some time now. City staff recently issued an official response to this request.

The staff's response was a straight-forward "yes, but no". The staff has determined that while signs encouraging cyclists to use the sidewalk are a bad idea and increase pedestrian-cyclists conflicts, they must remain for now. They defer to the legal/engingeering excuse:

Sidewalk Bike Route signs are a traffic control device and as such they have the potential to be scrutinized in accident litigation. Removing all of the signs immediately without any change in the physical conditions is not aligned with sound engineering practice.

The response continues to point out that, while the 1992 Bicycle Master Plan repeatedly recommends eliminating such cycling routes, the city will not do so until other accomodations are made for cyclists, because it isn't safe to ride on the road.
There have not been any changes to the environment where these signed routes remain. The traffic speed and density remain high and the physical space is insufficient to define a shared or separate facility for bicyclists.

We see two problems with this argument:
1) The signs contradict all other bicycle policy goals of shared use. They directly contradict other signs downtown indicating that sidewalk cycling is illegal. They suggest that it is safer to ride on sidewalks even though studies repeatedly show this riding location to be more dangerous than on-street. Thus, we think the signs are at best confusing, and at worst a serious safety risk.
2) The response states that the signs cannot be removed until other accomodations for cyclists are made, then states that there is no way to provide other accomodation given the limited road space. The response also completely overlooks the importance of education and enforcement in making roadways safe for cyclists. The response seems to imply that the city cares enough to maintain the current, questionable safety of cyclists, but not enough to actually find an effective solution.

Cyclists may be torn over the issue, especially since many Ann Arbor cyclists do use the sidewalk. But keep in mind that this is not an effort to ban sidewalk cycling, only to stop encouraging it through signage. Pedestrians are more likely to see this issue in terms of blatent apathy to their safety.

Email from WBWC recommends:
if you didn't get a chance to attend the last Planning Commission meeting, please consider attending and saying a few words on this subject. Many of us who spoke at the last meeting will be at the WBWC meeting this week, and it's really effective when a number of people actually show up and speak on a given topic.

which brings us to the next announcement. WBWC is also meeting on Thursday night at the Ecology Center and will vote on board positions. Their email indicates that they'd much rather you speak at the Planning meeting. But if you've always wanted to get involved with WBWC, they are open and welcoming to everyone.

Ebay bike scam

CICLE, an LA-based bike blog, points out a non-existant bike retailer scamming customers on Ebay. Apparently they offer great bikes for very low prices, then ship you an empty cardboard box. They have been shut-down by Ebay and restarted under different names a number of times already.

Two lessons to learn from this:
1) If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
2) Support you local bike store.

Though we try to be understanding of the complex web of causes of crime, and advocate an acceptance of all religious faiths, we firmly believe that "Bike Thieves Go to Hell." Despite their efforts to cirmuvent the technicalities of this axiom, these guys are already in the handbasket.

internet round-up: winter shoe care

Winter weather requires a little extra attention to your footwear. To help out, here is a collection of advice on caring for your boots. They focus on leather, as it require the most care. Every one of these sites empahsizes that boots should dry at room temp as extra heat will dry out the leather, causing it to crack. Stuff them loosely with newspaper to expidite the process. Of course those with the practical sense to buy rubber boots can just rinse them, remove the linings to dry, and leave them at the door.

From the UK, the Guarian offers a compact list of shoe care hacks, like "If shoes pinch, smear Vaseline on the lining." (we haven't tested, and don't endorse that solution!)

girlawhirl offers a more recommendations, focusing on suede. A good tip: "Once the shoes are dry, if there are salt stains, mix a solution of 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water and dab it on the affected area."

womensweb lists similar tips at the very bottom of a long post on foot care. They advise to "allow all footwear to dry thoroughly before you put them on again."

Again, scroll to the bottom of this Boot FAQ for cleaning and care advice for hiking boots. The information transfers pretty well to any leather boot or shoe (noting that suede is a whole different animal, and not great for winter anyway). This one goes into depth on applying waterproofing.

Monday, October 30, 2006

the cfa2 tag

We plow through a lot of websites in search of posting material for carfree ann arbor. In the process we come across a lot of good information, useful resources and interesting blogs that never make the front page. A while back we set up an account on (if you are not familiar with the service, click the link to find out more. It's dead easy and very useful!) to help keep track of our previous web-scouring efforts.

If you are not interested in this topic, or don't even understand what we are talking about, we apologize for the intrusion on your valuable time. There is no need to read this post and we promise that it doesn't represent a general drift of focus for this blog to techno-geek internet babble.

We're making this bit of administrative trivia public in order to:
1) give you an opportunity to see a broader and deeper range of carfree resources
2) provide an easy way for you to contribute your surfing treasures to other carfree ann arborites

There are three tools now at your disposal.
1) We are using the "cfa2" tag in You can search for this tag to find lots of carfree stuff, some of which refers to Ann Arbor. If you have a account, you can also use the cfa2 tag to add your own finds to the knowledge/entertainment base.
2) Our account is "cfa2". Vsiting our homepage is another way to search through the collection of internet carfree junk. This may include some links that don't have a cfa2 tag. You can also submit links to us by using the "for:cfa2" tag when posting new links.
3) The sidebar now has a short list of links recently added to the cfa2 account. It's not central to the mission here, but adds a little spontaneous fun.

We'd like to expand the tagging to include flickr and other services, assuming that there is some intersest from readers. Let us know.

While we're talking web 2.0, in our perusal of the tracking logs, we've noticed a large number of Firefox browsers. That's great! We've recently upgraded to Firefox 2.0 and would recommend it to everyone.

Ok, enough of the tech talk. Back to the regularly scheduled carfree banter.

winter boots

Winter walking requires decent shoes. As a pedestrian you've probably already realized the limitations of stilletos and treadless loafers in any significant journey. Traction, insulation, waterproofing, and stain resistance are all good qualities to look for in witer shoes. They don't have to be expensive, just comfortable and appropriate for the task at hand. That said, we find taht with shoes, you often get what you pay for.

We try to avoid consumer-oriented tips as we don't see getting around as a hobby on which to blow pocket money. If you've lived in Michigan for more than a year, you've likely already invested in some good winter boots. But if you are looking for some new footwear, you may as well get something that is good for the coming winter. is the online version of the Boulder-based Pedestrian Shops, a shoe store for pedestrians. You may well wonder what kind of shoe store isn't for pedestrians until you look over their boot selection, which is a great collection of comfortable, warm, and weather-proof footwear. They offer some stylish choices that are still practical for people who walk further than than car-to-door distances.

We'd like to list some more local shopping options for boots and would appreciate any recommendations from readers.

passenger rails build momentum on collision course with ann arbor

The News posted articles on the progress of two potential rail projects with an Ann Arbor terminus: the Livingston-Ann Arbor line and the Ann Arobr-Detroit Transit Study.

The discussion on these articles is already going on over at Arbor Update. We'll just add that these plans could potentially result in three separate train stations in one little city. How these plans are coordinated with eachother and existing services like Greyhound, AATA, and Amtrak is just as important as whether they come about.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

DIY fenders from campaign signs

With elections just around the corner, it's time find uses for old campaign signs.

This article describes an easy process for recycling expired candidate promotions into useful fenders. The fenders, stays, and attachments are all plastic. With a little crafty effort one could come up with a much nicer and more creative version.

Ten carfreedom points to candidates who submit pics of their own recycled sign fenders.

As stated in the original, definitely wait until AFTER the elections to try this.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

rumors that zipcar is a done deal

A little bird told us that the carsharing company, Zipcar, has finalized a deal with the University of Michigan to provide carsharing in Ann Arbor.

UPDATE 2: Email from zipcar confirms that they will be starting in Ann Arbor and that the program is available for all residents. UofM folks get a discount.

sign up at

No details or confirmation of the rumor are available yet from either UofM transportation department (or should I say parking department) or Zipcar. However, Zipcar's organization search (search for University of Michigan) does turn up options for University students, staff, and faculty. It's not clear whether or how other Ann Arbor residents might be able to participate. But earlier reports of Zipcar-UM negotiations included general public access to the cars. UM associated folks can add family and friends to their own account, according to the info at Zipcar.

It looks like members will pay $30/year plus $8/hr for an undisclosed model with xfm radio. Membership available for age 21+ with a good driving record.

Update: has more info on the program, which does not appear to be available to the general public.
The map shows 3 locations for 6 cars, including an SUV (you know you want it!).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

bike parking without a kickstand

Most bikes sold today are based on sport performance designs that eschew the bulk and weight of a kickstand even though 90% of the riders would benefit from having one. This means that parking your bike requires leaning it against another surface and since your bike is on wheels it can be tough to find a position that the bike won't roll out of, especially on inclines or uneven surfaces.

A while back, lifehacker posted a quick-and-easy hack using a wine cork as a parking brake. You have to see the picture at lifehacker to understand, but it is dead simple. You should also check out the comments to find out problems others have had with the hack and some other equally elegant solutions. Our favorite is using your velcro pant leg strap (the one keeping grease of your pant leg). Wrap it around the brake lever and handlebar to tighten the brake and prevent the bike from rolling away.

local candidates on carfree issues

WBWC has collected responses on three questions from several local candidates. The full responses are available in a pdf document on the WBWC website.

Each candidate was asked to respond to three, straight-forward questions:
Question 1: Please name one specific bicycling or walking related policy, or program that you will promote in your next term of office.
Question 2: Do you yourself use a bicycle or walk as part of your commuting strategy? Why, or why not?
Question 3: SEMCOG is funded to study the feasibility of a transportation corridor, possibly light rail, between Ann Arbor and Detroit. What can you do to influence the integration of this system with bicycling and walking?

Responses were a bit squishy, especially to question #2. The main excuse for commuting by car was living too far from work. Joan Lowenstein is the only one who claims a consistantly carfree commute. That is not to say that one needs to be carfree to help the carfree community in office, but it sure doesn't hurt!

There were no responses from competing candidates, so it may be argued that responding at all warrants an endorsement. That is unfortunate as projects like the Detroit Ann Arbor Transit Study and the non-motorized plan are going to play a big role in the cities near-future development. It was sad to see that some candidates didn't know much about it.

Other highlights:
Mayor Hieftie says "I have advocated for bike racks on all trains and for the installation of bike lanes and walking paths to all train stops and will continue to do so." That's nothing new, but good to know he is thinking about integration with rail.
Joan Lowenstein promotes "mandatory sidewalk improvements when roads are re-paved or improved." We're not sure that this is the most efficient use of funds, but we like the resolve.
Paul Schermerhorn describes life lessons. "As a biker, I don't know how many times I had to be hit by people blowing past the stop line on the street that was painted poorly (and that they would’ve ignored anyway) while riding on the ‘sidewalk bike path’, until Ilearned to use the street as my right."
Conan Smith describes a NMT mapping initiative that he is involved with. "Like Mapquest or Yahoo maps, users will ultimately be able to input origination and destination sites and receive a map of the “safest” or fastest route along trails, sidewalks and roads." We're more interested in user-generated than government-provided info. But we'd like to know more about this project.

Thanks to all candidates that responded, and thanks to WBWC for collecting the info.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

carfree Myanmar

Sorry for the long weekend of dead air. We took a little trip to Myanmar and forgot to tell anyone to water the plants while we were gone. However, even on vacation we kept an eye out for carfree tips and treats. While they may not be totally transferable to the over-legalized first world, these pics might give you a few new ideas for living carfree.

This is one of the most elegant bike mods we've ever seen. They work great as non-motorized taxis, carry up to four people, and don't take up a lot of space on the road or when parked, like many bicycle rickshaws do.
when you think Ann Arbor, think pedicab!

It is hot in Yangon. The roads are bumpy and often dusty. Most of the folks in this picture will be on the "bus" in intimate contact with fellow passengers for the next two hours on the way to the next town.
So maybe the audio leak from the headphones in front of you isn't such a big deal after all.

This one is for all those folks who don't ride a bike because it is too difficult to carry a bottle of laundry detergent home from the store.

Again, sorry for the black-out. You can look forward again to regular posting. Feel free to write us with your own contributions.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

residential permit parking for carfree households

Ann Arbor has designated several areas for residential parking permit districts, where residents can purchase permits to park on the street otherwise limited to short-term parking. Obviously this is not a big issue for carfree households.

However, residents can also purchase moveable permits for visitors, guests, and service providers who may need to park on the street near their home, provided that they have already purchased a permenant permit for one of their vehicles. This is where it gets sticky for carfree families as it seems that residents are penalized for not owning a car by not being able to provide street space for In fact, this whole blog started as a result of a complaint about this process voiced in the comments of an AAIOR post.

After a little investigation and a lot of help from the kind and generous city staff, we have unravelled the mystery of how the carfree masses can obtain a RPP for guests. Section 18 of the criteria states that residents can make a written request for exception. "The Public Services Administrator will evaluate the circumstances and may grant a 'Special Exception' on a case-by-case basis provided the exception is in harmony with the general purpose and intent of City ordinance on residential parking districts." It is our understanding that a few "Special Exceptions" have already been granted and the carfree plea seems to fit within the constraints of "the general purpose and intent" of the ordinance.

While the process requires a little more hassle for carfree folks, it is possible to get a guest permit and the city appears to recognize the pontential obstacle for carfree residents. Although it would be great if Ann Arbor reached the point where being carfree wasn't considered a special exception.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

bike lanes on pontiac trail

It appears that the city council has approved new bike lanes on Pontiac Trail from Barton Drive to the Ann Arbor railroad, as we have received reports that the initial markings have already been layed. A bike lane currently extends north of Barton Drive and this section falls just short of connecting the existing lane to Broadway. The lane will also nearly connect cyclists to the wooden decked path that provides non-motorized access along Barton Drive going west.

Responding to a concerned citizen's report that the lane striping was mismarked resulting in a too narrow bike lane, the city's transportation program manager, Eli Cooper writes,

Given a 6 inch wide bike line stripes, we wind up assigning one full
foot of the thirty-four foot width to bicycle lane lines. Therefore, if
the citizen's measurement was only to the inside edge of the marking it
should have only shown 4' 9''. In any event as a result of the input,
we had field staff double check the preliminary markings and make sure
we had full width bicycle lanes in this corridor. I understand some
minor adjustments were made as part of our inspection process, partly as
a result of the citizens' concern and input. Please thank him or her for
bringing this issue to our attention.

It appears that the city is making an effort to meet the AASHTO standards for cycling lanes. We applaud the keen eye and effort that raised this issue and are glad to see a swift response by the city. We further hope that the city stays on top of these details as the bike lane network continues to grow.

In related news, researchers in Texas have determined that marked cycling lanes improve safety. They point out that on roads with marked cycling lanes, cyclists are more likely to stop at stop signs and less likely to ride on sidewalks. Without marked lanes, cyclists were also more likely to ride "dangerously close" to the curb. "'Bike lanes reinforce the concept that bicyclists are supposed to behave like other vehicles, and make life safer for everyone involved as a result,' Hallett said."

On the other hand, they argue that the marked lanes are safer because motorists don't yield as much space when passing cyclists.
Without a marked bike lane, [motorists] veered away from bicyclists, crossing into the next motorist lane nearly nine out of 10 times.
With a striped bike lane, six of 10 motorists swerved, but those who swerved only encroached about 40 percent as far.

The article does not address how researchers justify the the association of improved safety with cars yielding less space when passing cyclists in the under-sized bike lanes that the researchers also advocate. Fortunately, Ann Arbor seems more interested in providing cyclists with adequate road space.

winter walking

A quick google search on winter walking gave some depressing results. Results focusing on safety issues are mingled with wonkish planning and engineering studies. On one hand, we are warned of the increased dangers facing the pedestrian who dares venture into this arctic obstacle course of icy sidewalks and cars that can't stop. On the other, solutions are presented in terms of public policy adjustments that take forever to implement and are of no help in preparing for your morning walk to work.

It appears that no one has come up with a list of helpful tips for winter urban walking that addresses anything other than safety. Perhaps it is appropriate to assume that people don't need advice on an activity that they've been doing since they were one or two years old. Still, we believe in the opportunity to improve ones carfree experience, and this includes being a pedestrian. Winter can be one of the nicest times to walk around town and tips from others might make it all the more enjoyable.

So here is (as best we can tell) the internets' first ever practical guide to winter walking. We'll probably expand on some of these ideas and add to the list as more tips come to mind. Feel free to contribute your own ideas and experiences via comments.

1. Dress appropriately
Winter weather requires a shift in wardrobe, but doesn't have to be drastic. Your not climbing K2. You're just walking to the co-op. Good footwear is key. Expect that your shoes will get wet and choose a pair that will keep your feet dry. Dress in layers (I know, you've heard that a million times) and use an outside layer that blocks the wind. Wind is way worse than cold. And wear a hat. Hoods are even better.

2. Watch where you walk
Keep an eye out for icy patches. Packed snow is actually a really good walking surface if it is flat and hasn't melted and refrozen. If you have decent footwear, walking off the sidewalk might be more comfortable.

3. Choose a good route
Consider which way the wind is blowing, where the sun is shining, and which neighbors are best about shoveling their sidewalk. The University is really good about clearing their sidewalks so use them if possible. Switching sides of the street can sometimes cut the wind, warm you with sunshine, and pretty much improve your whole day. Also be aware of big puddles in the road. Buses and big trucks can toss water well across the sidewalk.

4. Pick good street crossings
In our experience, about 90% of street puddles are found at crosswalks and bus stops. If you are waiting to cross, make sure you are well away from potential splashes. And don't feel obligated to trudge through or leap over swampy corners. Look to see if a mid-block crossing is easier.

5. Keep accessories accessable
If you are going to use a bus pass, mobile phone, coins, or utility knife during your trip, keep it somewhere that is easy to get at. Cold and/or covered fingers are not the most agile and pants pockets can be hard to get at if you are in a big winter coat. Stick that stuff in a coat pocket or, better yet, keep it in your mitten. You have mittens, right?

6. Wear mittens
Mittens are warmer than gloves and easier to take off and put on. When it gets REALLY cold, you can wear liner gloves, which make for more nimble fingers than regular gloves, underneath. You can keep stuff you don't want to lose in your hand in the mitten. You can drop stuff while wearing gloves and never notice it. Mittens are cool. Over-sized mittens with a seperate shell and liner are even cooler.
Besides, mittens are statriotic. Drink Michigan Beer & Wear Mittens.

to be continued...

Monday, October 16, 2006

traffic counts

Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) has a fun tool that might help you in finding low traffic routes to bike or walk. You can search many streets and intersections to find out the one- and two- way vehicle count for a 24 hour period. It also gives peak traffic times for your selection.

According to the data, Main Street south of Lakeview has the lowest traffic volume in the city (30 vehicles/day) while State Street south of Victor's Way is probably the most difficult street to cross (48,732 vehicles/day). Keep in mind traffic counts are not done on all sections of all streets. Also, some of the counts date back to 1988, so be sure to check that you are getting recent data.

We'd appreciate hearing any interesting, fun, and informative ways that others have found to use this data to inform their carfree travel decisions.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

shoveling the sidewalk

Winter is just around the corner, and with it comes the dreaded sidewalk obstruction, snow. We like the snow, both crunching under our feet and spilling off the side of a shovel. However we know many Ann Arborites who curse this chilling debris as the crystaline spite of Old Man Winter. Regardless of your personal appreciation of snow, we all have to deal with it for the next few months.

Ann Arbor requires that all all residents chip in to keep the sidewalks clear and safe throughout the winter. The city website points out that:

There is an ordinance regarding snow removal (violations can result in fines up to $1000) that identifies the responsibilities of citizens in removing snow from sidewalks. However, clearing snow and ice from sidewalks should simply be looked upon as a combination of courtesy and caring toward all those who need to use the public walkways.

All snow and ice should be removed from the entire width of the walk on a daily basis. The city provides a self-serve (bring bucket and shovel) supply of sand and salt at the maintenace yard at 721 N. Main. If you have a reasonably strong back or a snowblower, shoveling for the neighbor is a great community builder. We've heard that some OWS blocks have formalized the sharing of this task. It is also an excelent favor to trade for a ride!

Inevitably, winter walkers will come across sections of sidewalk that are not properly maintained. You can call the city at (734) 994-1788 to report violations. However, before you do, remember that if the city discovers a violation they will ticket all residences within 100 address numbers of the reported violation. There may be a perfectly good explanation for the lack of proper attention at the house in question or nearby residences. Official warnings and fines tend to piss people off more than improve their neighborliness. Making a friendly suggestion either in person or via post-it note might be a better initial contact. Chronic shovel procrastinators may require and deserve a more official and enforcement-backed reminder.

We'd be interested to here what success has come from those who have reported unkempt sidewalks.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

rain gear waterbottle stash

A post on bikeforum mentioned waterproof pants that "roll up to the size of a water bottle." This gives us an idea for a convenient place to store emergency rain/slush/snow gear on our bike. Since water bottles are usually empty during the winter anyway, why not stash a cheap poncho and rain pants inside for unexpected bad weather?

We haven't actually tried this out, but it seems like it would work. Perfect for those of us who don't do so well planning ahead.

Other stuff that might fit in there:
-plastic shopping bags to protect valuables from unexpected showers
-spare tube or patch kit
-if the bottle has a wide mouth, you might be able to store your mobile phone or ipod inside (padding recommended).
-emergency hot chocolate/chicken soup money
-dry socks

a tribute to autumn: the gallup park trail

If you are looking for a nice ride to enjoy the fall colors, or just debating whether to bike or drive between Ann Arbor and Ypsi, Ypsidixt offers up a convincing argument for taking the trail through gallup park before the leaves fall.

The prettiest part was the tree by the Gallup dam: a huge red torch of fire. Other beauty spots included a twig-littered part of the path by St. Joe's, leaves falling through the air on the secret path, and a realization that the EMU campus is distinguished by its really nice array of sculpture.

We wonder if Y might consider writing a weekly weather report for carfree ann arbor? Maybe if we changed our name to be more inclusive?