Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Whitmore Lake to Ann Arbor rail service coming this spring?

AANews reports that the city is pushing to implement this line ASAP in order to help relieve construction-related congestion on US23 this summer. We love the plan to link this rail service so directly to the ever-worsening traffic on US23, and this approach is certainly worth a shot before we decide to add lanes to the highway. Of course, the schedule is a little tight. It would be possible to finish the required improvements by March. The problem is in fast-tracking the funding.

Fortunately, potential funding source, MDOT, is working hard to break out of it's image as a heartless, bureaucratic stop-all controlled by the auto industry.

Tim Hoeffner, administrator of MDOT's Intermodal Policy Division, cast doubt on whether the proposed rail service could be running so soon. He said MDOT staff are reviewing cost estimates, schedules and other aspects of the proposal.

They clearly recognize the importance of acting quickly to take advantage of the current allignment of inter-government cooperation, public-private coordination, and urgent need for alternatives to an already crowded highway during major construction. Michigan is fortunate to have a DOT that considers all these hidden costs into their calculations.
"A big question is money," Hoeffner said. "Is there going to be sufficient ridership to justify making some sort of expenditure into it?"

You may think of MDOT as an advocate of highway construction. But the Intermodal Policy Division should be excited to participate in a project like this, with so much infrastructure already in place, so much local support, and such a low initial investment compared to most rail projects.
Hoeffner said he didn't know if the proposed service could be running by this spring.
"We were not real optimistic with them (in December), and I don't know if our position has really changed,'' Hoeffner said.

OK, so MDOT can't really be considered a supporter of the project. Obviously they have a procedure to follow and there are good reasons that that procedure is in place. We would be disappointed to see them throwing money around without some understanding of the risk. All the same, MDOT comes off like a real wet blanket in this article. It would be nice just to hear that they think the general concept is good, or that they support the effort to alleviate construction congestion. In the meantime, the city still seems optomistic. We hope that it pans out.

Yet, we can't close this issue without some constructive criticism. If we were distributing money at MDOT, we'd have to ask how many people would be willing to
-drive to a vacant industrial park in Green Oak Township
-buy a train ticket for a 20 minute ride
-disembark at Plymouth Rd. noreth of Barton Drive (aka middle of nowhere)
-board an AATA to UM Hospital, campus, or downtown
-walk the rest of the way to work
-pay $120/month to do this

That trip probably isn't going to be any faster than sitting through the construction traffic on US23. It's certainly not going to be cheaper, since you have to drive to the train station. And changing modes 3 times doesn't add to the attraction. We understand that there only so much can be done here, but some suggestions might be:
-add bike lanes on Plymouth and good facilities to encourage cycling from the train station (bikes will be permitted on trains)
-stop and start the train near some sort of amenity or service. this train goes from nowhere to nowhere..
-Put the tumbscrews to Ann Arbor Railroad to get that train into downtown, where it belongs
-DDA, UofM, Google, AANews, Toyota, other major employers need to make some commitment to this project. Discounted rail pass for employees is a great start.
-Include bus fare in the train ticket. Most riders should get a free ride through UM or go!pass

Despite the cynicism here, we really are hopeful for the project and the schedule. We'll continue to post updates and ways that people can get involved.

no amount of socks can save you from a windy city winter

Everybody with a bike blog seems to be talking about this Reuter's article today. In our continuing effort to stay abreast of the carfree topic de jour, we're posting it, too. It talks about winter bike commutes in Chicago, alternating between shocking the reader with the miserable conditions and dedicated rider of the windy city and then pointing out how easy winter bike commutes are.

For the most part, there's nothing particularly interesting or new here; it's just another "wow, people ride bikes in the winter" story. We will highlight the lead paragraph, though:

Four pairs of socks, and Jackson Potter's feet were still icy blocks.
Riding his bicycle to work one Chicago winter morning, high school teacher Potter was too cold to go on. He stopped at a laundromat and asked if the owner could spare any socks.
"He gave me about 10 pairs. I put on four pairs, and my feet were still numb when I got to school," Potter said.

Layering is an effective way to stay warm (and, eventually, cool) while cycling. But packing four pair of socks into your shoes only cuts off circulation. Especially when your feet are already cold, this will bring them to a numbing freeze in no time. Fluffiness, air pockets, and space to wiggle are the the keys to warm feet. If one pair of warm socks along with a thin liner sock is not keeping your feet warm, consider switching from shoes to insulated boots.

Also, check out the Reuters Poll/Ad to the right of the text: woman's backside from butt to knee, whith two voting options- Too Thin or Never Too Thin. WTF?

bike parking mapped online

We were tipped off by the WBWC mailing list that getDowntown is working on a sort of inventory of Ann Arbor bike racks. The map they are working from is available online and they appear to be open to contributions. The map is part of an effort to identify potential improvements to downtown bike parking. If you've been bitching about the poor quantity or quality of bike parking downtown, this is your chance to take action.

While a complete inventory is not the goal of the project, this map can also be used to locate bike parking. On our initial browsing, there are still a lot of racks, hoops, and lockers missing from the map, especially non-DDA locations (across Main from the DTE Building, In front of Casey's, and all UofM locations for example). Maybe they are only counting public racks in the DDA boundaries? All the same, even if gDt doesn't intend to include all locations in their study, we hope they will eventually turn over this map (or make a duplicate) so that cyclists can continue to fill it out.

From the email:

Each marker has comments, and you can go far enough to
add photos, links, and so on to each marker. The markers are color coded, where red indicates damaged racks, green indicates potential locations for new racks, and yellow indicates specific racks/areas that need more capacity. One problem with the map is that it is difficult to convey information about a general area as opposed to a specific point (i.e. South University or Main Street).
The obvious missing item is locations that currently provide sufficient, useful bike parking. It would seem that such information would be helpful for both gDt's project and the cycling community. Maybe that is where you can chip in.

Whether or not you'd actually use this map to find bike parking, it's good to have a full inventory of facilities. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt at building one, so thanks to gDt for taking the initiative. We can't actually imagine pulling up to our downtown destination on a bike and then checking a map to find parking. If a bike rack isn't immediately obvious, we're looking for some other fixed object to lock up on. Of course this is exactly what gDt is trying to prevent with the inventory. We sure hope it improves the options as we know we probably shouldn't be locking up to stop signs and building fixtures.

Monday, January 29, 2007

buses vs. bikes?

Over the weekend AANews ran a story about how the proposed bike lane on Fifth Ave. conflicts with bus parking for the Hands-On Museum. First the bike lane was hindering the God-given right to park on the street. Now it is threatening the safety of 40,000 innocent children.

As the Calthorpe recommendations and the newly-passed Non-Motorized Plan move from discussion points to implementation, we can expect more points of conflict to arise. It is an unwritten rule of planning that public participation is minimally effected by public meetings, hearing and workshops, but directly related to the time before breaking ground on new projects. Furthermore, the outcry is likely to lean more towards emotional appeal as the deadline approaches.

This is not to say that the safety of children visiting the museum should be overlooked. Yet, is the bike lane location the only, or safest, option? Other locations for idling buses have been considered, but have been rejected because of safety concerns in road crossings or neighbor's distain of buses parked on "their" street. As a result, museum staff is feeling boxed in.

"I'm very concerned about the safety of the school children," said Carol Knauss, director of operations for the museum. "I want to be a good citizen, but we really don't want to move."

All the same, it is clear that there are viable alternatives. From the article, it appears that the safest option for the kids was abandoned because of neighbor complaints. Maybe this issue should have been framed as kids' safety vs. neighbors' sense of street asthetic instead of buses vs. bikes. the neighborhood has been fortunate that their preference has been accomodated so far, even at the potentially reduced safety of kids visiting the museum. Now that new plans to implement stated community goals no longer make that possible, we have to reconsider the pull of a few residents vs. the community at large.

The broader question may be, "why are the streets unsafe for kids in the first place? the danger can hardly be attributed to a bike lane. More likely it is the large volume of high speed traffic running through the center of town. The DDA points out that the Fifth Ave redesign is intended to reduce that risk, making Fifth Ave. a safer and more pleasant place for pedestrians.
DDA director Susan Pollay said the redesign for Fifth Avenue will dramatically slow the traffic, and the Ann-Fifth intersection would have curb "bulb-outs,'' in which the corners jut into the intersection a little. That will make the actual street crossing distance shorter and safer, she said.

the path less traveled: the bus

In previous reports, HD described his journey by foot and by bike. In his final installment, Homeless Dave catches the bus and relates his experience to us.

Installment Three: the bus (AATA)

Route 12B--which makes a loop west on Liberty, north along Maple, then
east into downtown again along Miller--offers a stop less than a
minute from my house There's a bus scheduled to service that stop at
5:22pm, which gets me where I'm going by 5:35pm, which is a bit early
to arrive for my 6:00pm appointment. But the next bus doesn't get me
there until a scheduled time of a few minutes after 6:00. My strategy
was to take the earlier bus, hope it was running late (nope, arrived
exactly on time by my watch) and disembark a couple of stops early to
kill off the extra time.

When I climbed aboard, I joined 12 other riders. The early-twenties guy seated across from me had a vinyl record album in a plastic bag sitting on his lap. Through the plastic I could make out the words 'Blue Frog' in the title. A young mother boarded at the stop after mine. She had a little red-haired girl in tow whose job it was to carry the bus pass. On entering the bus, the girl shrieked, "I have it, I have it, I have it" and tried to escape down the aisle before it could be swiped. I was prepared to block the unruly red-head's path if necessary, but the young mom managed to catch up to her and wrestle the pass away. After swiping, the red-head was hoisted by the back of her jacket into her seat. By the time we reached Maple Village, everyone originally on the bus at my stop had gotten off.

I made the return trip was via 12B as well. Routewise, 12A would have been a better choice because I would have been delivered to within a minute of my house. Schedule-wise, I would have had to wait around 50 minutes versus the 20 minutes for the 12B. This meant that I had to disembark at Miller and 7th and walk from Miller down to Liberty on 7th.

On the bus, there was a woman holding a box with a new 13-inch combo TV-VCR unit. I suspect she might have been coming from Big George's.

Along the walking segment of the trip home, at the intersection of
7th and Huron, the street was littered with a strange collection of
stuff. Motorists were just driving around the debris. After snapping
the picture I cleared the street and arranged the items neatly on the

meeting round-up

For all of you who can't get enough NMT policy discussion, these gatherings are taking place this week.

Walking for transportation and health: contributions from urban design and planning
Friday, Feb 2 12:30 noon - 1:45 pm
University of Michigan Art & Architecture Bldg
Sandwiches provided
Anne Vernez Moudon (Visiting Professor, TCAUP Winter 2006; and Professor of
Urban Design and Planning, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, University
of Washington, Seattle)

Traffic Calming
Tue Jan 30 6pm -7:30pm
100 N. Fifth Ave.,Ann Arbor, MI (City Council Chambers,2nd Floor, Guy C. Larcom, Jr.
Municipal Building)
The City of Ann Arbor will hold an informational meeting to discuss the City’s Traffic
Calming Program. There has been wide reaching interest expressed, both by neighborhood groups and individuals, about this program. Some neighborhoods are currently petitioning for this process. There will be plenty of time for discussion to answer any questions. It should prove to be an informative and enjoyable evening! We hope you can join us.

WBWC Monthly Meeting
Thu Feb 1 7pm - Thu Feb 1 9pm
Ecology Center, 117 N. Division St. Ann Arbor
The monthly meeting of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Sat Feb 3 2pm - Sat Feb 3 3pm
Bicycles In Town bike shop, 116 W Michigan Ave, Ypsilanti
Don't put your bicycle away for the winter! Learn how to dress for cold weather riding, what precautions to take, what equipment your bicycle should have and what special maintenance procedures are needed. Also, indoor cycling using your own bicycle on a wind trainer will be discussed.

WBWC has all of these meetings, as well as other events, listed on their google calendar. It is worth checking frequently.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

footprints on our lives

The MinusCar Project posted reflections on an inspirational carfree moment. carfree ann arbor has connected with a growing number of carfree (carless, carlite, minuscar, whatever) blogs across the country. Many of the are based on personal reflections of a carfree life which we enjoy, but don't usually link to. To be honest, this one is just an excuse to post the picture.

If you are curious about other sites on carfree life, commuter cycling, and general "alternative" transportation issues, check out our links. The most recent additions are listed about halfway down the left-hand collumn of this blog. users can contribute to the list by including a "cfa2" tag to their posts.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Federal committee approval of sharrows

bikecommutetips points out that sharrows have gained Federal acceptance:

At its just completed winter meeting held January 17-19 in Arlington, Virginia, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices voted 35-0-3 to endorse the shared lane marking ("sharrow")...

We know that you've probably been on the edge of your seat, biting your nails over this vote as you check in, with great anticipation, on the meeting notes of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD). But don't roll out the barrels just yet. Approval was granted by the Bicycle Technical Committee (BCT), but it still needs to be reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) before being included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). A list of acronyms like that suggests that we're still in for quite a bureaucratic ride.

WTF is a sharrow?

Why should you care? Well, Ann Arbor is one of the few cities to use these shared-use arrows. You can find them on State, Liberty and other downtown streets already. And while the freshly approved non-motorized plan focuses more on bike lanes, it does call for the expansion of sharrows to more streets that are too narrow for exclusive bike lanes.

Getting the sharrows in place was difficult because they aren't included in AASHTO standards. If the sharrow gets the thunbs up from the FHA, the officially approved status will make them easier to implement. In Ann Arbor, that means we won't get the run-around from engineers who are sticklers for AASHTO guidelines. It also means that sharrows might be used in other communities, increasing visitors' awareness of what the symbol means when they visit our fair city.

We like sharrows because they are generally cheap and easy to implement with a proven impact on road position and behavior for cyclists and motorists. Others don't take to the new symbol because they feel it is cheap way out of providing bike lanes or just another road symbol to confuse road users, or both. We can see the argument, but prefer policies and designs that encourage cars and bikes to work together on the road. Encouraging the "seperate but equal" bike lanes tends to support motorists' perceived right to bully cyclists who are not riding, in the motorists mind, appropriately.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

the path less traveled: cycling

Continuing his exploration of carfree options (previous pedestrian post) in the real world, Homeless Dave reports on his cycling adventure. His route includes the Y where Huron splits to Jackson and Dexter-Ann-Arbor roads.

Installment Two: Cycling

Because of the time of year and the time of day for this trip, I first had to plan far enough ahead to make sure my headlamp was charged. I was thinking ahead mainly to my visibility to motorists from the front when I made my first major cycling maneuver on this trip.

The left turn from 7th onto Huron is one I'm very familiar with for daytime cycling. Even in broad daylight, it requires extra vigilance to stay safe. You have to claim your space in the left-turn lane, and as the attached image shows, 7th St. jogs a full street width west. What the attached image does not show is that the approach from the north for cars is up a hill, which partially obscures visibility in both directions. Not to mention,
going 'straight' feels like a left-hand turn to a motorist approaching from the north. In general, motorists tend to be a little discombobulated by this intersection if they're not completely familiar with it. If they're familiar with it, they tend to just assume everyone else is, too. That accounts for the guy in the 'straight' lane honking his horn impatiently behind a driver who
didn't want to 'turn left' and was stuck in the middle of the intersection.

In any case, I negotiated the intersection without incident. It occurred to me that I should consult the owner's manual for my headlamp to learn how to make it strobe. I'm pretty sure I remember that it has that functionality. I wonder what motorists think of that sort of flashing. I wonder if the Bike Light Building 101 on 14
January or the Light Building Workshop on 28 January (details here) teaches you how to built a light with a strobing function.

On the return trip, making the left from Maple onto Dexter-Ann-Arbor Rd. I couldn't get the traffic signal to give me a turn arrow. Having read about sensors on, I looked for pavement cuts and whatnot, but didn't see any. I messed about in the road a bit, before giving up. I missed one cycle of light changes before a car came up behind me and that triggered the sensor for the next cycle.

Not long after making that left turn, the sound of jingling keys hitting the asphalt alerted me that I had not adequately zipped the pocket of my jacket. I wasn't too worried about finding a set of keys in the middle of the road, even in the dark. I had 15W of power to bring to bear on the situation. Even when a vehicle approached before I could retrieve my keys, I wasn't worried. What's the chance the
tires will actually roll over the keys? The photo shows that my optimism was not well-placed. I figure I should just embrace the irony that it was the key to my bicycle lock that was damaged. Anybody have a suggestion
for a DYI to fix the housing? [The spare is long since lost, so it's not as easy as swapping it out for the one in the kitchen drawer.] I'm thinking of some sort of big wad of marine epoxy.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

UM student shuttle to basketball games

"Parking down there is such a pain," Liner said. "This time I parked my car outside of East Quad and then waited at the closest bus stop. It seems like a good system."

It's a little surprising to find that students actually drive to Chrysler Arena, but it is nice to see another example of UM promoting carfree alternatives for short driving trips. LSA Student Government will be providing bus transport from select dorm locations for at least a couple more games. Hopefully they will continue the program throughout the season. It's unclear whether non-UM folks are allowed on the bus, but we doubt anyone is checking.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

UM staff may get a free ride

The Mayor continues to build momentum on his goal for commuter rail service between Howell and Ann Arbor. Hieftje announced that UM has offered to pay for its employees to use the service. Note that while the Mayor pins the promise on Hank Baier, associate vice president for UM facilities and operations, there are no official promises from the university just yet. Also still missing is the rail service that they would ride. UofM backing is a great boost for this project, and hopefully this is a step closer to realizing some inter-city transit options. But for now, chickens should remian uncounted.

It's not clear whether it is the AANews or the Mayor who is implying a link between the commuter rail and more parking structures downtown. The article drifts towards foreboding vagueries about how more downtown parking is inevitable but at the same time, no one is advocating it. If they are trying to say that free train rides for UM staff will reduce downtown parking demand, we don't buy it. Any mode swith would be from people currently parking in UM blue lots. But that doesn't mean we don't need to invest in some additional infrastructure, both for transit and parking. Hopefully the DDA's coomprehensive parking study will give us more info on what the parking needs will be. We wonder how that same info might be used to support the North-South commuter rail as well.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

AATA's RideTrak goes mobile

A while back we got the tip on AATA's new RideTrak internet service. Choose a route at the AATA website, and it gives you the current location and status (early, on-time or late by X minutes) of the bus. While we were excited about finally getting access to the info, we mostly grumbled about how the service could be better. We, and many others, contacted AATA through their comment form to throw a bunch of well-intended, if demanding and uninformed, suggestions at them. High on that list was mobile access to the updates.

Well, ask and ye shall receive. The front page of now announces that riders can direct browsers on their PDAs and mobile phones to for mobile access to bus updates. We haven't tried out the mobile edition yet, but are impressed with what seems like a pretty fast response to rider requests by AATA. If you have tried the mobile version of RideTrak, let us know how it worked in the comments.

We're curious whether enough people use web-enabled phones and are willing to pay connection fees to make this a usefull for a significant portion of current and potential riders. If the AATA is still looking for ways to expand their reach, maybe offering a call-in automated service would be better for some.

In any case, we're impressed with the initiative that our transit service is showing in expanding access to route information. Thanks, AATA!

Monday, January 15, 2007

on ice storms and sidewalks: a Californian's perspective

Living Small posted her reflections on being introduced to the misery and wonder of Michigan winters on her walk to work. We always enjoy reading personal accounts of carfree life. This one gets extra points for the winter walking tip.

Tuck my pants into my boots? The indignity! But I was glad for this instruction when I stepped on what looked like solid ice and landed ankle-deep in dirty slush. David was puzzled about why I had stepped there -- to him, it was obviously not solid. "Give me a break," I replied, "I was raised in captivity!"

note: tucking pants into boots wil keep them dry until snow, ice, slush, or rain gets in the boot. This may work to protect nice pants on an easy walk, but keeping the pat leg out of the boot prevents the outdoor yuck from becoming in-boot sop.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

the path less traveled: walking

In response to our plea for accounts of local carfree life, Homeless Dave generously provides a description of his varying carfree experience with a fork in the road. This is part one of what looks to be developing into a three part series.

I'm starting 2007 with a regular evening appointment three times a week that was previously not on the calendar. The route I need to cover includes an east-west leg along Huron, which splits at a Y in the road, becoming Jackson Rd. to the south and Dexter-Ann-Arbor Rd. to the north. Left to my own devices, I'll be using the Dexter-Ann-Arbor Rd. fork and will then turn right onto Maple. Given the darkness, I figured I'd give a few different car-free options a try.

Installment One: Walking

Approaching Huron from the south on 7th Street, my first decision was to weigh (1) taking the south side of Huron to the Y-in-the-road, then crossing there to the south side of Dexter-Ann-Arbor Road eventually crossing to the north side of Dexter-Ann-Arbor Rd. at Maple against (2) taking the south side of Huron to the Y-in-the-road, then crossing all the way to the north side of Dexter-Ann-Arbor against (3) crossing Huron right at 7th Street, requiring no crossing at the Y-in-the-Road and no crossing of Dexter-Ann-Arbor Maple.

I opted for (3). But here's what I encountered on the north side of Dexter-Ann-Arbor Rd. about 400 meters from the Maple intersection: No more sidewalk. It was raining, so slogging cross-country style across the front yards, planted with various bushes and whatnot, seemed like a pretty wet and nasty proposition. Not to mention a little dangerous: the first branch I took to my face caused me stumble nearly into the road with traffic approaching from behind. Crossing the street right at that point was pretty much the only reasonable choice, but required a sort of mad dash, as there was a fairly steady stream of cars in at least one of the directions.

Conclusion: use the sidewalk on the south side of Dexter-Ann-Arbor Road [i.e., use option (1)]

Total distance of a one-way trip is around two miles, probably somewhere close to the limits of my own tolerance for a regular commuting walk.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

volunteer for the worst day of the year ride

As part of continue series of winter bike events, the Worst Day of the Year Ride is coming up in a week (Jan 21). Organizers are seeking a few more volunteers to help at the registration table and valet bike parking. Contact for more information.

The event includes rides of three lengths (40, 12, & 6 miles). Weather predictions suggest that while this has been a mild winter, precipitation and temperatures hovering right around freezing will help the ride live up to its moniker. To make it more fun, there will be prizes for costumes and for "The rider who can complete the ride with the largest stuffed animal tied to him/herself", because nothing is more fun than goofy looking cyclists dragging giant teddy bears through 40 miles of grimy road slush.
Seriously. We'd love to use that photo to advocate Ann Arbor as a cycling city.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

biking in a skirt

We were planning to save this for Spring, but we noticed a couple searches on the topic were sending people to cfa2. Since we are having a balmy January anyway, here are a few tips on riding like a girl.

If you're riding in a skirt, consider:
- wearing heavier, limp material that is less likely to lift in the wind
- wearing shorts or tights under your skirt
- fixing your skirt to your leg (garter, pant leg strap or tape)
- busting out your legwarmers from 1984 on cold days
- sporting those cute panties that you are dying to show off

how to dress like a girl and still ride a bike
(definitely read the comments)

how to ride in a skirt and heels

A skirtguard keeps your skirt from getting caught in the rear wheel spokes and brakes.

interview with Eli Cooper, trasportation program manager

AANews published a light-weight interview with the guy in charge of transportation in Ann Arbor. There is not a lot of content here, but it is nice to see him introduced as "the man at the city who is charge of trying to get people out of their cars". Maybe he should have been at the negotiating table when we forked over 400 free parking spaces to Google.

There are a couple quotes worth commenting on.

Many times after Ann Arbor City Council meetings, some of the council members will get in their cars and drive two blocks for a late-evening meal.
If we don't see an LtE flat out denying this, then we really need to reconsider how council is representing us.
Street cars?
Possibly within five years. "God willing,'' he says.
The idea is to have rails put in underground on a street like Liberty or Washington and then covered with pavement. When a streetcar is not in use, the cars can use the lane. He said it would cost $50-$60 million to start it up.
It's likely that some of this cash would come from grants and not city coffers. Still, we were surprised to find street cars to be a priority. Since they will have to deal with the same traffic as AATA service, it seems even a paultry $10 million to support the Link would go a lot further in addressing cross-town transit.

Cooper also recommends express buses for Park & Ride lots. He says the frequent stops make for a long journey that deters potential park&riders. Might we also suggest a coffee shop at P&R lots that sells product that can be consumed on the bus?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

ann arbor bike winter continues

With all the holiday hub-bub over the last few weeks, you may have forgotten that bike winter, sponsored by getDowntown is only half way done. With the continuing warm weather, you may, in fact, have forgotten about winter altogether.

Bike winter slipped our minds, too. We forgot to mention the Winter bike talk that took place on Saturday. However, there are plenty of events still to come. This Friday brings another bike maintenance workshop and Cycler's Social. You can see all of the remaining events, including the Worst Day of the Year Ride (pray for snow!), at the gDt events calendar.

carfree bartering in a car-centric gift economy

One of our first few posts mentions bumming rides as a simple and often over-looked carfree transportation solution. Alan Durning's article, Perils of Carless Parenting, adds a little depth to that concept. He explains that a whole lot of transactions in our lives aren't monetarily based but depend on favors, gifts and reciprocation. In his year living carless, Alan found that this gift economy, like so much of American life, is pretty auto-centric, especially when you have kids to deliver to their many scheduled events. While Alan focuses on families, the basic premise is true for any carfree person living in a carfull community; your friends and neighbors are driving everywhere and not being able to trade rides puts you in an awkward social position.

Alan suggests being creative in finding other ways to pay back neighbors, not so much in a picture-frame-made-of-popcicle-sticks-and-gumdrops way as in a matching-carfree-benefits-to-carbound-neighbors'-needs way. We thought we would take that a step further and throw out a few potential favors that you can trade for rides.

shovel snow
We said this before, but if you're already bundled up with shovel in hand, it doesn't take much extra effort to clear your neighbor's walk once you finished yours. And the effort is usually greatly appreciated. Of course the prerequisite snow must fall first...

pay for gas
For long and regularly scheduled rides, you can offer to cover fuel costs. Yes, you probably gave up your car so that you wouldn't have to be victim to rising petrol prices, but it is an appropriate trade and at least you're not paying for insurance, maintenance and car payments.

child care
If you are a parent looking for rides to little league practice, child care is a great bartering tool because it is worth more than it costs. Having a neighbor willing to watch your kids for a couple hours when emergency errands come up means you don't have to call up a sitter and work out a schedule. Also, don't rule out supervising kid delivery by transit. You might be a big hit with your neighbor kids for taking them to choir rehearsal on the bus.

downtown pick-ups
They only live a mile from downtown, but your neighbor rarely enjoys their favorite snack, chocolate cherry bread, because they can't find parking at Zingerman's. But since they offer free and convenient bike parking, it is no problem for you to grab an extra loaf on your way home. This is a very low cost/high value favor. 1 loaf chocolate cherry bread should be worth 20-30 free rides at least!

Let us know of other ways you trade for rides in the comments.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

monday night smackdown: bike lanes vs. parking

AANews revs up the public's ire in preparation for the Monday night public hearing on the proposed non-motorized plan by pitting the sacred cow of parking against the holy grail of NMT infrastructure, bike lanes. The NMT plan, prepared by Norm Cox of the Greenway Collaborative, recommends removing on-street metered parking on some streets to make room for bike lanes.

So, Batman, as an innocent child plummets toward the gaping maw of the volcanic furnace, the pendulum laser-saw of death takes aim at the love of your life. Who will you save? Rene Geff offers up the most obvious solution, explaining "I would be willing to sacrifice parking ... to get bike lanes, but it has to be replaced somewhere else." The plan actually does call for adding parking on other streets to make up for the loss.

We don't generally advocate for parking supply increases. Instead we would like to see more effort towards efficient use of existing parking and more emphasis on encouraging non-car options. However, as our downtown relies on a lot of out-of-towners for financial support and we don't offer much in the way of inter-city alternatives, now does not seem the time to cut back on the overall parking supply.

After he finishes wagging the parking-vs-bikes dog, Gantert does touch on an issue raised by cycling groups. WBWC has been working for some time to remove signs promoting sidewalk cycling routes. City staff has spent a lot of time looking for reasons they can't get rid of them while agreeing that they are not a good solution. According to the article, City Transportation Guru, Eli Cooper, pointed out that the green ad white signs are advisory, note regulatory. The implication (perhaps more from Gantert than Cooper) is that no one is forcing cyclists to use the sidewalk. But, consider other green and white, advisory signs like highway exit signs and signs directing one to public parking. We generally assume that this advice is coming from someone who knows better than we do. We do not usually question whether the green and white advice is guiding us into situations that are proven repeatedly to be the more dangerous option.

We encourage you to show up and speak at Monday. But we also encourage you to read the original report before taking the bait that the News has laid.

wanted: witty pedestrian with too much freetime

We are constantly mourning the lack of local, personal accounts of carfree life in Ann Arbor on this blog. As the sole housekeeper currently resides on the other side of the world, we don't offer as many "while biking down State St. today" stories as we'd like.

If you read this blog regularly and feel that it is either
a) a great addition to the local blogosphere that you would love to contribute to
b) severely lacking in quality content, which you could provide
drop us a line at with some ideas on what you'd like to contribute.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

ann arbor critical mass

While not widely publicized, a group of cyclists meet up at the corner of State and North U at 5:15 on the last Friday of every month for Ann Arbor's Critical Mass ride. These organized coincidences began in San Francisco and now occur in cities all over the world. While the general themes are advocating for cyclist rights and raising awareness of cycling as an environmentally friendly alternative to driving, the tone can vary drastically by location, from friendly, pedaling sing-along to aggressive traffic confrontation. Not surprisingly, the A2 rides tend toward the free love end of that spectrum.

We don't hear much about the A2 CM rides. The intentional unorganization inherent in Critical Mass is partly to blame. They don't have a website. The Ann Arbor link on is dead. A google search turns up a few expired announcements, but not much more. Local cycling and "alternative" transportation groups haven't done much (in some cases intentionally) to promote the rides either. getDowntown, WBWC, and AABTA all overlook CM rides in their events announcements. The lack of support may be because of the negative, confrontational image of CM, the difficulties in communicating with CM's leaderless structure, or concerns of inadvertently becoming responsible for the rides. Likely it is some combination of the three. The result is under-rated rides in an over-rated town.

Given the non-issue status of A2 CM rides, we were surprised to find a reprint of a NYT editorial in the AANews that labels the recent CM conflicts in New York a "losing proposition" for both sides. Cycling and public space advocates are quite aware of the stormy relationship and constant political and legal maneuvering that plagues the New York rides. But why does the AANews feel obligated to inform the average Ann Arborite of this issue, and why are they choosing this particular perspective?

On one hand, we are happy to see the local press reflecting the interests of the large cycling and carfree communities in town by initiating discussion of national events like the New York Critical Mass fiasco. The issue highlights how cooperation might accomplish more than conflict in advocating for biker's right on the road.

On the other hand, the inclusion of this editorial suggests that the New York issue informs our local context in some way. Certainly Critical Mass in Ann Arbor is not worthy of such attention. The majority doesn't even know the ride exists. Is the News suggesting that other bike-car conflicts require that "everyone gear down a notch" as the NYT editorial suggests?

Consider these closing recommendations from the borrowed editorial:

The police should pay more attention to the real problems - everyday cyclists who ignore red lights and one-way street signs, and motorists who crowd and cut off bikers.
Law-abiding bicyclists could win a lot of hearts if they focused more on bad behavior by fellow bikers.

Now replace the words "cyclists" and "bicyclists" with "motorists" and "drivers". Does it make any more sense to hold cyclists in general accountable for the law-breakers who share their mode of transportation than to hold all drivers accountable to those who speed? Similarly, would cracking down on motorists' rolling stops and lack of lane-change signals be considered an effective solution to dangerous driving?

Our biggest gripe with the above quotes are the implied similarity between coasting through stop signs on a bike and using your vehicle to bully cyclists. The editorial seems to overlook the disparate levels of danger between the two.

Noticeably lacking in the proposed solutions are better education & outreach on sharing the road, as well as structural improvements that recognize and accommodate cyclists' and pedestrians' use public space, including our city streets.

As many commenters on Arborupdate and AnnArborIsOverrated have pointed out, Ann Arbor is hardly comparable to the Big Apple, and we should stop pretending it is.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

new year news round-up

In the first few days of the new year, while the cfa2 editorial board was loafing on the sunny beaches of a tropical island, a few noteworthy news items surfaced in the local rag.

Cagers will be issued brand new tracking identifiers this year. They'll be trading in the blue license plates for plates that are more visible at night. This would have been a perfect time to include a cycling & pedestrian awareness requirement for renewal. The we would know which drivers have at least some education on sharing the road, and by the end of the year, all car owners might be enlightened. Sadly, there is no mention of including such a program (which should probably be linked to driver's licenses anyway).

Amtrak reports some happier news in the new year. Michigan, and Ann Arbor in particular, had record Amtrak ridership this year. Ann Arbor was up 22% from last year! Amtrak confesses that they have no explanation for the jump other than the assumed reaction to rising fuel costs. In addition, SEMCOG continues talks with Amtrak about a demonstration commuter rail to Detroit. Given the glacial progress of SEMCOGs Ann Arbor Detroit Transit Study, we're not holding our breath. We'll report more when something definitive comes out. With or without the commuter rail, we hope Amtrak will consider the increase a good omen and make a resolution to get more people on more trains (is asking for a lower ticket price going too far?) this year.

There were also a number of car crashes reported over the holidays. While our sympathy goes out to anyone who suffered at a time we should all be celebrating, we were happy to note that none of the crashes included pedestrians and cyclists. But one odd event is worth mentioning. Apparently, some pervert tried to break into the bathroom stalls of a couple young girls, failed, and escaped. The interesting point for us is that he was spotted by the father later that day in the parking lot, where the father reportedly hit him with his car, repeatedly.

The father drove toward the man and tried to block him in, striking him twice and sending him onto the hood of the car, reports said.

The suspected pervert escaped again. Police continue the search for the pervert, but there is no mention of pressing charges on the father for assault with a deadly weapon. We are in no way condoning the bathroom incident, but we wonder how the police's response to the father's vehicular attack reflect authority's view of vehicles as potential weapons. When, exactly, is it acceptable to intentionally run someone over with your car?

Finally, in this season of resolutions, we encourage you to add a carfree component to the list of commitments. A great one for people who are already carlite is to try winter cycling. It will add a little exercise to your January hibernation and hopefully winter will fade before your resolve does, meaning you don't have to feel guilty about another resolution failed come July. Since much of our carfree lifestyle is heavily impacted by municipal policy, committing to contribute to a bike, ped, or transit issue would be great. WBWC has lots of ideas and is only lacking the people power to move them forward. Attend a meeting and see for yourself. For inspiration on what kind of carfree communities are possible, see this article on a carfree neighborhood in Germany.

And of course you could finally muster up the courage to post an ad on craiglist and sell your car...