Sunday, August 29, 2010

Nice Clothes=Nice People

I finally made it over to the consignment shop to expand  my summer wardrobe. I found lots of breezy, pretty, sleeveless tops that I can wear on the bike without overheating. This is greatly preferable to a plain old tank top. The tank top scenario is perfectly functional and I can layer more respectable items over them at my destination. But I prefer to look fully respectable while I am on the bicycle. Drivers seem to treat me better, and I also just feel like I'm doing a better job of representing the cycling world.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Atlanta's Magic Disappearing Bike Lanes

Getting bike lanes around here is like "two pedals forward, one pedal back". We've had on-street bicycle lanes removed on two street segments in the past couple of years, one replaced with sharrows and one replaced with a (much less safe or convenient) side path. Elsewhere, new lanes or sharrows have been added, but almost always with some sort of defect.

Exhibit 1 is the bicycle lanes on Fifth Street/Ferst Ave and on Ivan Allen Boulevard. Apparently, these lanes were marked with very low quality paint, that has completely worn off in the past year. Below is a photo of the lane on the Fifth Street bridge over I-75/85. You can see how worn the inner line is compared to the marking on the edge of the road, which is probably thermoplast. This section is actually in better shape than the blocks to the west, where you can't even tell that a bike lane ever existed!

Ivan Allen Boulevard is in the same condition, even though it is newer. You can barely see the markings at all. It's there, I swear. You might have to look really closely. Up near the delivery truck, which is parked in the lane, you can see a "bike lane ends" sign.

And now, the fate of this lane gets even weirder. The state DOT just finished reconstructing part of this street, from the top of this hill over to Northside Drive. And this project actually involved continuing the bike lane through the intersection and across the bridge to the Georgia Dome. They had to know it was there, but maybe the absent markings confused them. Because the reconstructed section on this side of the nearest intersection has no bicycle lane. The lane starts again on the opposite side of the intersection.

This means that the bike lane and the right-hand general purpose lane merge unexpectedly, without any signs or markings. This could create a really dangerous situation, since there is now warning and no way to determine who has the right of way. Sure enough, while I was stopped there taking pictures, a cyclist came along in the bike lane and an SUV approached in the right-hand lane. The cyclist (circled in the photo, and partly obscured by an aggressive crape myrtle tree) was only a few feet ahead of the car when they reached the point where the lanes merged. The car gave way to the cyclist (which was correct relative to their positions), but also swerved slightly into the left lane. Fortunately, there were no other cars nearby. The car then slowed down, merged behind the bicycle, and made a right turn.
The DOT is aware of the mistake, but it will probably take a very long time and some taxpayer dollars to fix. Hopefully the intersection will be repaired before there are any serious incidents. In the meantime, the City of Atlanta needs to inspect and restripe any faded bike lane markings on their streets.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


There are parts of Atlanta that have really come into their own. The city has changed dramatically since I moved here, almost 10 years ago. Midtown has been leading the way, with block after block of new mixed-use buildings, restaurants, plazas, and streetscapes. Tech Square, where I work, didn't even exist when I moved to Atlanta.

This new tower at Peachtree and Seventh actually has a couple of floors of parking above its first floor residents. I've heard criticism of their nouveau art nouveau flourishes, but at least they tried...
Some of the buildings are traditional brick and stone. I love the way they layer against each other.
Turning in the other direction, at Peachtree and 15th, the natural materials are contrasted with the sleek new face of the art museum and nearby towers of aluminum and glass.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sweet Relief

This city is finally starting to cool off a bit. I think today was the first day that it stayed below 90 degrees, and the lows are actually dipping into the 60s again. To me, it feels like the first spring thaw used to feel when I lived up north, like I have barely survived nature's brutality and can start to enjoy being outdoors again.

I have been coping with the heat as best I could, through popsicles and iced coffee, and low-exertion bicycle route choices (lots of shade and minimal hills). I've been using MARTA a lot, too. An effortless, air-conditioned train ride is awfully appealing, especially in the middle of the day when the sun is high and trains aren't too crowded.

Now the worst is over, and I'm really enjoying being on the streets again. So are a lot of other people. There were a couple of weeks where I hardly saw anyone riding a bicycle, at least relative to this past spring. But with reasonable weather, students back in school, and so forth, bikes are a noticeable portion of the traffic again. I'm glad to see the trend continuing.

I'm also really glad that I finally got a picture of this guy on his Dutch-style bicycle, who I've seen in the Castleberry Hill/Railroad District a few times before! It still isn't a good picture...the bike kind of looks like an Azor, with a built in rack and double top tube. Anyone know this bicycle?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sunday Romp

Ahhh, Sunday, the last day of fun before the work week starts again. It's a good day for shoving your chores aside and having fun. My friends were going to see a band at Vickery's in Glenwood Park on Sunday afternoon. The area is pretty bicycle friendly - a quiet neighborhood with traditional street layout at the junction of two bike lanes.We all met up by bicycle. The band never showed, but the setting was perfect for a beer and a game of bocce in the courtyard. We could see traffic along the Glenwood bike lane, a block away, and passing by the courtyard. There were lots of families towing a kid or two.
After a few games, we headed out of Glenwood Park, up Bill Kennedy Way and down Memorial to Carroll Street Café for dinner. Great food, but only bottled beer? Where are their priorities?
We wrapped up the evening at the new Ziba's Wine Bar on Boulevard (formerly Solstice, formerly Taqueria Nayarit and home of the best handmade tortillas in town). There wasn't much bicycle parking there, so I grabbed the one available railing, while the waiter invited Stephanie and Reeves to roll their bikes inside. There was a perfect spot by the door for them.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Need Your Nuts Tightened?

Atlanta's newest bike shop, Loose Nuts, specializes in wheelbuilding. They also do repairs, carry parts and accessories, and sell new and used bicycles. I haven't used their wheelbuilding or repair services (yet) but I have bought parts there a few times now. I really like the shop. It's in an old commercial space in historic Grant Park, that feels very comfortable, like the total opposite of the big warehouse stores.

Their emphasis is clearly on quality over quantity. They only stock a few versions of each item, typically one well-made affordable version and one top quality version - for instance, Wald and Nitto handlebars. Tiny little Knog lights and high-powered Planet Bike lighting sets. No plastic, nothing flimsy. They clearly cater to the urban transportation cyclist who wants durable parts that will look good year after year. They also have items for the BMX and fixie crowds. I've bought tubes, a new chain, and cable housing there. The only complaint I have is that they accidentally crimped the brake cable housing when they cut it from the roll. Allegedly, this is the mark of a 'rookie' bicycle repair person.

They have a lovely matched set of Nottingham Raleighs (his and hers) for sale, in decent condition, along with a few other bikes on consignment. Then, they have several new Civia bicycles on the floor, and Leader frames hanging on the wall. They also build up custom rides. I would love to test ride one of the Civias some time - there is an adorable porteur design that looks sturdy and fun.

[Please note that I did not receive any sort of compensation for writing this review.]

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ride Between the Raindrops

Mikael Colville-Anderson - over at Copenhagen Cycle Chic/Copenhagenize - has claimed that the average person who rides a bicycle for transportation will rarely encounter rain. After this week, I'm starting to believe him. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, I narrowly missed rainstorms on my evening commute. On Friday, I actually left work just as the sprinkles were subsiding, had a dry and pleasant ride, and felt the raindrops start to fall again within a block from home.

I don't object to riding in the rain. I have the gear I need to stay dry where it matters. Being out in the rain can be refreshing, and I certainly don't melt. Anyone who knows me will tell you that there isn't an ounce of sugar in my ingredient list. I do avoid riding when lightning is present.

I'm really, really glad that it is raining regularly. The past month had been hot and dry, and my garden was struggling. But it is inconvenient to ride in the rain - covering everything up and trying to keep my camera dry! I like the current pattern, in which it rains every day but stops when I need to go somewhere.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Addendum to Society, Image, and Change

In yesterday's post, I failed to mention the most outrageous anti-bicycle sentiment of all - the Colorado gubernatorial candidate who claims that bike share programs are an international conspiracy to deprive Americans of their "personal freedoms"! At least this guy's wackiness is obvious to the average American.

I also came across a thought-provoking post on Bikehugger, asking if there are fundamental differences between the U.S. and countries with better bicycling policies, like Denmark and the Netherlands. I would say that yes, there are fundamental differences. But that they don't stop us from adopting bicycling, they just mean that we will go about it differently.

Bikehugger also captures a perfect example of the "how dare you interfere with my reckless driving privilege?" attitude. This really supports my belief that motorist anger toward bicycles actually stems from fears about their own ability to share the road.

Craziness abounds, but here in Atlanta we're doing just fine.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Society, Image, and Change

Transportation becomes a public forum for society. Social norms, technology, interpersonal interaction take place in that public space reserved for travel (and very little else these days). And so this is where conflicts, misconduct, and systemic change (or systemic failure) first become visible. At least, that's my theory.

Recent media coverage on bicycling - particularly about sharing the road - indicates a civilization in flux. While bicycles have been around slightly longer than cars, and while this debate has bubbled on for decades, it seems to take on a new urgency. Motorists act like they are being threatened. Governments waiver between restricting the rights of pedestrians and cyclists, and investing in new bicycle-friendly, walkable infrastructure. Bicycle riders respond with everything from Critical Mass-style protest rides to Cycle Chic parties.

I started thinking about this after reading some recent articles from the Charlotte Observer. They started with an article explaining traffic laws and talking about conflicts between cars and bicycles. This item was actually in response to an earlier feature in the Charlotte Creative Loafing, which combined the worst of fear-mongering journalism with rampant misuse of statistics and motorist entitlement. If you click through to the article, please don't believe any of it! Anyway, these articles generated intense debate among the 'traveling public' and the discussion became so acrimonious that the newspaper had to disable, and even delete, the comments section. The debate raged on through another article and an editorial.

Is this representative of Charlotte's citizenry? Is it even representative of the newspaper's viewpoint, or just a single reporter? Probably not. It's just another part of the public discourse about social norms. And to me, it sounds very self-conscious. I think people know that they sometimes drive with distractions, after drinking too much, or that they take risks behind the wheel. We comfort ourselves with the (erroneous) belief that airbags, seatbelts, and anti-lock brakes will prevent something terrible from happening as a result. Acknowledging the legitimacy of bicycle traffic means taking responsibility for one's actions on the road, and giving up all of the excuses that people use to justify reckless driving.

I do not think that confrontation is the antidote to the situation. I believe the best response is to continue portraying the "citizen cyclist", the ordinary person on a bike, who could be your neighbor, your friend, your future spouse. The Charlotte Observer published this cute human interest piece a few days later, although it still caught the end of the rules-of-the-road firestorm. In addition, the Elle Magazine website did an entire bicycle feature in their street chic section, and a group of women in Seattle got inspired by Atlanta's Heels on Wheels events!

Across the pond, the Guardian (London) has been following debates over bicycle lanes, traffic laws, and some high-profile collisions. The article that caught my attention the most, however, was this one about one woman's strategy for dealing with sexist remarks while she bikes through the city. (You can link to their other cycling articles along the right side of the page).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bike Racks are for Bicycles

My office got an email from Georgia Tech facilities management the other day, warning that all motorcycles, mopeds, and other motorized vehicles would be aggressively ticketed for parking on the sidewalk or at a bicycle rack. I haven't had any issues at my building, but I've seen lots of problems elsewhere. A few misplaced scooters, and the bicycle parking can become completely inaccessible. I hope sufficient parking for motorcycles and scooters will be provided around campus - they are not lower in emissions in cars, but they are more fuel-efficient and much nicer to share the road with than a big SUV! But I'm also glad that parking regulations are being enforced and bicycle parking is protected from encroachment.
Parking violation

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bikes and Banh Mi

The Beau and I have continued exploring the Buford Highway area on two wheels, and continue to be amazed at how easy it is to reach certain sections of the corridor that way. Some of the most delicious sections, I might add!

We begin by riding MARTA to the Doraville station. That puts us out onto New Peachtree Road, a fairly quiet road of either four lanes or two sharing-width lanes. It's far better to be here by bicycle than on foot, because sidewalks are pretty intermittent.
Our first stop this time was legendary banh mi house, Quoc Huong. (Technically, some of those vowels are supposed to have accents over them, but I'm not sure how well they would render over the internet in ASCII code...use your imagination.) The sandwiches were absolutely scrumptious and ridiculously cheap. Like $2.00 for a 10-inch baguette filled with paté and vegetables. They had all the other Vietnamese specialties, too - pho and bun and com and delicate spring rolls. Yum! Their address is on Buford Highway, but you can enter the parking lot right off of New Peachtree.
Fortified, we continued on to the Buford Highway Farmers Market, whose parking lot is also accessible just a few feet from New Peachtree Road. I didn't go totally crazy there, but I sure did stock up. Everything from Russian rye crackers to fresh mackerel to five pounds of whole wheat bread flour. Asian noodles. Organic tofu. Fresh-baked bread. And popsicle molds for making summer treats. They have a great little kitchen supply section. I almost bought a tortilla press. I was pretty good about sticking to my shopping list, but Blue Belle was loaded to the brim nonetheless.
I would have stepped back further to take the picture, but I could barely hold the bike up; there was no way to prop her against anything. I was lucky I had gotten a parking spot at the end of the bike rack, where I had some room to maneuver. The short ride back to the MARTA station took lots of concentration. Blue Belle felt like she was gyrating or something! This is definitely the maximum amount of weight I can carry over the rear wheel - maybe forty pounds. The Beau exercised more restraint and had a very manageable load.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chatty Thursday

Yesterday was unusually friendly for some reason. There was the sporty cyclist who made conversation at the red light, before sprinting away on the green. And then there were at least 3 pedestrians who said 'hi' or 'hey baby' or something as I passed them. I even had a few greetings from nearby motorists. Very unusual!

Maybe the Raleigh, which I've been riding most of the week, seems friendlier than other bicycles. I don't have time to respond to any of this, unless I'm at a light, but I kind of like it. It emphasizes the different effect that bicycles have on the social environment relative to cars. Cars are kind of impersonal. If you stand next to a road full of cars, you don't get the sense that any other people are nearby, even though they are just a few feet away. But if you stand next to a busy bicycle lane or path, you see lots of people and it feels very connected even if you don't actually interact in any way.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fifth Street Scene

After all the traveling, it's good to be back in the heart of the growing bicycle scene in Atlanta. Here's a few of the people riding down Fifth St. recently.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fun in Atlanta - New Blogs and a Seersucker Social

If you haven't heard, we have a few new bloggers amongst us. T at Just Like Riding a Bike is chronicling her urban explorations by bicycle.  And the new Atlanta Street Fashion blog will include regular cycle chic entries - the very first entry was already featured on Copenhagen Cycle Chic!

Finally, a local gal has set in motion Atlanta's first "Seersucker Social". This is a stylish summer picnic and bicycle ride, more appropriate for a Southern city, culturally and climatically, than a 'tweed ride'. In fact, you can read about the summer socials that used to be held in Atlanta's parks in the 1890's and the early part of the 20th century, typically attended by bicycle. Or by 'wheel' as they used to say. If you are on Facebook, you should be able to view the invitation here. The Seersucker Social will take place on September 4th from 4 pm to 11 pm, at the northern end of Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stupid Cars

First of all, I apologize for the spotty postings recently. There was vacation, then I was sick for a couple of days...

Speaking of vacation, this recent trip was really the final straw for me regarding car travel. 10 hours in the car (plus stops) is just too much for a rational human being. Your back aches, your butt is going numb, you are bored out of your skull, and there is really nothing you can do about it. Maybe you can nap a little or play some road games, but you can't get up and walk around or do anything fun. If you're like me, reading or watching movies in the car makes you queasy. Even with two people along, you still have to do a lot of driving. Highway driving. Which is very stressful, so you spend hours suspended in a state of anxious immobility.

I'm a pretty good long distance driver. I have lived in the country before, where everything was an hour away. And I've had times in my life when I was making long trips almost every week, for various reasons. I still appreciate aimless drives through the countryside.

But in this case, driving was a nightmare. And expensive. And I realized there are better options. I have sworn never to do it again. Any time I can, I will take the train as far as I can, then rent a car or catch a bus. On the train, you can walk around, relax, read, or wander down to the dining car for a snack and a beer. That's traveling in style... If there's no train, maybe I will fly. Worst case, I'll break the driving up into two days.

To add injury and insult to, um, something, my water pump failed in "east boondocks North Carolina". We spent 5 hours and a couple hundred dollars getting it towed to Rocky Mount and repaired. The repair shop was just a few blocks from downtown Rocky Mount, so we had a little time to walk around and explore. There, we discovered a grand, historic train station that served 9 or 10 trains a day! It was right on the New York-Florida line. Just as we walked up, a couple of guys were bicycling away from the station. And a train to Florida was coming through in 30 minutes. Boy was it tempting to hop on board! But no, instead we had to head back to the garage, get the car, and drive until 5 in the morning.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Field Trip: Outer Banks

I've been on the road again. The Beau and I went to Nag's Head, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. If you've never been, it's a beautiful location. The islands run for miles and miles, nearly continuously, off the North Carolina coast. They are less than a mile wide in most places. The beach itself was delightful, although the surf was kind of rough and filled with small, harmless jellyfish. We stayed in a lovely beach house with the rest of The Beau's family.
The house fronted on a two-lane road with rideable shoulders and a shared-use path along one side. This road saw quite a few bicyclists on the road and the path. Joggers and pedestrians also used the path, and there was no sidewalk on the other side. I was glad to see how popular the path was, but it needed to be a lot wider to accommodate all of those uses. There were also some visibility issues where it crossed driveways.

One block away was the 'big road', a four-lane highway featuring fast traffic, sprawling commercial developments with acres of surface parking, and an abundance of turn lanes and driveway cuts. There were no bicycle facilities. As you might expect, the big road was cars, cars, cars, and an occasional pedestrian.

Since the islands are long and narrow, north-south traffic is heavy. And since zoning codes obviously have not been written to create a walkable beach community, destinations are far apart and reached through parking lots. Transportation planning has followed the same bigger-is-better mindset you find everywhere else. There are a couple of signed bicycle routes, but very little has been implemented on the ground. The result is sprawl, traffic, and the depressing scenery of endless pavement.
When I go on vacation, I want to go someplace scenic. It's not enough to have a nice beach. When you walk off the beach and head for the restaurant or grocery store, you shouldn't immediately be surrounded by all the stuff you were trying to escape. The island should protect the things that draw people there. Scenery. Parks and preserves. Relaxation. The unique character of a beach community. The special feeling that you can wander around all day needing nothing but a beach bag and a pair of sunglasses.
In contrast, I remembered a trip I took last year to Bald Head Island. BHI is also in the Outer Banks, but further south - almost to the South Carolina border. There is no bridge to BHI, you have to take a ferry. Private cars are totally prohibited on the island. There are some maintenance trucks, emergency vehicles, and a couple of shuttles. All other travel is by foot, bicycle, or golf cart. It's just lovely. The roads are very narrow - maybe 20 feet wide for two-way traffic and a pair 10 or 12 foot one-way lanes to serve as the main road. Trees and flowers grow right up next to the pavement, providing shade and beauty. You ride along on your beach cruiser, listening to the birds chirp and waving a golf cart by every now and then. That's my idea of a vacation spot!