Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Big Chill

Compared to the northern cities, we don't have much to complain about... but Atlanta has seen a bit of wintry weather this week. Monday and Tuesday saw lows in the mid-teens, and we didn't get above freezing for several days. Although it was cold, it was also dry, and cycling was no trouble at all. Just a couple of extra layers. For myself, I added a thin balaclava under my hat and scarf, wore a thick wool sweater, and put on some thick acrylic tights under my pants. I also wore my warmest gloves with a liner underneath. And I was perfectly fine for the 30 minute ride to work. OK, my toes got a little cold, but I was wearing the same midweight wool socks and dress boots that I had been wearing all autumn...

Then things got exciting. They were predicting snow on Wednesday night, and I was really looking forward to it. I love snow! It's so pretty. I figured I would take my bike on the train if it got bad before I left work. But instead of snow, we got ice. Super-slick sheet ice, black ice on the bridges, ice on everything. Not like a real ice storm that knocks down all the powerlines, just freezing rain that fell wet and froze when it hit the cold ground. The news gave out some description of a "thin layer of arctic air at ground level" or something like that.

At any rate, it created havoc for commuters. No one had expected the ice, so they left work at their normal time and promptly started sliding off roads and crashing into things. I know people who fell walking, who fell bicycling home, who had to abandon their car miles from their house. In fact, thousands of cars were left in the road, traffic on highways and suburban arterials was at a near-standstill, and over 1,000 car crashes were reported. I had no trouble cycling to and from the MARTA station, and MARTA was running just fine. I have to admit feeling a little smug about this, and also feeling guilty that I feel smug...

Friday, December 10, 2010

The IKEA Bicycle Fuss

All of the business papers have been spreading the news of IKEA's holiday generosity to their employees: a new bicycle for all 12,400 of them. The press release contains tons of commentary about the health benefits of riding a bicycle, and also points out that bicycling is good for cities, and the environment, and achieving sustainability. So it's too bad that they chose such an odd bicycle. This is not my idea of a suitable bike for riding to work in the city. Awkward riding position, excessive gearing, no fenders, no lights, aluminum. It's not quite a mountain bike, although it is styled like one, but are those knobby tires?

Nonetheless, it is an admirable effort on their part, and I hope a significant number of their employees take the hint. Perhaps they will trade this bike for something more comfortable. There's already one listed for sale on Ebay. And if IKEA ever wants to think about a better design - you know, for next year - they don't have to look far. Check out the awesome cargo bikes IKEA Denmark provides for customers who arrive by bicycle and buy more than they can carry back home...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Street Life

I’m continuing on my theme of public spaces and public life… I should add here that much of my thinking has been inspired by Jan Gehl, the godfather of the bicycling revolution in Copenhagen (and now working with NYC, Sydney, and many other world cities). My case study this time is the Elliott Street Pub, a tiny bar on the edge of downtown. The pub has two distinguishing characteristics:
-It has been adopted by the surrounding neighborhood as THE hangout bar.
-Elliott Street, never a major street to begin with, has been nearly closed for the past year or so due to the Mitchell Street bridge reconstruction.

Mitchell Street bridge was closed some time in 2009 after a routine inspection gave it a “sufficiency rating” of 2. Out of a possible 100, where 100 is perfect condition and 0 is, well, imminent collapse. For many months, it was a delightful shortcut as it remained open to bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Unlike the cars and trucks that were prohibited from crossing the bridge, there was little risk of damage from non-motorized travel…another way that bicycle and pedestrian traffic can help save a city money.

Eventually they began construction to rebuild the bridge and it was closed off completely. There is just a gap there now, and someday there will be a new bridge with an odd left-lane bicycle lane. But that’s another story. In the meantime, Elliott Street won’t take you anywhere useful at all, except to the pub. And a pretty large percentage of the patrons get there on foot or by bicycle.

So the street has been reclaimed for living by neighborhood residents and bar patrons. You can stand in it and watch fireworks downtown, or listen to trains passing through the ‘gulch’. During events, parking spaces are used for tables where people sit, mingle, and carve designs for the popular monthly Iron Pour. It is a beautiful, flexible use of space that would probably horrify most traffic engineers. But for the people who go there, that urban space is used to build a business and a neighborhood.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jingle Bells

The holiday season is here in full force... Kicking off tonight with Hanukah and lasting through New Year's Eve. There are decorations in every park and plaza. I still need to put lights on the house, but the bicycle is decorated. The front of my basket now sports a giant white bell with red and green flowers glued to it. It looks cute, but it sounds fantastic! Or annoying. Give me a couple of days and I may hate it. But it jingles loudly on every little bump and turns everyone's head. Happy Holidays!