Sunday, December 26, 2010

birthday bicycle

My birthday was a few days ago and my sister Shelley found this fantastic card for me. She certainly knows what I like! Flowering trees, a cast iron fence, and a pretty vine-wound bicycle in a field of flowers. What's not to love?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

personal transportation strategy

So ... did I mention that this blog isn't just about cycling anymore?



This blog isn't just about cycling anymore.

The facts are these: I'm new to cycling. (In an inspired, addicted, this-has-changed-my-life-and-I-think-I'm-in-love kind of way.) Almost two years now. So it feels a bit funny -- not to mention limiting -- to be writing about something that I feel so non-expert about. ("Poser." "She's faking it!" "Take away her keyboard!") I know that plenty of blogs, especially many of my favourite cycling blogs written by women, are by recent "converts" such as myself. I also know that this blog is not at all about being an expert and all about telling my stories and ideas and wonderings.

However, what I am an expert on, you could say (in an experiental way... experience > expert?) is in living without owning a car.

I have never owned a car.

I do have a drivers license, shared vehicles with other people, been a road-trip driver, a designated driver, a mini-van driver, and now am a member of the Cooperative Auto Network.

In my high school and university years, living without a car was easy. It's what students do.

When that was over, I entered a new phase of my life and had to learn what it meant to be an adult without a car. Would it seem childish? What if I needed to X, Y, or Z? Would I end up using taxis a lot? Would I ever get tired of the bus and walking? What would people think of me? If I could afford it, why shouldn't I get a car, just for convenience? How about a motorcycle or a scooter? (I've always adored motorcycles, but -- alas -- have never learned to ride. The reason why is a story for another day.)

So here I am: in my late twenties, a young professional, making deliberate choices about where I live and work and spend my time and money and most of all how I move myself between all those things in a way that aligns with my values and my desired lifestyle. I call it my "personal transportation strategy" and car ownership isn't a part of it.

That's why this blog isn't going to be just about cycling anymore.

I hope you'll enjoy this new angle, too.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

matchy matching

On Thursday morning, riding to work along Hornby, I ended up stopped at Georgia, fourth in a line of five cyclists. For December, a fiver is not bad at all! One was a courier, one was riding a fairly upright bicycle with a sprung Brooks saddle, and the other two were typical "winter cyclists" in the usual gear.

The city worker who has been manning the intersection since the bike way opened (a woman, probably near-ish my age) was talking to one of the cyclists stopped in front of me. We usually acknowledge each other as I ride past each day. Her role seems to be to help everybody get used to the new lights (pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists included) and she seems fairly friendly. As the light changed, she looked back and said, "There she is!" as I accelerated past and smiled. I getting a reputation as "that crazy chick riding a bike in heels and skirts"?

Then, as I was locking my bicycle to the racks outside my building, another gentleman (who wasn't wearing any cycling-specific clothing/gear) unlocked a bike and said, "Nice colour-coordination!" in a friendly way. (Purple helmet, red jacket, purple bag-- it may not sound that way, but the tones match up fairly well.)

That evening, I stopped in at a cafe. The barista said: "You're very matchy! I like it."

A hat wouldn't get these kind of reactions. For some reason, the coordinated helmet seems to catch people's attention. As much as I wish I didn't have to wear it or carry it around, it's certainly a great conversation starter.

Monday, December 13, 2010

when in fancy dress

This past Saturday evening was my company's annual holiday party, hosted downtown at the Pan Pacific Hotel above the Convention Centre. Coincidentally, that evening was also a special birthday celebration for two of my best friends, located on the south side of False Creek.

The Hornby bike lane, opened days before, was a perfect link between the two ends of my dual-party evening.


Alas, my plans to cycle in the shortest cocktail dress and highest heels I own was thwarted by a cold December downpour. The former runner-up, public transit, took the win instead.

Home to the hotel was a piece of cake, a 1-bus route only dampened by my impatience to get to the party through the stop-go-stop-go traffic of the city centre. After a delightful dinner and dessert with my coworkers (and not-so-delightful round of silly games that I probably should have skipped) I walked a few blocks to the skytrain and rode the Canada Line south a few stops, where I walked another few blocks to the restaurant. Although the heavy rain persisted, the distances were short enough that the walking wasn't a problem.


(Neither were the shoes. My philosophy: life is too short to wear uncomfortable shoes, most especially when they involve propping yourself unnaturally up on a post narrower than your natural heel. At one time I used to hate heels; now I love them but insist on only wearing quality brands that consider comfort as well as style. These can go all night.)

When the second party wrapped up around 12:30, I hit the skytrain again to head home. My apartment is one more bus away from the skytrain (20 minute walk, 10 minute bus), so this two-part leg was the longest of the evening. Here's where things got wrinkly. I'd forgotten my cell phone at home, so had no idea when the bus would arrive. My strategy for warmth is usually to keep moving -- something that walking and cycling suitably support -- so waiting for buses has always been the worst part. If it wasn't raining so hard, I would have walked. (Yes, even in those heels. I told you they awesome.)

Crowds clustered under the awnings of this well-populated, central stop. Partygoers in their finery, some unfamiliar with the bus system, bonded over the challenge of getting cabs on a mid-December Saturday evening such as this.

As I waited, feeling somewhat cross about the rain and my quickly declining temperature, I mused about the role of public transit in moving "entertainment traffic" -- i.e. weekend evenings, especially during the holiday season -- in contrast to commuter traffic. Always looking for a fun brainstorm topic to stretch my mind on thinking up radical ways to innovate seemingly boring and taken-for-granted services (some people do crosswords) I let my fancy fly.

What are the goals? Help citizens enjoy their personal time and keep them safe. Avoid drinking and driving, minimize car traffic (for congestion, pollution, accident prevention considering the higher proportion of pedestrians who are "enjoying" their evening), encourage the entertainment sector to thrive. Make a night out easy and fun.

What kind of movement is involved? Pedestrians, taxis, personal vehicles, limos, buses, bicycles, kabuki cabs (!), skateboards, skytrain.

What's not so fun? Figuring out which bus to catch when you aren't familiar with the system (or when they unexpectedly change route after 9pm), waiting in the cold and/or rain, the long time between buses in the evening, personal safety when waiting in urban areas after dark, the temptation of taking a cab (if you can get one) despite the significantly higher cost (and other side-effects that may concern some people but not others).

What could be fun? Late-night coffee shops near high-volume stops that display screens showing the next arrival times of each bus. At the most minimal they could even be temporary: a truck and a portable heater like the kind on restaurant pations. A "Plan Your Night Out" utility to make it fun and easy to take transit when you aren't so confident with the routes and/or your skills: you punch in where you're going and the general time frame (no need to be exact) and you get a handy pocket plan to print. Packages of tickets and info for companies that want to encourage transit, too (especially for those without the resources to provide taxi vouchers, but potentially also in addition to them). Smaller but more frequent buses to minimize wait times in less than optimal circumstances.

It's a game, but one I play less so when riding a bicycle and paying attention to the road. Public transit has that one in its favour: more time for daydreaming!

The bus dropped me mere steps from my door and the night was over. There's something so satisying about arriving home in the wee hours after merrymaking and celebrating with jolly good friends and no cars needed. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

shopping by bicycle

Holt Renfrew

Holt Renfrew never disappoints with complicated and often stunning window displays. This holiday season, winter transportation cycling appears in one of their windows on the Granville side. Chain gaurd! Furry boots! This manequin has done her Christmas shopping by bicycle and so can you.

(Although a slightly more organized load might be prudent...)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

introducing: the hornby bicycle lanes

Thank you, Hornby bike lane, for being six shades of awesome.

Hornby & Georgia

Oh, and for being MY route to and from work.

Hornby & Georgia

Some intersections have 2-phase lights:
1. right-turning vehicles get green, bicycles/pedestrian have red
2. right-turning vehicles have red, bicycles/pedestrian have green

Personally, I find this quite civilized and safe, but am curious about how it will fare with unobservant and impatient people (both in bicycles and motor vehicles) who aren't paying attention to which light they should be looking at. (Pedestrians are already used to "delayed walk" arrangements and most here tend to look suitably ashamed when they accidentally get in the way of a vehicle that has the right-of-way.) Despite spending 15 minutes of my lunch break the other day standing at the corner of Hornby and Georgia, watching the yellow-jump-suited city worker with a STOP/SLOW sign nudge everybody into the grooves of this new system, I have no predictions. For sure I'll be following it's evolution closely.

The banks of racks confused me at first (although the same on the Dunsmuir bike way changed my mind, if you recall), given that they aren't always in front of anything important in particular. (I think this bank is near Georgia, but there are others in less trafficed parts of the route.) However, it's occured to me that they're meant more to act like parking lots and help people avoid having to ride down streets (like Georgia) that are busy and have no bike lanes, just to get closer to the actual "main attractions", like Granville Street or Pacific Centre. Park on the bike route, where you won't have to deal with cars or intersections or searching for a parking spot, then walk the 2 blocks to the mall.

Because there's no reason to avoid walking, even when you're cycling, oui?

Hornby btw. Robson & Georgia

Here the path swoops east a few metres, then back again, acting almost like a traffic-calming device. This makes a lot of sense to me, given that it's a raised, crosswalk-cut section in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Vancouver Art Gallery, Hornby entrance

The Vancouver Art Gallery! A city landmark. Can you image rolling up on your bicycle to the front door, dressed in all your finery? You lock it mere steps from the entrance (new racks, FYI) and saunter in to some fancy 'do' or to get your dose of culture.

The Dunsmuir route didn't affect me on a regular basis, as it goes east from my work and I go west, but Hornby is smack dab in the middle of everywhere I go. I'm elated to be rid of riding Pender St. and and am loving my daily commute using this new infrastructure.

Even, let it be said, in the pouring rain.

Monday, December 6, 2010

just in time

My silence this past week or so has been due to the fact that all I've felt like writing that is even remotely related to cycling would involve a torrent of vitriol against Pender Street and its designation as a cycling "route". Because it sucks and I am tired of riding it everyday, back and forth, in the rain and dark and those cars who cannot stay on their side of the lane or use a turn signal or 4-ways when they come to a complete stop directly in front of me in a no-stopping zone.

See? It wouldn't be positive, and I try to keep this blog mostly positive.

Pender is also boring. And has pot holes 2-feet wide. And--

It doesn't have this.

Or this.

So I've walked to work a few times recently (it's about twice as long as riding) to enjoy the wide variety of routes that I'd almost forgotten that I used to know like the back of my hand. One advantage of living diagonally across a city grid from where you work is the nearly infinite routes that can be taken from one side to the other, zig-zagging in a different combination every day for a year. Not all of these are optimal for cycling: there's a hill in the middle and on wheels it usually seems more efficient to go around, not up and over, even though on foot I don't seem to care.

Today, however, I logged on to Facebook to see this.

With thanks to Lewis Carroll: O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

It's finally here!