Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bike-borne nuts

The otherwise estimable Paul Levy — he of Blue Ribbon commission and Running a Hospital blog fame — joins the bike-bashing bandwagon with a Universal Hub post describing his encounter with an aggressive biker:

But what is it about beautiful weather that seems to bring out the nuts? Two cases this morning:

(1) Driving in on Beacon Street down the long hill in front of BC, and I see in my rearview mirror an "adult" bicycle rider drafting off of my car -- roughly 6 inches from my rear bumper. I finally get him off my tail and suggest through my open window that he is crazy and that what he is doing is REALLY dangerous. (What if I have to stop suddenly, for example.) He says, "No, it's fun."

Granted, the second case is about a bus driver.

As a biker, I don't deny that there is the occasional moment of rude or intemperate biking, but it steams me to no end that there is a disproportionate focus on those occasional moments, when every day my bike rides are filled with example after example of potentially far more dangerous moments of driver rudeness, indifference, and stupidity.

I rack my (not as big as Paul Levy's) brain for some explanation for the anti-biker sentiment that makes people so sensitive to the slightest biker infraction. Then, on my commute home today, as I got honked at twice (I was in the right-most third of the lane where there was no bike lane or shoulder to ride in), crossed three major intersections where more than five cars blocked the box after the red, and one car cut across me (riding in the bike lane) to make a right-hand turn without bothering with the effort to engage the turn signal, it occurred to me: it's not so much about the sensitivity of the Paul Levys of the world — and he calls himself a biker! — to biker infractions, it's about the callouses we've built up to the never-ending, soul-grinding driver misbehavior that pollutes our roads.

Everyone has a bad-biker story like Paul Levy's. Even other bikers. For instance, every few months, I get some clown trying to do a paceline with me up Beacon Street near the Chestnut Hill reservoir. Dude, a paceline is a tricky thing for bikers who know each other doing a Saturday ride through Dover. Hopping on the wheel of a stranger in rush hour traffic is just stupid.

But, I could get five blog posts a day out of equivalent motorist behavior. Except that, 200-lbs. me (okay, closer to 220 these days) on a 25-lbs. bike poses a lot more risk to Paul and those like him in their at-least-a-ton-and-probably-closer-to-or-more-than-two automobiles than they to me. Whoops, got it backwards.

So, I've decided to stop trying to defend or explain bicyclists. Paul, the community of bicyclists is probably no better or worse than the community of automobile drivers. As the novelty of bikers sharing the road wears off, I expect that you'll get used to the bike community's fair share of nutters.

Actually, I think that more bikers will actually reduce the ratio of nutters. Those bold enough to drive a few inches off your back bumper are probably already biking. They'll be joined by the more cautious and considerate who are discovering the manifold joys of self-propulsion.

So, Paul, ease off the bikers and just be glad it wasn't another car. Though, somewhere along your ride, there probably was one. You just don't notice any more.


Newton Bike-to-Work Convoy pictures

It has come to my attention that I did not adequately publicize the pictures taken of the convoy from Newton on Bike-to-Work Day.

Here they are:


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

D-Line crash

I don't have anything to add right now about this afternoon's collision between two outbound trains and the death of the 24-year-old operator of one of the trains.

The TAB seems to have good coverage.

Very sad.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

May, and a blogger's thoughts turn to snow-plowing

What impact is $4.00 a gallon gas going to have on the provision of snow-plowing services this winter? Snow-plowing is not a small line item. It's fair to assume that fuel is a substantial part of the cost of snow-plowing. And, fuel is going to be substantially more expensive this winter than last.

What's a city to do?


Calling Newton's high school students

Some Alabama high school students have organized a walk-to-school campaign, walking as a group up to 2-1/2 miles to school along roads with no sidewalks or shoulders. The students seem to be protesting high gas prices rather than a poor walk/bike infrastructure and culture, but no matter. They're walking to school.

Earlier in the month, students at a New Jersey High School tried to give the school bike racks as a class gift ... a gift the principal rejected. So, they organized a ride in protest.

From Streetsblog.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Support Amtrak

Just last week I took a business trip to Princeton, New Jersey on Amtrak (and MBTA and New Jersey Transit). It really is the best way to travel to New York.

Make sure Amtrak gets better ... and doesn't get worse. Support the pending Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act. Call or e-mail Barney Frank and encourage him to sign on as a co-sponsor. (I did.)

More information available from the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

From Streetsblog.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thought for the day

In 2005, Congress passed a $286 billion highway bill -- an enormous subsidy meant to make the country more drivable. No equivalent sum was spent to make our communities more walkable. In essence, we're paying to make our country fatter, then paying even more to keep our alive as the health costs of obesity come due. It's insane.

From Ezra Klein.


Bike commuting, what to wear

Before I start, let's make one thing clear: you can bike in any clothes. I see men in suit, tie, and dress shoes. Women in skirts. There's a Streetsblog correspondent who hopes he can revitalize the wearing of top coats on bikes.

But, some clothes work better than others. Herewith, my thoughts ...

There are so many variables that go into your biking commuting costume. How far are you going? What is your access to changing facilities? How fast are you going to ride? What kind of weather are you going to ride in?

Oh, and what kind of figure do you want to cut?

If you’re going to ride regularly, some bike-specific clothing can help.

  • There’s a reason that serious bikers wear chamois-padded lycra bike shorts. Centuries of experience have identified them as the most comfortable thing to put between you and your bike seat. If you’re going to bike at any length consider wearing them, even if under shorts or a skirt.
  • Get rain gear. Even if you plan to take the T when the weather threatens, keep in mind that you live in New England. You. Will. Get. Caught. In. The. Rain. But, if you are properly outfitted, a ride in the rain can be quite pleasant. Which gets us to …
  • With proper gear, you can ride in any weather. From bottom-to-top: shoe-covering booties, various weight tights, rain paints, shirts in layers, a good quality cold-weather jacket, a rain jacket, and gloves for all seasons.

Whether or not you gear up or ride in your civvies:

  • Get fenders to save whatever you wear. You can ruin clothes with the road grime that will stripe your back when it rains.
  • Get a good pair of bike shoes and keep work shoes at the office.
  • Get a good bike jacket and consider keeping an old jacket at the office. In colder weather, you need a lighter weight jacket when you’re on the bike than you do when you’re going out for coffee.
  • Use ankle clips to keep grease off your cuffs.

Next time, what to do when you get to the office.


The times they are a-changing

From Streetsblog, this course-changing campaign talk from Barack Obama:

If we are going to solve our energy problems we’ve got to think long term. It’s time for us to be serious about investing in alternative energy. It’s time for us to get serious about raising fuel efficiency standards on cars. It’s time that the entire country learn from what’s happening right here in Portland with mass transit and bicycle lanes and funding alternative means of transportation.

That’s the kind of solution that we need for America. That’s the kind of truth-telling that we are going to do in this campaign and when I am President of the United States of America.

Seventy-five thousand people heard those words in person, 8,000 of whom arrived by bike.

Mayor Cohen, are you listening? Want to change the agenda and the focus away from Newton North, raise-a-rama, and the defeated override? This is legacy in a bottle: enthusiastically and unequivocally encourage smart growth around our city's T and commuter rail stops and stripe the bejeesus out of our city streets.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More data

Check out Jim Walker's slide show with audio on the TAB blog. (I've linked to the blog page, not directly to the slide show. On the blog page, you'll have to click another link to start the show.) Jim took hundreds of pictures from a fixed location across the street from two volunteers doing "visibility" for Move Newton Forward and Newton for Fiscal Responsibility and interviewed the volunteers. It's a nice bit of work on its own terms, but I loved it for its unintended peek into the dynamics of the street.

Put in simpler language: I couldn't believe the number of bikers who pedaled through the frame.


Better than a Prius, even

There was so much good about Sunday's Bike Newton rally, it's hard to know where to start. And, we're not going to limit ourselves to just one post.

So, let's start with Laura Farina of Farina's Bicycle Center giving the city, through the mayor, a brand new bicycle to be made available to city workers off on short trips. It was a wonderful contribution by a local company. (I promise. A post on local bike shops is coming.)

Left to right, that's Bike Newton organizer-extraordinaire Lois Levin, hizzoner, and Laura Farina.

After some Dukakis-in-a-tank-like problems with a helmet, the mayor took possession ...

and a test drive.

Keep in mind, he promised not to run for mayor in '09. He didn't say anything about riding.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Mass Highway considering tolls on I-93

Good for Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen. With some traffic counts on the Zakim Bridge, he's gathering data for consideration of charges on I-93.

The purported justification is toll equity. Toll equity is important, but not nearly as important as lowering the subsidy for driving. But, no matter. As long as they don't raise tolls on I-93 only to lower them on the Turnpike, the effect will be the same: more revenue for the Commonwealth and more of the cost of driving falling where it should ... on drivers.


Things gotta change

Writing from Berlin, Paul Krugman nicely makes the case that to address the challenges of global warming and a diminishing supply of oil, we have to live more densely.

Any serious reduction in American driving will require more than this — it will mean changing how and where many of us live.

To see what I’m talking about, consider where I am at the moment: in a pleasant, middle-class neighborhood consisting mainly of four- or five-story apartment buildings, with easy access to public transit and plenty of local shopping.

In other words, a lot more like Brookline than Wellesley.


Saturday, May 17, 2008


I was at Harris Cyclery yesterday scoring a whole bunch of neat stuff. (Reminds me that, sometime during Bike Month, I've got to do a post on the importance of local bike shops.) I asked the very helpful Elton whether business was good. He said that the first seven customers through the door that morning all asked for commuter bikes. Last year it would be three or four in a month.

More confirmation that people are catching the self-propelled bug.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Why more bikes?

MassBike Big Cheese David Watson observes that there are more bikers out there this year — an observation that NS&S unscientifically confirms — and attributes it, in part, to rising gas prices.

I think the arguments that it's good for your health and it's good for the environment and it's fun have always been true. I think what has really gotten people off the fence is the increasing gas prices[.]

The effect of gas prices on human behavior is not entirely rational. For instance, the recent rise in gas prices has had an effect on truck/SUV sales that it outsized to the increase in annual fuel costs. A 12 MPG truck driven 12,000 miles a year consumes 1,000 gallons of petrol. At $2.50 per gallon, that's $2,500 a year. At $4.00, it's $4,000. Are the prospective owners of $50,000 trucks really deterred by an extra $1,500 per year? I doubt it. (Although behavioral economists would tell you that people are — irrationally — disproportionately sensitive to changes in the price of gas.)

I think it's more subtle than people wanting to save gas money. I think that the rise in gas prices — along with concerns about global warming, traffic, health, &c. — is another signal to folks to consider alternatives to private automobile transportation.


Newton Bike Day Convoy

This morning George Kirby, Chairman of the Newton Bike/Pedestrian Task Force, led a bike convoy from Newton City Hall to Boston City Hall down Walnut Street, over to Watertown Square, and along the south side of the Charles. That's George in yellow leading the group over a bridge on the DCR path along the Charles just west of Watertown Square. (Laundry Falls sound right?)

The convoy was Newton's participation in Bay State Bike Week's Bike Day festivities.

The morning's snack? Fig Newtons, of course.

The full album.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gearing Up!

Visualize yourself in the crowd here
on Sunday, May 18, at 12:30!

Go here to register & find out more.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bike events this week

It's Massachusetts Bike Week! Don't miss the following events:

Boston Bike Rally — Monday (tomorrow), 2:00 sharp, Boston City Hall Plaza. Short ride to Post Office Square and rally with Boston and Cambridge mayors. Livable Streets Alliance major domo Jeff Rosenblum says attendance is critical. RSVP to Nicole Freedman (

Newton Bike Convoy — Friday, 6:45 (leave around 7:00), Newton City Hall. Leisurely ride to Boston City Hall through Watertown Square and along the Charles. Full route information and pickup points and times on the Newton Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force Google map.

Bike Newton — Sunday, 12:30, Newton City Hall. Rally and 2.5 mile ride. NS&S says: Newton bikers, show your numbers. Bike Newton home page.

Mass Bike has a full list of events.


Friday, May 9, 2008

Bike Erranding 1

I'm not a bike commuter. I'm a potential bike commuter. Right now, I'm a bike errander. I'll be learning a lot from Sean this month, because come September, I intend to be bike commuting. (Why not sooner? I'll be abroad. If I can get good web connections, I'll post pictures of the Indian traffic mix in July.)

So while Sean gives advice for potential bike commuters, I'll give advice to potential bike erranders. (I don't know how many potential bike erranders read this blog, but serious bikers, read on, and perhaps you can use this gentle approach to convince neighbors to dust off their bikes for more than occasional leisure time activity.)

Why run errands on a bike?

o Way way Greener (short drives are 3 times more polluting, per mile, than long ones.)
o Cheaper. (short drives use up more gas per mile)
o No parking hassles.
o Cancel gym membership with a clear conscience.
o Be a neighborhood trend-setter (Bike errands are the new power-yoga!)
o Low commitment! (just a few miles, no special gear)
o Fun!

When you're pedaling to Newton Centre with the mail, or to the Newton Free Library with overdue books, you don't need a ton of gear. Helmet and lock, of course, but everything else can be a style accessory: a nice wicker basket, a sonorous bell, and wouldn't it be great if someone figured out how to attach a vase to the handlebars?

Watch out for more entries on:

o destinations
o freight options
o accessories
o where did I put the %&^* lock?


Bike Commuting -- Equipment

Updated. Doug made a great point about pumps in the comments. (In fact, I have a CO2 pump, myself.)

To commute by bike, you need a bike. What else?


  • Bike — More on choosing a bike later

  • Helmet

  • Tail light — Required by law when riding after dusk

  • Commuter head light — Required by law when riding after dusk. Important even if you don't need the roadway illuminated. A (relatively) cheap commuter head light will let people ahead of you know you're coming.

  • Lock — See tip of the day, below.

Nearly essential:
  • Rack and pannier — You're going to carry stuff. Do your back a favor and carry it on the bike. (A pannier is a special bag that attaches to your rack.)

  • Fenders — Even if you plan to ride on nice days only, you're going to get stuck in the rain. A front fender keeps your shoes dry. A rear fender prevents you from getting a stripe of road grime up your back. And, a rear fender keeps your pannier dry.

  • Tire kit, spare tube, and small pump — You're going to get a flat. As Doug says in the comments, get a small C02 pump. Quick and easy way to inflate your tire and worth the extra money. Not necessary if you don't know how to change a flat tire.

Nice to have:
  • Bell

  • Bike computer — It makes riding a lot more fun when you know how far and how fast you've gone.

  • Powerful head light — Useful if you're planning to ride much after dark on roads that are not illuminated. They can be expensive, but they're worth it if you need it (say when you have to ride across Weston on Route 30).

Tip of the day

Buy a good solid lock and leave it on or near the rack where you'll leave the bike at work. Odds are you won't stop between home and work and work and home, so why lug a heavy lock back and forth. If you do plan to stop, carry a lightweight nuisance lock for those times when you have to grab groceries.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Needham Street future

Good news. According to the TAB, the state's going to pay to have Needham Street rebuilt. There'll be plenty to say in the months (years) that it'll take, so I'll start with an important point from the TAB article:

The key to the road improvements is improving the bridge crossing the Charles River from Newton into Needham. The stretch of road often faces bottlenecked traffic as the number of lanes is reduced from two to one before crossing the bridge from either direction.

“No matter what we do with the roads, if we don’t address that bridge, we’ll run into the same traffic issues,” Solomon said.

The bridge is not the bottleneck.

Highland Avenue west of the bridge is four lanes. Except for the two-way left-turn lanes (TWLTL), Needham Street is two lanes all the way to Winchester. At some point, there's going to be a bottleneck as four lanes become two. Right now, the two-lane bridge is the bottleneck. Widen it and you just move the bottleneck east.

View Larger Map

The only possible change of any significance that I can imagine is improving traffic into the Needham and Oak/Christina intersection and through to Oak and Christina. Is that an improvement? In the case of Christina, to direct more traffic onto a residential street?


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bike to Work Month at NS&S

It's Bike Month!

Newton Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force Chairman George Kirby has organized a Safe-Rider Convoy to celebrate Bike Day (May 16), which wraps up Bay State Bike Week. Enjoy a leisurely ride from City Hall (Newton) to City Hall (Boston) through Watertown Square and then along the Charles.

View Larger Map

Of course, there's Newton Rides on May 18th.

And, here at NS&S, we'll be talking bike commuting all month long. Let's start with why.

There are so many good reasons, it's hard to know where to start. I commute from Newton Centre to Kendall Square (about 8 miles) and back every day. For me, bike commuting is:

  • Faster than any other commuting option door-to-door
  • Cheaper
  • Greener
  • An hour each day of vigorous exercise without sacrificing work or family time
  • A great opportunity to clear my head
But, you don't need to be a every-day, year-round, gear-geek to enjoy bike commuting and its benefits. Bike even one day-a-week during the warm weather and, you:
  • Ease the carbon-spewing and gas-guzzling by 20%
  • Enjoy some physical activity, however mild or spirited
  • Save a few bucks (unless you've already got a monthly T pass)
  • See your world from a different perspective
Oh, and you'll have a ton of fun.

In the coming days, some how tips. Key words to look forward to:
  • Panniers
  • Fenders
  • Baby wipes
  • Leave your lock
  • No-iron


Induced Demand, Explained

Atlantic blogger Matthew Yglesias has a nice explanation of why adding additional free roadway doesn't ease congestion, it adds traffic.

A nice quote:

And when you have a valuable commodity that's not priced, over the long run people wind up over-consuming it and creating shortages. If the government set up a "french fries trust fund" to cook that were then given away for free, they'd soon enough run out of french fries. It's the same with the effort to build uncongested highways.

No free fries!


Gas Tax Scam is taking names

Gas Tax Scam is a web site devoted to debunking the gas tax holiday proposed by Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Lots of links and a place to sign in protest.


Gas Tax Pander Revisited

We don't need economists to tell us the Gas Tax Pander is a joke. We just need 5th-grade math.

Let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that Joe (or Josephine) driver gets to pocket the whole proposed $0.184 gas tax dividend. Let's say Joe driver drives an average car that averages 20 mpg. Let's say he lives in the exurbs, and has a really long commute. Let's say he also does several big driving vacations, so that he logs a total of 10,000 miles over the summer. 10,000 miles/20 mpg = 500 gallons of gas. At $3.50/gallon, Joe spends $1750.00 on fuel for his car. Ouch! Let's give him the gas tax holiday. 500 gallons x $0.184 = $92.00. Yippee.

Now, for comparison's sake, let's say Josephine gets slightly better mileage: 22 mpg. She drives the same amount over the summer. 10,000 miles/22 mpg = 455 gallons of gas. Her fuel bill is $1591.00. Ouch, but $159.00 less ouch than Joe. And $67.00 more savings than the gas tax holiday.

Yes, you read that right: increasing fuel efficiency from 20mpg to 22mpg saves almost twice the proposed gas tax holiday.

Or let's say Josephine drives a 2006 Cadillac Escalade, which averages 15 mpg. Let's say she does the math, and is horrified to find that 10,000 miles will cost her $2,333.00, and the $123.00 she might save on the gas tax holiday doesn't give her much solace. So she decides to sell the Escalade, gets $30K for it, and buys a 10 year old Toyota Corolla ($3K), which is really all the car she needs. At 30 mpg, 10,000 miles will cost her about $1165.00. (She doesn't really care that much about the $62.00 she might get from the gas tax holiday). And she can use the $28,000 dividend (30k – 3k + $1,000 gas bill savings) to get a master's degree and increase her income by 10k a year.

Maybe Clinton and McCain think we all flunked 5th grade math. You can't buy my vote for $22.00. I have a 15 year old Toyota, a bike, legs, a subway system, and a little dignity. (And I know who would really pocket that $0.184 a gallon, anyway, and it's not me.)


Friday, May 2, 2008

Crossing Boylston

Update: Susannah pointed out I left out the Eliot pedestrian bridge: great way to get to Upper Falls. If you want to get to Needham Street, though, the underpass is the only feasible route.

Aside from the signaled crosswalk at Woodcliff, there are few safe ways to cross Boylston. The ills of the Parker St. bridge have already been chronicled here (if anything, it's gotten worse now that traffic barrels on the western side block driver visibility even more effectively than than the badly placed utility pole),
the crossing at Langley is signaled, but intimidating, and the crossing at Woodward/Eliot is chaotic.

But the Centre Street/Boylston overpass wins the prize for unsafe crossings.

As you can see in the picture, hazards abound. The truck in the foreground turned without signaling (that's a brake light, not a turn signal), the blue PT Cruiser swerved suddenly to avoid the Honda waiting to turn left, and there's a bus coming, which means something unpredictable is bound to happen. It's just a matter of time before someone gets hurt here.

Would lane markings help? Crosswalks? A better road surface? Less gravel and sand on the sidewalk? Signage that makes sense? (The sign at the corner says "No Parking Here to Corner", as if parking on this stretch of Centre before an entrance ramp makes any sense.) I know there are long-term plans afoot for this corridor, but some easy fixes in the short-term could make this area a lot safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers alike.