Trying New Things

The Silver Line is open after a long, long wait. On Monday, I had to drop off the minivan at the Honda dealer for some recall work. Since the dealer is literally right next to the Silver Line’s Spring Hill station, I decided to ride it for a couple of stops to McLean. My train’s car was full, but not packed, when I got on. People were boarding at every station in the Tysons area, a bit to my surprise. Also surprising was how long the short tunnel under the high point of Tysons was.

Eventually, I hopped off the train at the McLean station. I probably could have walked the rest of the way to work, but with ongoing road construction on Anderson Road, I decided to try out the Fairfax Connector bus instead. Buses were arriving fairly frequently, and there were quite a few people hopping off and heading to the Silver Line to commute in to DC. I expect there will be a lot of those to start off, but that the reverse commuters (especially those who work at Mitre right next to the McLean station) will start picking up in the next few months. Oh, and that nifty Park and Ride lot at the McLean Station? Total ghost town. So much for the parking apocalypse.

On my way back to the dealer, I took the Fairfax Connector again, this time the one that was replacing the old 24T Metrobus route (which is still signed along the route, but I let Metro know so they can fix it). The bus, as the 24T always was, was nearly empty, making me wonder why they are still running this line with huge buses. It’s certainly not for my couple of times a year I use it when dropping my car at the dealer. The route ran right back up to the Spring Hill station, and I walked across the station bridge to avoid trying to cross the umpteen jam-packed lanes of Route 7. Overall, it was a pretty decent commute, made convenient only because of where my car dealer is currently located.

Yesterday, I rode my bike to work and decided to check out the new “upgraded” Route 7 bridge over I-495. What. A. Nightmare. First off, I forgot how steep the hill up Magarity Road is, and my quads were burning, big time. Then came the moment of truth, the attempt to cross over five separate highway ramps. The first two were easy, as the light at Magarity and Route 7 was in my favor, and I was able to get across them without any trouble. In addition, one of the ramps actually has a signal, so I could be sure it was safe to cross. However, that single ramp was the only one with a signal out of five I had to cross. The first problem came when I tried to cross the ramp from I-495 northbound to Route 7 westbound. A steady stream of cars came off the ramp, with no break to see, all proceeding too fast for me to try to get anyone’s attention to allow me to cross. With the clover leaf approach, most cars didn’t even see me until they were 50 feet away. Finally, after several minutes of waiting, a wonderful gentleman in a Honda Accord stopped and wave me through. PHEW! The walkway on the bridge is nice and wide, but then came the ramp from Route 7 westbound to I-495 southbound. The sidewalk there veers to follow the ramp, then forces a sharp left turn across the ramp, with very difficult visibility of the traffic approaching from behind on Route 7. Luckily, the traffic there was all proceeding westbound on Route 7, and I was able to scoot across quickly. The last ramp also had difficult visibility, this time due to the vegetation growing between the sidewalk and the ramp itself. Honestly, if I was going to ride this route again (which I am not), I would probably wait for a favorable light at Route 7 and Magarity, and ride in the roadway, rather than try to navigate the ramp crossings on the sidewalk. If I was taking this route with any regularity, I would likely choose to ride one of the buses to cross I-495 on Route 7 rather than put myself at risk with the extremely dangerous ramp crossings.

Proceeding west down Route 7, I considered taking Towers Crescent Drive over to Gallows Road, but instead decided to continue west straight to Gallows Road itself. Alas, the sidewalk after Fashion Boulevard was closed, and I was forced to cross near the Fairfax Square shopping area (home to Chef Geoff’s). I then cut over on Aline Avenue to Gallows. Here, there was a short, but harrowing ride in high speed traffic before I reached the relative safety of the Gallows Road bike lane which inexplicably starts after Madrillon Road, rather than connecting all the way up to Route 7. Again, if I rode this route again, I would certainly take the Towers Crescent route, which would drop me on Gallows Road in the middle of the bike lane. The bike lane could use some sweeping, as there was lots of gravel and debris in it, but was a smooth ride that allowed me to pass several cars stopped at lights. Room for road education: those dotted lines in the bike lane leading up to right turns? Cars are supposed to cut into the bike lane at that point prior to making the turn. Really, it’s okay, it lets me know that you are turning at a more gradual pace, rather than cutting across my path in a right hook. All the cars I saw stayed in the car lane, even when I was pretty close behind them. One more side note, there was a little hill down Gallows near Idylwood Road, and I totally blew past a sputtering moped, highlight of my ride for sure.

This post shows there is still a lot of work to be done in the area to accommodate pedestrians and bikers. Even when transportation engineers and planners try to add facilities, as they did with the commodious walkway on the Route 7 bridges, they fail to consider the big picture of how people are going to get to and use the facilities. In the case of Route 7, no one is going to try to regularly cross those ramps without signalized crossings like the ones provided by the HOT lane ramps. Unfortunately, VDOT is continuing to ignore these basic realities while touting its new pedestrian accommodations, like the planned Route 123 sidepath and the Idylwood sidewalks to nowhere. (P.S. It would have been really nice to put in bike lanes when you repaved Idylwood Road, guys!) I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, since they still haven’t even added needed crosswalks in Tysons during the YEARS they had to prepare for the Silver Line opening. Tysons has a long way to go before it becomes the idyllic walkable Arlington-esque paradise planners envisioned. I am optimistic that it will happen eventually, but if I were new to the area and looking for somewhere to live, I’d go to Dunn Loring over Tysons right now. The Mosaic District is great, and once the construction surrounding Dunn Loring station is complete, it will be extremely easy to access for pedestrians and bikers alike.

Bike Train

Somehow I got roped into leading the Safe Routes to School program at Ellie’s school. Most of the time it’s boring stuff like going to Town Council meetings and asking for sidewalks and stop signs. But last week was the Vienna Bike/Walk Challenge. All of the elementary schools in Vienna tried to have the highest proportion of their students walk or bike to school. One of Marshall Road ES’ strategies was for me to lead a “bike train” to and from school every day. This is what it looked like.

Kids locking up their bikes in the morning. The racks were jammed full every nice day. We may need to get more.

Getting ready to head home after school. The students were remarkably well-behaved, even in the tight space here.

Stopping at the stop sign. Always obey traffic signs and follow the rules.

The kids had a great time, and in our first year back doing the challenge, we had the second highest number of overall walkers and bikers, as well as the second highest number of bikers. Not too shabby considering we didn’t even have bike racks at our school until March!

Second Ride

Things seem to go more smoothly when preparations are made the night prior. Chilly again, but sweating again by the end. More cars today, still only the few biking stalwarts.
Then it happens. Ride home begins, and stops abruptly. Flat tire! 25 minutes later, the ride begins anew, take heart in the warm weather. Home again, a water bottle is casually tossed… on top of sunglasses, breaking them irreparably.
Last ride for a while.

First Ride

The night before: Lunch is made, bags are packed. Shoes and gear are pulled from their hiding places.
The morning of: Trying to make sure nothing is forgotten. Fill the tires with air. Bundle up. Cold for the first five minutes, huffing and puffing. Remembering every pothole, crack, and bump. Lights blazing down the deserted trail. Passing old friends, just as crazy as me. Am I halfway there yet? Hard to remember. Sucking down the water, breathing harder. There’s the old folks sitting out on their porch, as ever. Almost there, one more big hill. Sweating for the last ten minutes in spite of the 38 measly degrees. Relief: I made it.
The evening of: Much warmer now, stuffing the bags with the unneeded cold weather gear. Did I remember everything? I think so. Start down the road. My water! Always something forgotten. Pushing on, avoiding the sand and grit left over from last month’s snow. Up the really big hill now, that wasn’t so bad. More people on the trail this afternoon. New Year’s resolution folks, they’ll be gone in a couple of weeks. Stopped at a light, sunglasses fogging up. Hey, they repaved this formerly pothole infested road! Small miracles. Home again. Ready to do it again tomorrow? You bet.
The first bike ride of the New Year.

Bike to Work Week 2009

We’re halfway through Bike to Work Week 2009, culminating in Bike to Work Day on Friday. In the DC area, WABA organizes pit stops and commuter convoys to help introduce newcomers to the wonders of biking to work. None of the convoys head to where I work (most are directed toward downtown DC from the burbs), but I go out of my way to stop by the Vienna pit stop outside the Whole Foods grocery store. They always have good snacks there, and it’s not too far out of my way.
So far this week, the weather has been fantastic. It’s been a little cool the past two mornings (44 degrees this morning!), but my new rain jacket/windbreaker has done a fine job of keeping me warm but not making me sweat like my old plastic jacket did. Unfortunately, it looks like I may have the chance to see how well it does in the rain, as the forecast for the next couple of morning calls for rain. I’m committed though, so I’ll be riding regardless.
I know there are a lot of people out there who work too far to ride, but for those just don’t have a good idea of how to do it, check out your local Bike to Work events. The people who do this stuff are always willing to help and are excited when new people are out to give it a try. And even if you think you are too far, I started out driving in the morning, biking home in the afternoon, and then biking back the following morning. It’s a good way to get started by only doing half the mileage.
And hey, while you’re here, click on this link to help me win that Madsen bike, will ya?

Win Me a Madsen Bucket Bike

If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you’ve seen me rave about the Madsen bucket bike. Very fun concept, it basically sticks a Rubbermaid bin on the back of a bike for storage or transportation. A bit out of my price range though (but I’m still considering one of the “scratched” bikes they have on sale right now), so when I saw they were running a contest to give away two of the bikes, I knew I had to enter.
They are giving away two bikes: one at random to anyone who links to them (check), and one to one of the top twenty referrers over the next couple of months. That’s where you come in. I’m not sure how they collect the numbers on referrers, but if you could just visit this here blog and click on the banner (over there on the side) every so often, I’d certainly appreciate it.

Rethinking The Bike Thing

I’m starting to think maybe I wasn’t meant to ride my bike to work.
This morning, I took off early in very dark conditions, using my new light to guide my way. Things were going well: the sun was starting to come up and light the roads, the high school kids were trudging toward their bus stops. I was coming up to the last big turn on my route, looked back over my shoulder to make sure no cars were approaching, then turned back to face forward and started to get into the left lane to make the turn. Suddenly, a clink of metal under my tires, and my back wheel locks up, and I start skidding. Crap, I think, Here I go again, and my last road rash isn’t even healed yet. Luckily, I was able to counter-steer and control the skid, sliding to a stop on the shoulder of the road, where I was able to assess the damage. I could still smell the burning rubber from the tire, and I anticipated the worst. My rear fender was a disaster: it had crumpled up from the back of the wheel, getting itself wedged up under the seat area, and scraping the top of the tire. I still couldn’t see what had caused everything though, until a car passed by and made a familiar sound. I looked into the road and found my pump (which had just fallen off in the confusion) and a foot long piece of rusty metal. I still don’t know what it is.
Now safely over on the shoulder, I took off the rear tire, which surprisingly hadn’t deflated. Just a big gouge in the top of the tire, the tube inside was intact. I dismantled the fender and packed it in my bag (for pictures later, natch). Put the tire back on, inflated it, and got back on the road, slightly shaken, but no worse for wear. With less than a mile to get to work, I took it easy and made it in safely.
Even once I got here and had the chance to look everything over, I’m shocked that there wasn’t more damage. The gears and the brakes in the back seem fine, and it looks like the tire will be okay to make it back home (though I’ll be going out to the parking lot at lunchtime to check on it). I’ll probably have to take it in to a shop to have someone check it out to be sure, but I consider myself pretty lucky at the moment. I’m hoping that I got all this stuff out of my system and that I’ll have a few incident-free weeks in my future.

Ride in the Dark

I tried this morning to get out of the house earlier than usual. I just really wanted to try out my new Dinotte 200L light on the ride in. It worked pretty well, though the sun started coming up partway through, so I didn’t get to the really dark part of my ride to truly test it out. I couldn’t really say how well my two new PlanetBike Superflash taillights worked, but I can guarantee that I am a lot more visible with them now.
So for all those who have been asking if I’m going to keep riding now that summer is almost over, I think it’s safe to say that the answer is yes.

Low Car Diet Math

The end of the Zipcar Low Car Diet is tomorrow. It was a complete and total success from my point of view. I didn’t drive the Civic a single time, and Lisa only drove it about 4-5 times, to go to doctor’s appointments and such. I ended up taking the bus four times, and biking the rest of the days. The experiment was such a success, I decided to run some numbers to see what it would be like to get rid of the car altogether. During the warm months, I can bike most places, so the costs of owning a car are pretty much only the insurance. But let’s look ahead to the colder winter months when I might not be biking as often.
First, the current costs of the Civic. Insurance, now that I got a new policy, costs only $30/month. Gas is probably about $40-50/month. Maintenance and such, averaged out over the year, probably runs around $30-50/month as well. So we’re looking at anywhere from $100-150/month.
Now, going car-free. Taking the bus every day would cost $2.50 a day. Averaging around 20-22 work days per month, it’ll cost about $50-55/month.
Even looking at keeping the car and riding my bike every day (only expense being insurance at $30) versus riding the bus every day ($50), I’d only be saving $20/month, and obviously it’s not a fair comparison. At this point, it kind of looks like getting rid of the car is a good idea. There is one more thing though: extracurricular activities like curling.
During the curling season, I usually play on Sundays and Mondays. When I play on Sunday, the whole family comes to watch and have pizza, so I wouldn’t need the car for that. On Monday evenings, I could take the Metro to a station in Maryland with a Zipcar and rent that for 3 hours or so. If I had a late game, I could even just drive the minivan (or the Zipcar from the Vienna station), since the Metro closes around midnight, and our games probably wouldn’t be done in time to Metro home. On those days, renting a Zipcar for 3 hours at $7-9/hour would cost $21-27/week, or about $80/month. Even with those numbers, it’s a close contest. $100-$150/month for the car versus $50 (bus fare) plus $80 (Zipcar) equals $130/month.
Let’s also consider that selling our Honda Civic hybrid could get us about $13k. That could help accomplish any number of things. $13k would go a long way toward defraying the Zipcar costs. I could also upgrade the lights and such on my bike. Or, it could help pay off a good portion of the $20k we have left to pay on our minivan (which costs over $420/month in payments). And it’s here that it starts to look better for the selling argument. Selling the car for $13k and having $130/month in Zipcar and public transportation costs gives me 100 months of costs paid for. That’s over 8 years! Let’s say I “only” get $11k for the car, and that my Zipcar and public transportation costs balloon to $200/month. I still have 55 months, 4 and a half years, of expenses paid for by selling the car. And all those numbers assume that I don’t ride my bike and that I use the Zipcar a lot! Suddenly, owning a car seems like a silly idea. I am going to have to seriously consider it.

That’s Going to Leave a Mark

There’s a saying among motorcycle riders: You will lay your bike down at some point. There’s no way to avoid it, even the most careful rider will have something happen to them. Likewise for bike riders: You will fall off your bike. For me, it happened yesterday.
I was riding down a hill, going pretty fast to stay in front of the approaching traffic behind me. I got in the left turn lane, and sat up in the saddle to get a view of the oncoming traffic. Sure enough, a car was approaching from the other direction, so I put on the brakes. Apparently, a little too hard, as my front wheel started going wobbly, and I lost control and went over the side onto the asphalt, hard. Luckily, all the cars around me were able to stop, and at least 4 of them made sure I was okay before proceeding. I ended up taking a large chunk of skin off my forearm near my elbow, and scraped my back and bruised my hip. But I didn’t hit my head, and I was able to ride the 25 minutes the rest of the way home. Lisa cleaned me up and bandaged me up. Changing the dressings this morning was pretty ugly, and it’s going to take a while to heal properly. I felt like I could have ridden to work if I really needed to, but I decided to ride the bus instead. I really only feel a little bit sore, and the wounds look a lot worse than they feel, probably because I have no nerve endings left there.
There is one week left of the Zipcar Low Car Diet, so I’m committed to taking the bus for at least that week. But man, it is tempting to just hop in the car and drive in.