Saturday, December 29, 2012

Admiralty Inlet Loop

Today I did my first ever Admiralty Inlet Loop, thusly named for the body of water it circumnavigates.

I love this trip. There are three WA State Ferries involved, and four stretches of biking.

Stretch 1: Home to Edmonds

12 miles

I left at 4:15am in order to catch the 5:35am Edmonds-Kinston ferry. This is a short stretch, but catching this ferry is crucial since the next ferry departure is 7:10am. Lesson learned from this stretch: sailing sucks. There is no way I could ever get here under sail in 45 minutes.

Stretch 2: Kingston to Port Townsend

~38 miles.

This was a little sketchy. I was biking down Hwy 104 in the pitch dark. On one hand it was kinda dangerous, on the other hand there were very few cars. Whether it's more dangerous than regular riding, I still am not sure. I kept counting to 5 and then checking behind me so that no cars snuck up on me. Most cars completely changed lanes and were totally cool. I was mostly scared of possible drunk drivers. Luckily I recently bought a 600 lumen headlight so I could see all the bumps on the shoulder.

Experiencing the bison-laden, foggy hills of Beaver Valley at dawn without a soul in sight was worth the entire trip -- John Denver would've been happy.

Bombing into PT at 8:30am was like a dream, assuming your dreams include paper mills and the associated smell. I found a bike that had spent some time in the drink:

I had time to grab a coffee cake and latte from UnderTown Cafe. I bought a ferry ticket in advance and boarded the 9:30am boat.

Stretch 3: Keystone to Clinton

25 miles

Whidbey Island has its own beauty -- farm land, gradual curves, rolling hills.

The wind was not strong, but it was coming out of the South and held some moisture. My feet were completely soaked and frozen by now. I turned down Smuggler's Cove Rd to escape the annoying highway. Saw some signs about property owners not wanting to pay for dredging Lagoon Point (need to look this up). I bonked out pretty hard at this point and was waiting to enter Freeland, WA to eat. I thought I was screwed and would have to settle for gas station food. Instead, I found this:

Artichoke and sun-dried tomato frittata with a quinoa side salad and coffee. Hell yes. If you ever need a pit stop in Freeland on Whidbey, check out Timbuktu Cafe.

The race to the ferry was less important -- Clinton-Mukilteo leaves every half hour on the half hour. When I got to the final hill I checked my watch: 12:48pm. I hit the high gear and bombed down the hill just in time to catch the walk-biker loading for the 1pm ferry. Whew.

Stretch 4: Mukilteo to Home

22 miles if you know the way. More if you're me.

I just have this to say about Mukilteo, Lynnwood, Edmonds, and Shoreline: Screw 'em. The neighborhoods are not walkable, there is very little signage, and the biking is terrible. I usually avoid this place. It seems as if the entire area is an exercise in just how many millions of dollars worth of salmon habitat, useful land, and human health can be destroyed by low-density shitty houses. There is really nothing good to say about this stretch, and I would just as soon take the bus.


This is a great ride. What I like about it is that each chunk is broken up into X number of miles with a ferry ride in between. Just get off the ferry and don't stop riding until you get to the next ferry. It's a 100-mile ride that involves a lot of sitting on your ass and not biking. I can't wait to do this again in the summer when the visibility is better.

When I got home, Stacey had just finished making coffee cake and a fresh brew of coffee. What a sight for sore eyes (I'm talking about Stacey, not the coffee). We rode our bikes into downtown Ballard later to catch up with some old friends. It was the warmest, driest bit of biking I had done all day.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bob Hall's Bicycle Master Plan

Seattle's Department of Transportation (SDOT) is performing a scheduled update of it's five-year-old Bicycle Master Plan (BMP). Information can be found here.
It's basically complete horse shit. Here's why:
Not a master plan
Call me nit-picky, but I was hoping that a Bicycle Master Plan would be, well, a little more master planny. So far everything in the plan is disjointed and piece meal: "Safety! Bike lanes! Education!" Those are nice ideas, but squishing a few good ideas together is not a plan. There isn't a single section that attempts to answer questions like this: "How will a cyclist get from the University District to Capitol Hill in a safe, continuous, easy to follow path with the least steep hills possible?" We have been talking about biking in Seattle for decades now and still nobody can answer this.
A plan, at the highest level, should look like this:

Each node would be a major destination of Seattle (Ballard, Fremont, Capitol Hill, Downtown, etc). Each line represents a clear path between each destination, and the weights of each edge reflect how much of a pain in the ass it is to ride this path at present. THIS DOES NOT CURRENTLY EXIST. Instead, SDOT installs bicycle lanes which actually end at intersections (EG: 20th Ave NW & NW 65th St).
During presentations, planners asked us: "Which street do you think needs to be added to or removed from our map, or which intersections?". WRONG QUESTION. Any given street or intersection does not matter as long as you can still get from Point A to Point B in a safe, continuous route.
Written by and for people who already bike
People who bike most places right now are basically crazy people. (This includes myself). They're exposing themselves to a significant amount of risk that the general public is not willing to take.

The Master Plan should adopt a safety classification system for streets. For example, the Mineta Report sets up four Levels of Traffic Stress (LTS). Simply put, LTS1 means a child is safe to ride on this street, LTS2 means an average person is fine, LTS3 means only risk takers feel ok, and LTS4 basically means Aurora Avenue. The master network needs to establish routes between popular destinations in Seattle, and each section needs to be LTS2 for the entire duration of that route. If only a quarter mile of the route is unsafe, the entire route is unsafe (because a rider still has to deal with the unsafe section).
In short, planners should (counterintuitively) not focus that much on cyclists. Instead, they should focus almost all of their energy on people who would ride but (rightly) consider doing so to be too dangerous.
SDOT rightly took a lot of shit for installing Sharrows (painted pictures of bikes with chevrons) on major arterials as part of the 2007 Master Plan. Some have speculated that this was a kind of accounting trick to increase the number of miles of "bicycle infrastructure" they've created. This is a little bit like a computer programmer measuring success by the number of lines of code written. Sharrows on busy streets (like NW 65th St) are totally unsafe and are frankly a complete fucking atrocity. They are not "better than nothing". They communicate to new cyclists that this is a reasonably safe street to bike on when it is not.
Riddled with obfuscating language
Take a look at their PDF entitled Plan Policy Framework and Facility Designation Criteria. For starters, the first page contains Vision, Goals, and Objectives. Um, what's the difference between a Goal and an Objective? Who knows. Here's one of the Objectives (remember, not to be confused with a Goal!) of the new plan:
Employ best practices and context sensitivity to design facilities for optimum levels of bicycling comfort.
Yeah, that's crystal clear. Somebody should get right on that. Hey, maybe I can write goals like this too. I'll try: "Facilitate leading edge designs to incorporate multi-modal use patterns into the urban framework." Career in urban planning here I come!
This one is my favorite (from PowerPoint Presentation, page 3):
Focused on completing the urban bicycle trail system and expanding on-street bicycle facilities
Right, so your focus was on facilities that were either trails or on the street... in other words, everything. You focused on everything, which is the opposite of focus. I can only conclude that the author followed a formula taught by some Communications 101 professor which is as follows: 1) Create five bullet points 2) Make the first word of each bullet point an action word like "Enact", "Identify", "Improve" or "Create" and 3) fill in the rest with bullshit. This is bad enough as a formula for a PowerPoint presentation, but it seems as if it was used for the BMP itself.
Seattle needs a real Bicycle Master Plan and we need it yesterday. The plan needs to be holistic, comprehensive and should outline a complete network of LTS2 routes throughout the city. We could have and should have designed this back in 1975. By 2007 there was no excuse, and dammit now it's 2012. The reasons for implementing aggressive bicycle infrastructure are getting stronger, not weaker (the details of which deserve its own post). The community feedback to SDOT should be this: Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bob Hall's Ride-in-the-Rain Advice


Riding your bike in the winter sucks. It's cold, wet, and visibility (both yours and that of drivers) goes way down. However, the extent to which Seattle is an awful place to ride in the winter is greatly exaggerated, shitty as it may be. We live in a marine temperate climate, so the temperature is regulated in a huge way. For all the people who say Seattle weather is horrible for biking, my challenge to them is this: Name me the city where the weather is great for biking all year. Coastal Southern California comes to mind (emphasis on the "coastal"). Besides that, most other cities have pretty horrible weather for a large part of the year: Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Phoenix (summers), Houston, Boston, etc.
The point is this: Seattle has relatively mild winters, but it is dark and wet and that's no fun either. I keep promising to move to Santa Barbara and someday I will. But in the mean time, here's how I get by.
By the way, I approach this topic with a real specific bent. All the gear I use is chosen with these 2 things in mind:
1) Looks good. Imagine the typical commuter: neon green jacket, spandex, etc. I don't want to look like that.
2) Price. One of my main reasons for cycling is to be frugal. Frugal doesn't mean cheap. It means knowing when to plunk down the $200 on the good version, but also when to skate by with what works.


Buy some. This bit of advice is not original, and there are plenty of places to read why they are the best thing ever.


It's an article of faith in Seattle that you're supposed to deplore cotton and love wool. This is reasonable enough, although it tends to get fetishized a bit. Keep an eye out and you'll see dudes clad head-to-toe in wool, panties included. Having said that, go buy a used Pendleton shirt somewhere and some Smartwool socks. Both of these items will serve you well.
You'll see a lot of bicycle-specific wool pants for about $120. They're nice, but I consider them prohibitively expensive. My choice is something I call "Old Man Cowboy Pants." They're polyester with a splash of spandex mixed in.

They cost about $34 and repel rain equally as well as wool. I buy mine from Shepler's Bonus points if you hem them into shorts. This combo, with black polypro long underwear is my battle uniform.

Shoe dryer!

This is the number one piece of equipment that I don't hear people talk about much but I find indispensable. It'll set you back a whole $30. You can buy one on Amazon It's easy: put your wet shoes on when you come home at night and then find yourself delighted in the morning when they are bone dry. My girlfriend can testify that this GREATLY reduces foot odor.


When it gets really cold and shitty in December/January, I've gained a lot of pleasure by donning these fine gloves.
They're not waterproof, but they are warm. I buy mine at H&M for $6. Buy 3 pairs, and rotate them daily when they get wet. Keeping an extra pair in your bag for your poor friend wearing "cycling gloves" gets you extra credit.

On Brook's Saddles

The Brooks is extremely popular, but you'll hear a lot of ignorance about how leather can't hold up in wet conditions. Go tell that to loggers. That's why I use a proper beeswax-based boot treatment sold by White's Boots in Spokane, WA. Don't use those silly little plastic bags to cover your saddle. Use this: White's Boots Preservative Brooks will sell you a tin of leather preservative, but for a lot more money.


Some advice from Cliff Mass: Use our new fancy radar to see when the rain is coming!
You can use this tool to make your own short-term weather forecasts. For example, sometimes you can see that it's raining now but it's going to blow away with clear skies behind it. Sometimes it's worth it to wait at home for 20 minutes knowing that the rain will clear up soon. Link here