Archive | December 2016

2016: Better Biking in Seattle!

For months I’ve wanted to blog about how much bicycling has improved in Seattle, but then something happens that makes me shelve it until a better day. Seeing as it’s the last day of the year, I don’t want to put it off any longer…even though biking along the Wallingford Neighborhood Greenway earlier today, mere blocks from home, I watched four cars blow through cross-traffic stop signs. So unfortunately my mood today isn’t as celebratory as I’d hope for, but here goes…

There’s a lot of great new stuff! These new things might mean more to me than the average bike commuter since I spend a lot of time biking with kids and encouraging new city bicyclists and family bikers.
Read 2016 Year in Review by Seattle Neighborhood Greenways for a great recap of all that’s new.

The kids are riding their own bikes more and more these days and it’s very exciting…and makes biking uphill a lot easier for me minus their 125 pounds! I made an amazing discovery when we fetched our Christmas tree by bike four weeks ago: the kids have been listening to me all this time! They’re great little city bicyclists. They like to sandwich me as lead car and follow car when I carry precious loads (like a fish tank a year ago) so my seven-year old led the way to check for potholes and other hazards while my nine-year old trailed behind, making sure Fluffy (they name the tree) stayed put.

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Back when they spent the majority of their time sharing my Big Dummy’s deck I spent the majority of my time spewing a steady stream of chatter to keep them distracted from fighting with one another. Some of it was non-bike-related stuff like pointing out cats and squirrels or asking the kids to count dogs or buses. But lots of it was narrating our ride: “We’re going to turning left at the end of this block,” “A hill’s coming up so I’m going to downshift now,” and “Wow, that woman must be in a hurry to skip stopping at that stop sign so that’s why we always carefully check intersections.” Everything is a teachable moment, right? So it was adorable when my seven-year old darted ahead so he could call back over his shoulder, “Mama, there’s a hill coming up! You’re going to watch to downshift when you get right here.” Which is hilarious since the kid refuses to shift out of his hardest gear.

One of the most frustrating things about the nice new bikeways is that none of them connect to other nice bikeways. Which is why Ryan Packer’s Best Bike Infrastructure Of 2016: The Sidewalk for The Urbanist resonates with me. I often apologetically tell visitors that the best thing for bikes in Seattle is that it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk, but at the same time it’s such a shame that it’s necessary for so many people to resort to the sidewalk. Granted, a lot of times it’s just for a couple blocks to transition between bike-friendly-ish streets or in my case for parts of our routes when the kids are on their own bikes. I doubt anyone thinks it’s ideal, but it sure makes it possible for a lot of people to get around by bike in this city.

It’s exciting that Seattle grabbed the number one spot in PeopleForBikes’ America’s best new bike lanes of 2016 for the Westlake Bikeway. We love the Westlake Bikeway and I use it for lots of the Kidical Mass and Critical Lass rides I lead. Unfortunately, the Westlake Bikeway is not without its problems–see Seattle Bike Blog’s As tacks return, Westlake bikeway named nation’s ‘best new bike lane’ for 2016.

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When I ride without the kids I often opt to take Dexter Avenue instead of the Westlake Bikeway so I don’t have to worry about stopping for a tack-induced flat tire. I haven’t picked up a tack myself yet, but I’ve been with three people who have. However, the bike lane on Dexter–paint-separated at some points, flexi-post separated at some, and regular bike lane for the rest–is usually worse. I need to take a few minutes before I leave the house to remind myself to stay calm as I encounter countless delivery trucks and Uber private taxi service cars (usually Priuses for some reason) parked and waiting in the bike lane. On the days I don’t take the time to remind myself to not engage, I get progressively angrier as I pull into car traffic to pass each bike-lane-blocking vehicle. On these bad days I’m sometimes unable to resist the urge to [politely!] point out open parking spots to Uber drivers and ask why they don’t park legally in a spot that’s safer for me. I don’t feel that this makes any difference, thus the pep talks. However, I do think pointing out to people [also politely!] they’re turning right through a no-right-on-red light where Dexter crosses Mercer often does make an impact. I’d love if there were more no-right-on-red intersections (see Seattle Bike Blog’s Banning turns-on-red is an exciting first step to taking back our crosswalks) so people were more used to checking for the signs.

One cool event that highlighted the recent infrastructure changes was the annual Critical Lass ride to Candy Cane Lane. Our route has evolved a lot thanks to the flexi-post protected bike lanes over the Cowan Park Bridge and the contraflow bike lane on NE 62nd Street.

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Unfortunately, when the kids and I went on our own to Candy Cane Lane it wasn’t all sugar plums and kittens in Santa hats. I was excited when I realized we could take the new protected bike lane on Roosevelt on our way home. It’s a one-way street and situated such that it doesn’t make sense for us to use, but heading home from Candy Cane Lane made sense! My Kidical Mass to Celebrate Roosevelt went well, but I have to admit I don’t feel completely comfortable on Roosevelt. It’s better than it was before when it was a regular bike lane (we never used it before), but the intersections are crappy. There are some people (usually vehicular cyclists) who argue that protected bike lanes are never worth installing because they provide a false sense of security. I certainly don’t agree with that, but this particular protected bike lane really makes a case for protected intersections and I hope someday Seattle has some of these! Oh, and better “protection” than flexi posts.

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So this night I stupidly chose to not take our usual hillier, more round-about route from Ravenna to Wallingford because I knew the kids would be excited to ride in the protected bike lane. We were extra cautious at each intersection, slowing nearly to a stop in case a car turned without checking for people on bikes or on foot crossing the street. And then a block before we were due to turn off Roosevelt, we encountered a car parked in the bike lane. We stopped behind him so I could consider our next moves. There were a lot of cars on the street so I didn’t really want the kids to have to ride around it. And another car was pulled into the driveway behind us (but only partially blocking the bike lane) so it wouldn’t have been easy to get up to the sidewalk…not to mention I prefer not to ride on the sidewalk unless it’s really necessary. I parked my bike in the bike lane, asked the kids to wait, and tried to get the driver’s attention by waving at his window several times. He was engrossed in his phone so I tapped on the window only have him to roll it down and shout at me that it wasn’t OK for me to tap on his window. I asked if he could re-park so we could bike through, but needless to say, that didn’t go very well. I took a photo of his license plate and filed a Find It, Fix It ticket with the city. I didn’t expect them to come quickly enough to do anything about the car, but hope that if that spot is a regular car-in-the-bike-lane area, something might change. And in the meantime, we won’t ride Roosevelt again.

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The Roosevelt thing made me nearly forget that a family in a minivan honked at us during the one block we rode on Ravenna Blvd to get to the entrance of Candy Cane Lane. The passenger poked her finger at us (pointing at us to get on the sidewalk?) and after a few-seconds delay, they had space to fit past us. We never get honked at, probably because I tend to choose the sidewalk (best bike infrastructure, remember?) for the spots where this might happen. For this short block, I didn’t want to take the narrow sidewalk in case we encountered people walking to Candy Cane Lane. It’s a very steep short block so it’s harder to ride in a perfectly straight line. Tricky call this time, in retrospect.

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So bike-infrastructure-wise: lots of good, a bit of bad, and that’s 2016! Here’s to more good stuff in 2017. Happy New Year!

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Ride Recap: Kidical Mass to Olympic Manor Holiday Lights 2016

We had a terrific Kidical Mass ride through the holiday lights this year! Olympic Manor is a community in the Crown Hill neighborhood of North Ballard and goes all out for the holidays.

See all the pictures here.

It was our warmest and driest holiday ride yet–a balmy 44 degrees Fahrenheit (7 Celsius) when we arrived to the park at 4pm, but it got a bit colder as the sun disappeared. Arriving at the park–the playground by Loyal Heights Community Center–while it’s still light out is great for hanging out while we can see one another, but waiting for 4:45 to roll around felt kind of long this year so I’m contemplating moving it a tad later next year.

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We had a great turn out with 33 participants! Here’s rundown of our bike collection:

Lots of cargo bikes, about half of them with e-assists.

I’ve been fine tuning our route over the years and this was our shortest ride yet, 2.7 miles all together–here’s the route. It seemed perfect and it was less hilly than years past. We still saw all our favorites, like Santa in a VW bus:

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And our regular jog on a side street to see the Flying Spaghetti Monster for a taste of something a little different. It’s always worn a Santa hat in the past, I figured to toe the line per community holiday guidelines, but it was bare-headed this year.

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We noticed (and were freaked out by) a Santa hologram in the house across the street from the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He waved at us, we waved back, he waved more, he disappeared, we screamed! He was very authentic. Also new this year were lots of houses with elaborate projector lights, some with tons of tiny dots, giving the illusion of houses blanketed in twinkle lights, and this one that the kids thought looked like was under water:

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I love holding the ride on the winter solstice so we can shout “Happy Solstice!” to everyone in addition to “Merry Christmas!” and it’s fun to be out to share that earliest sunset of the year with a bunch of bikey friends. Having had solstice fall on a weekday these last couple years has been great because the Loyal Heights Community Center is open so we have access to restrooms before the ride. Potties at the start and end of a ride are very important, but not always available.

We ended the ride at Grumpy D’s Coffeehouse as usual and learned that Wednesday night is open mic night, oops. It was pretty crowded and the stage took up the play area, but everyone was happy to have all the kids there. We found space to play in the back hallway, purchased snacks, and it worked out well. And I see next year’s winter solstice is on a Thursday so that will be just like old times.

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Read recaps of Olympic Manor rides past: 2015 recap | 2014 recap | 2013 recap | 2012 recap (Critical Lass)

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Portland with bike and dog! And Amtrak Coast Starlight vs. Amtrak Cascades

So much new! Amtrak Coast Starlight recently started allowing roll-up bike service (previously bikes had to be boxed) and while I’ve heard from lots of people that the Coast Starlight often runs late, I couldn’t pass up a chance to give it a go because all our past trips have been aboard the Amtrak Cascades line. Also, PETS CAN RIDE NOW! Just small pets, but my pet is small! LOOK: Pets are free if you book in the next few days! Otherwise it’s $25. So I packed up bike and dog and headed down to Portland for a weekend recently: Coast Starlight on the way down, Cascades line on the way back up.

Main take-aways about Amtrak Coast Starlight versus Amtrak Cascades:

Amtrak Coast Starlight Amtrak Cascades
Usually runs late Often runs late
Loooooooong train Short and sweet train
No Wi-Fi Patchy Wi-Fi
Observation car! No observation car
Stairs! All one level
Restrooms are down a flight of stairs Restrooms at end of each car
Seatmates are traveling to Los Angeles End of the line is only Portland or Eugene
Tons of legroom, seats recline Bus/airline amount of legroom

My loaded-up Surly Straggler:

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All my stuff is in my two big panniers (Swift Industries Roll Top Panniers), Pixie’s in the front basket, Timbuk2 Muttmover Backpack is bungeed atop my rear rack.

How dogs ride
Pixie was required to be in a carrier while moving around the train, but it was OK for her to sit on my lap–though not directly on a seat–so I used the backpack for boarding and walking around the train (to and from observation car, restroom, and cafe).

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The long walk from the baggage car
The first thing I noticed as I wheeled my bike halfway to Tacoma to reach the baggage car at the front of the train was that this was a loooooong train. Amtrak Cascades is short with the baggage car at the back, right by station. I’m not sure this is intentional for passengers with bikes, but I’ve always been seated in one of the closest two cars. I upgraded to business class once when it was really cheap, but after having to lug my heavy panniers the length of the Amtrak Cascades train I realized it wasn’t worth it. This train was sooooo much longer than that. I really don’t like carrying my panniers around, but stronger people, or those with lighter panniers, might not think this is worth consideration.

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Wi-Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum
Coast Starlight only offers Wi-Fi in business class. I’m not sure if Cascades’ patchy Wi-Fi is better or worse, though. I always think I’ll get tons of stuff done aboard the train and spend most the time frustrated at the Internet connection. I’ll admit it was relaxing leaving my laptop off, but it might keep me from using the Coast Starlight unless I’m going farther than Portland.

Observation car
Look at all those windows!

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Amtrak Cascades has additional seating in the cafe and dining cars, but I’ve only once scored a seat. This observation car was huge with plenty of available seating.

Double decker!
It’s like a real train! There are stairs! Very narrow stairs. And the restrooms are all downstairs so you don’t get to stay up top once you’re up. There’s some seating downstairs, but it looked pretty dark and lonely.

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Really reclining seats
There is tons of legroom because the seats almost fully recline. There are sleeper cars, too, and were I traveling all the way to Los Angeles with the kids (which I think would be fun, but exhausting), I’d want to splurge on one of those, but a lot of long-distance passengers opted to ride in the cheap seats. It was neat sitting with people embarking on such a big trip. The woman next to me was on her way to LA and said they wouldn’t arrive until 9pm the following night (or probably later considering we were over an hour late to Portland).

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One last thing
One cool thing about having the baggage car at the front of the train is that there’s a great view out the back. The view of one’s bike hanging in the dark baggage car at the back of Amtrak Cascades is cool in a different way, but this view is out-of-a-train-movie cool, right?

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The weekend itself was really fun and I’ll try to write it up soon(ish), but in the meantime, all my photos are here: Portland with Pixie – October 21-23, 2016 – 269 photos

Happy Fifth Birthday, Big Dummy!

Another year, another bike birthday post. I think bike years are faster than human years, because it feels like much more than five years since this life-changing bike entered our lives.

I got the Surly Big Dummy primarily as a kid carrier, but now that the kids are riding mostly on their own bikes at ages nine and seven, its role is changing a bit. I always take the Big Dummy when we go out just in case I need to carry a kid and his bike, but that happens less and less these days (yay!). I worry a bit about the kids turning into bike-averse tweens so I want to be equipped to scoop them up on my bike after any little crash, tired spell, or tantrum. The kids weigh 125 pounds together, but without them on the deck, the Big Dummy rides like a regular bike so it’s fun to get to ride it around empty most of the time.

Today we biked five miles to the Seattle Center to see Space Santa in the Space Needle (he’s the coolest!) and the Big Dummy’s most important role was bike rack. I feel a little guilty relegating my sweet bike to such a mundane job, but apparently decent parking is the most important thing. Bike parking at the Seattle Center leaves a bit to be desired. There are a couple stationary bike racks (on the west side of the Armory and one I noticed today under the monorail track near the EMP), but most of them are small Cora racks that aren’t bolted down and get dragged around the center (and shouldn’t be considered safe to lock to). Looking at the Cora rack specs, I see my bike at 76.4 pounds weighs more than these six-bike Cora racks, plus it’s easier to anchor in a convenient spot–at the base of the Space Needle at the start of our day out, for instance.

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I saw a couple bikes locked to Cora racks and a couple more smartly locked to fences. The Parking Squid used to live at the Seattle Center (it’s across the street from the aquarium now), but security guards yelled at people who tried to lock to it since it didn’t look enough like a bike rack.

Heading home the Big Dummy got a bit of a birthday surprise when we were number 666 at the Fremont bike counter. Very fitting with Surly’s surly-lowercase-ess persona. Fun fact: my handlebars–not the stock flat bars that come on Big Dummies–are Surly Open Bars that measure 666mm wide, rock on.

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And the deck came in handy when we stopped to forage for chocolate on the way home. Note: this is best done with a Haulin’ Colin Rolling Jackass centerstand.

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One little exciting change to the Big Dummy, as of yesterday: now I match the majority of cargo biking moms with MKS Grip King pedals. These were on my Surly Straggler (my “me” bike), but I swapped them out a while ago for Shimano A530 hybrid pedals, that are flat on one side and SPD clipless on the other. So now my Straggler is sportier and my Big Dummy is snazzier!

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Don’t worry that the Big Dummy has been getting bored with her passengers getting so independent. We’ve been delivering loads of old stuff to the thrift store. A very noble job and there are the makings of many loads left in my basement I hope to clear out before her next birthday.

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Read previous birthday posts:

Christmas Tree by Bike 2016

“Go Team Christmas Tree!” is one of the many things people shouted at us as we biked home with our tree this year. There’s something to be said for parading six miles with a big tree. Last year we got the tree just half a mile from home. That was the first time the kids rode their own bikes so that was exciting and new (for them–I would have liked carrying both kids and tree because the bigger the load, the more points). We probably would have gone to the same tree lot, but it doesn’t seem to be there this year and the kids suggested the Swansons Nursery Reindeer Festival. So this year was both kids-on-their-own-bikes and far-away-tree. Fun!

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Six uphill miles is too ambitious for my seven- and nine-year olds to do all in one shot so I planned for a stop or two on the way there. This would also make for a nice break from the cold and rain. We started with one and a quarter of our steepest uphill miles to doughnuts. Pixie the dog came along so I hoped the kids would eat their doughnuts inside Mighty-O while I kept Pix company outside, but they voted to keep the pack together. Fortunately it was early enough (and uphill enough) in our journey that they were plenty warm and they downed their doughnuts quickly enough that they didn’t get chilly sitting still outdoors.

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We made it three more miles when I dropped my chain which dragged my front derailleur mount clamp out of place.

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Naturally this happened while the kids were half a block ahead of me (I can usually keep up with my nine-year old on hills, but every once in a while he joins his little brother to leave me in the dust), but they eventually heard my hollering and came back for me. They don’t go through intersections without me so they would have discovered my absence soon enough. However, I’ve been encouraging my seven-year old to do a bit of bikey wandering and for a mile leading up to this catastrophe he was u-turning around the Fremont Avenue Greenway traffic circles to zoom back and practice bike-by high fives with me. Now he’ll probably assume I’ve broken my bike every time he gets far ahead of me.

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While setting my derailleur back to the right spot, my seven-year old pointed out he had a flat tire. I move my repair stuff from bike to bike and don’t always have everything with me (and never keep kid tubes with me unless we’re bike camping). I had my bike pump and a tube for my 26-inch tire, but no patch kit or tire levers. Oops. Fortunately we were very close to JRA Bike Shop so I loaded up my little dude and his bike and off we went.

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This was my first visit to JRA’s new location and I love the new, bigger space! It was also perfect timing for avoiding a downpour and to warm up for a bit. They had a small Surly Big Dummy built up so I took it out for a test ride. Amazing how light it is without all the kid stuff on it. My bike weights about 75 pounds, but this one was easily heftable. I didn’t realize the deck is green this year and I can’t get over how cute the matchy-matchiness is!

JRA has great commuter bike stuff, like Rainlegs rain chaps and Bar Mitts handlebar mittens. We also like their bike bell and horn selection and picked up an orca and dinosaur.

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Outfitted with a new kid tire and tube, checked-over mamabike, horns, spare tubes, patch kit, tire levers, potty breaks, and doughnut, we were ready to roll again. One mile and fifty puddles later we were at Swansons Nursery.
Reindeer!
Model train!
Koi pond!
Cafe!
Christmas trees!

Unfortunately no Curly the Camel this year, but we were forewarned by the website that he’s temporarily away due to a hurt leg. We also happened to see a friend who works at Swansons at our doughnut stop and got the full scoop. What luck! It was nice to get confirmation that it really was just a hurt leg and this isn’t another “Moe the miniature donkey is spending the winter in Hawaii” thing that we didn’t buy for a minute two years ago.

The whole tree experience is pretty cool at Swansons. The kids ran through aisles of trees hanging from the ceiling and soon found “Fluffy,” the perfect tree. Everyone was extremely helpful and very complimentary about the kids’ tree choice. I left the kids watching the tree shaker (to remove loose pine needles?) while I paid and unlocked the bikes.

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Biking through the drive-through tree pickup area was way fun.

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They were pretty excited about the bikes and did all the loading. My Big Dummy wore its Xtracycle WideLoader so I could load it on the side (pro tip: load your tree on the left side so people passing in cars can see it and be impressed), but Fluffy was bigger than last year’s tree so we put it on top of the deck. I secured it with my favorite long lashing things: a Yuba Cargo Strap and Xtracycle Utility Belt and the Swansons guys tied Fluffy’s trunk to my Hooptie very securely.

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To break up the ride home we stopped to get pizza to go. Again, the kids didn’t want to wait inside warm and dry without me and Pixie, but we were between rainy spells and they hopped around enough and crashed their bikes into one another over and over to stay warm. The bummer about having the tree up on the deck was that I didn’t have a nice spot to put the pizza. My other usual spot is in the front basket, but that’s Pixie’s domain now. So I wrapped it in my rain skirt to keep it from the drizzle and bungeed it atop the tree, hoping it wouldn’t leave a square wilty spot on Fluffy during the final two miles.

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It was an action-packed five hours/12 miles and we look forward to celebrating the season with Fluffy until it’s time to take him to the bike-based tree bonfire :)