Archive for the ‘Bicycling’ Category

Support street improvements on Park Boulevard!

Friday, October 18th, 2013

The East Bay Bicycle Coalition is campaigning for street improvements on Park Boulevard, including the addition of bike lanes and possibly a reduction in car lanes. I wholeheartedly support this effort. In the first month of this blog’s existence, I wrote a post about why Park Blvd is such an awful street for a densely populated neighborhood (oddly, I did not advocate for bike lanes in that post, even though I get almost everywhere by bike). There have been minor improvements to the street since I wrote that in January of 2009, including new traffic signals and sidewalk bulbouts at the intersection with Newton and East 20th, allowing people to cross over to FM Smith Park with less risk of bodily harm. The main problem, however—a road which feels more like a freeway than a city street—remains.

The dangers of Park Boulevard are not theoretical. I live near the intersection of Brooklyn, Spruce and Park, and the sounds of squealing tires followed by a crash are common. In August 2010, there were two accidents on consecutive days at that one intersection; first a driver lost control on Park and swerved straight into a wall on Brooklyn Ave, then the following day a driver rear-ended an AC Transit bus:

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I wish those were freak occurrences, but in fact collisions on Park are routine. Another accident at the same intersection in 2012 involved three cars:

Those are just a few of the many incidents I have heard or seen on that one little piece of Park Boulevard, and presumably many more have happened when I wasn’t around to witness them, or occurred on other stretches of Park. Indeed, just today the bike coalition tweeted this photo of a car overturned in a Park Blvd crosswalk:

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With the Parkway Theater still sitting dormant after closing four years ago, Park Boulevard needs all the help it can get, and some local merchants seem to appreciate the benefit to the community that a more livable street could bring. For those who live farther afield, relatively flat Park Boulevard would be an ideal bicycle route for many commuters, but in its current form it does not feel like a safe space for cyclists or pedestrians.

Changes to street designs are almost invariably fought by some neighbors, who fear slower traffic or fewer parking spots (or who are just wary of change in general), so advocates for safer, more ped- and bike-friendly streets need to make their case clearly, loudly, and repeatedly. Nearby Lakeshore Blvd has been dramatically improved by cutting the number of full-size lanes from 4 to 2 and adding bike lanes on either side. A road diet and bike lanes on Park Boulevard would be an improvement as well, making the road safer not only for cyclists and pedestrians, but for drivers as well (see above photos). You can find out more about the Bike Coalition’s Park Blvd campaign here at their website, and take a short survey to give your input about how Park might be improved.

 

Public Works…Works!

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

If you’ve read some of my old posts here, then you may have noticed that the only things which can cause me to swoon or to find religion are bike lanes. So it may not come as a shock that a bike lane is what has roused me from my blogging slumber.

I commute back and forth to Alameda by bike several times a week, and in late August, I was almost crushed by an SUV when it drifted into the bike lane (which is to say, drifted into me) rounding the curve on Kennedy Street as we approached the Park Street bridge. It’s not unusual to see automobiles take the curve too tightly and cross into the bike lane on that street, but usually drivers have the decency, and the awareness, to avoid doing it when a bicyclist is actually in the lane. Luckily, I was more alert than the driver, and was able to slow down to avoid getting knocked over as the SUV quickly transformed a 5-foot bike lane into a 4-foot, then 3-foot, then 2-foot, then 18-inch bike lane (at which point my shouts of “What are you doing?! Bike Lane!!” may have finally penetrated the thick shell of the SUV and the even thicker skull of the driver, who drifted back out of the bike lane and continued on her oblivious way).

All’s well that ends well, and as auto/bike conflicts go, this one was minor, but it reminded me of why some cyclists argue that old-fashioned, unseparated bike lanes like the ones on Kennedy Street are worse than having no bike lane at all: bike lanes created by simply striping off a 5-foot section of the roadway can give riders a false sense of security, without actually giving us any actual protection from plentiful hazards such as spaced-out drivers, illegally-parked cars, or opening car doors. Bike lanes may also implicitly give drivers permission to be oblivious or hostile to cyclists on streets without bike lanes, by unintentionally sending the message that bikes do not belong on the same roadways as other vehicles.

Those are debates for another day—personally, I prefer the inadequate, dangerous bike lanes which are prevalent in Oakland to not having any bike lanes at all. The bike lanes on Kennedy Street, however, were poor even by Oakland standards—some of the paint striping was so faded that one couldn’t see it at all, and the painted markings designating the shoulder as a bike lane were so worn away that the words “bike lane” were only legible if you already knew what it said and the icon of a bicyclist looked more like a unicyclist.

It’s no wonder that many drivers drifted into the bike lane as they rounded that curve! Kennedy Street bears a lot of the traffic heading from Oakland to Alameda, and is heavily used by trucks serving the nearby industrial areas. Kennedy Street also abuts two cement plants, so a lot of sand granules end up on that stretch of road, grinding away the paint as cars and trucks roll by. Combine those problems with the fact that the Kennedy Street bike lane has been around for years, and you have a recipe for a very degraded bike lane. Given that the Park Street bridge is one of the main access points for cyclists going to and from Alameda, Kennedy Street gets a lot of bike traffic, so the faded bike lanes going around the curves on Kennedy Street seemed particularly worrisome.

After my irritation with the SUV’s driver had subsided somewhat, I decided that instead of, say, slashing the SUV’s tires or firebombing an auto dealership, a more fruitful way to channel my anger might be trying to get the bike lanes repainted. That night I went to Oakland’s Department of Public Works website and reported the degraded bike lanes as an “Unsafe Condition.” I really had no idea whether anything would be done—while I did believe that the condition of the bike lanes on Kennedy Street created a hazardous condition with potentially fatal consequences, there are dangerous street conditions all over Oakland (potholes, etc.) and new bike lanes being added every year, so I wasn’t sure that re-striping an existing bike lane would be deemed a priority.

So when I rode to Alameda yesterday, I was pleased to see freshly painted lines and a new icon of a cyclist in the bike lane. I don’t know if they will also repaint the words “Bike Lane,” but the work done by yesterday evening is already a big improvement (my photo doesn’t do justice to how much more visible the new paint is, and they also repainted the bike lane on the opposite side of the street, which was even more faded):

It’s easy to become cynical about Oakland’s municipal services, since it sometimes seems that all one hears are rants about lazy, unhelpful, or incompetent (or worse!) city employees. And to be sure, many people have complained of ineffectual responses when they’ve reported problems to the Public Works Department, but the two times I have reported specific problems (the bike lane striping and a burnt couch which was blighting 12th Avenue early last year), the city has responded with alacrity. It’s nice to know that even with layoffs and furlough days and all its other problems, the city can still get some stuff right, at least some of the time.

 

Safer Streets By Any Means Necessary?

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

I’d never noticed this sign at Market and 55th Street in Oakland until last week:

Additional safety improvements to Market Street have occurred since 1967, including bike lanes in each direction, but a reminder that even stop lights and bike lanes don’t eliminate the danger from reckless and absent-minded drivers is three blocks away at the corner of Market and 52nd, where a cyclist was killed a year ago by a driver crossing Market Street (reportedly the cyclist was in the bike lane and the driver was crossing Market Street):

Ghost Bike

Nailed Again

Monday, April 25th, 2011

I suppose that if you’re going to get a nail through your tire, Easter weekend is an appropriate time to do it.

Kevlar-reinforced tires do a decent job of handling all the broken glass on Oakland’s streets, but even Kevlar is no match for the nails and other debris which lines the gutters around town. (This isn’t the first time a substantial nail has skewered one of my tires in Oakland, so you might think I’d be more vigilant, but it’s tough to keep an eye out for nails when one is worrying about all the potholes, car doors and aggressive drivers.)

Neon Cyclist

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Neon Cyclist

Came across this sign at a bike shop in LA. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the neon in action.

When the Dog Bites. When the Bee Stings.

Friday, September 17th, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things: coffee, bikes, music, and the reclaiming of public space from the tyranny of the automobile. Imagine how delighted I was, then, to be able to take a picture of a coffee shop, a bike shop, a record shop, and a (temporary, alas) parklet installed on 40th Street in Oakland today as park of the annual Park(ing) Day takeover of curbside parking spots:

Coffee, Bikes, Music, Parklet.

I rode up to Berkeley today, so I swung by a few of these spots. I love the idea of Park(ing) Day, but I have to admit that seeing it in practice made me a bit sad. These parklets are sort of cute, but they were all surrounded today by the ugly, charmless streetscapes which pervade Oakland. Instead of being little oases of green, the seating areas in front of Subrosa (above) or Actual Cafe were unused at lunchtime until I plopped myself down and had my cappuccino or bagel or egg cream. Rather than giving me a small glimpse of how nice streets such as 40th or San Pablo could be someday, they just reminded me of how inhospitable to human beings those arterial streets are, and how dramatically they would need to change in order to feel like they were made for people instead of for cars.

Two other places I rode past which were supposedly participating in Park(ing) Day (Tip Top bikes in Temescal and Good Chemistry bakery on Grand) did not seem to have taken part after all, and Farley’s East on Grand, which looks like it had a great and well-used setup this morning, had moved everything up onto the sidewalk and given up the parking space to a car by the time I rode past in mid-afternoon. Given how low-density most parts of Oakland are, I have some real doubts about whether any amount of improved streetscaping or road diets or redevelopment or reclamation of public space will ever make it feel like a truly pedestrian-friendly city, except in small pockets here and there.

On a less pessimistic note, I was riding to Berkeley because I have wanted to check out Waterside Workshops in West Berkeley since I first heard about it a couple of months ago. It’s a non-profit which runs a boatbuilding workshop, a bike shop, and a cafe. They have local disadvantaged teens serve as interns, teaching them how to craft wooden boats, fix up old bikes for resale, and serve customers at the waterfront cafe. Obviously the main point is to instill good work habits, pride of workmanship, and collaborative and customer service skills, but who knows, boatbuilding and bike repair may end up being in demand if we start to run out of oil in the next few decades.

Waterside Workshops

It is very Berkeley, and very awesome. Sadly, it was also very closed today, due to a water outage caused by a nearby construction project. My visit will have to wait for another time, but I’ll probably take some photos and write about it more after I finally get to take a look around.

They say it’s the journey that counts, right?

Friday, July 30th, 2010

I rode my bike (and ferried a bit, since there’s no bike path over the Bay Bridge—yet!) from Oakland to Ross and back today, yet somehow I managed not to take a single picture along the way. In lieu of any photos of, say, the cute mama and baby deer that I saw grazing next to each other on a slope near Sausalito, you get to look at a screenshot of the route from Gmaps Pedometer instead. (I’m going to make myself a T-shirt: “I went all the way to Marin County, and all I got was this lousy Google Maps screenshot.”)

Sport Utility Vehicle

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

I rode past this custom build on Telegraph Ave last week, and of course I had to stop for photos:

Big Wheel

Unicycle

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Many people own Kryptonite U-locks; some unfortunate people own Kryptonite figure-8-locks instead:

A Cautionary Picture

(Incidentally, something doesn’t seem to quite add up here. The lock, while bent out of shape, is unbroken. So why did the thief even bother trying to break the lock, if he was able to steal almost all of the bike without worrying about the lock at all? Or am I missing something?)

Dr. Strangebike

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

I seem to see more odd customized bikes in Alameda than anywhere else. This was down the block from where the family bike was parked last month, and across the street from where I spotted the tiki bike last year

Dr. Strangebike

The guy who was riding this did have a cowboy hat on, but it wasn’t Slim Pickens.

Bike to Work Day. Or, Boat to Artwork Day

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Bike to work day was last Thursday. Since I bike to work all the time anyway, I have to seek out other ways to mark the day. (I suppose I could borrow a car and drive to work, but that would defeat the point.) Last year I took an extremely circuitous route to work in order to visit the festivities at city hall and some of the other “energizer stations” around town. (I’m a sucker for free food and coffee.) This year, I should have volunteered at one of the BTWD events, but I didn’t have my act together enough to sign up, so instead I decided to take advantage of the free ferry rides across the bay to San Francisco. (Okay, I’m a sucker for free anything.)

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Many of the people with bikes on the ferry seemed to be people like me, who would normally take BART across the bay at less than half the price, but who were taking advantage of the chance to get a free scenic trip in the fresh air instead.

I rode around the city for a while admiring all the nice new bike infrastructure since the last time I was there just a few weeks ago, such as the on-street bike racks on Valencia Street and the green-painted, separated bike lanes on Market Street. I then stopped by the San Francisco MoMA to look in on some old friends. I only took a few photos there (photos from an earlier trip to SFMoMA are here), and for some reason I was on a windows and bars kick this time:

Prison Wall

(Come to think of it, I have felt somewhat imprisoned by circumstances lately…)

Quartet

Stolen Bike Recovered; Oakland’s Good Name Still Missing

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

If you listen to some of the complaints of Oakland residents, you might get the impression that the Oakland Police Department is either unable or unwilling to pay any attention to property crimes. And given the high levels of violent crime, it is presumably true that the OPD isn’t able to spend a whole lot of time investigating, say, bike thefts.

It’s reassuring, therefore, that the police do respond quickly (at least sometimes) when they have a concrete lead about a stolen bicycle. I just came across the following notice over at the blog Change Your Life. Ride A Bike. (Yes! Good advice!)

MY STOLEN PEUGEOT WAS RECOVERED TODAY IN OAKLAND!

It’s a little the worse for wear and beaten up, but she’s whole, and only missing her leather-padded toe straps and the contents of my panniers and my seat bag (tools, lock, cable, pump, 3 flashing red bike lights, etc.).

Many thanks to Jason, a Cycles of Change APC volunteer, who spotted my unique mixte in Emeryville, trailed the 12-year-old riding it back to his house in Oakland, then called me.

Many thanks also to Oakland PD Officers Charles O’Connor (#8732) and Terry Jones (#8427), who quickly responded to my call and were at the house before I arrived. They checked out the house, recovered my bike, and brought it to me.

Thanks to all of you who kept an eye out for my ride, spread the word, posted about it in blogs, and offered your support through all this. It has meant a great deal and helped keep me going in the search, which took lots of time and effort in my depressed state.

(In case you’re wondering, he was in a depressed state because the beloved bike was a family heirloom. Really.) Kudos to the eagle-eyed good samaritan from Cycles of Change and to OPD!

Unfortunately, this story isn’t entirely good for Oakland. There is a widespread belief in Alameda that the crime they have on their side of the estuary is mostly caused by hoodlums from Oakland who cross the water and prey on innocent Alameda residents before crossing to safety back in Oakland, where the Oakland Police will be too overwhelmed by violent to help track them down. That fear of the barbarians at the gate—or across the drawbridge, in this case—might be overly simplistic (as is my portrayal of the Alamedan mindset), but the sad fact is that it probably has a lot of truth to it. So when I learned that the bike recovered in Oakland had been stolen in Alameda, my relief at finding out that the Oakland police promptly and professionally handled a call about a stolen bicycle (a stolen bicycle!) was tempered by disappointment at hearing yet another story about something that was stolen in Alameda and brought to Oakland, just over the water but a world away. Sigh.