Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 - A year of what?

What are your plans and goals for 2014 ye loyal readers of the Beat Bike Blog.  Simple stuff or grand schemes?  Were you happy with your 2013?  How will 2014 be the same or differ.

Personally I've been doing an inordinate amount of navel gazing as 2013 draws to a close.  2013 brought some very interesting "firsts", but at the same time felt a bit lacking.  The time I spent engaged and animated, fulfilled really, seemed too short when compared to the grind.   I have some thoughts on how to rebalance.  We'll see if 2014 is the year for a new direction.  If so, you'll probably see it here.

The themes of my introspection circle around global impact, community involvement, and preparedness for an uncertain future of global weirdness.  It seems that within my lifetime we may see some serious upheaval and challenges to our current state of civilization. 

The timeframe probably isn't 1-5 years, but as with car free living,  I expect that building more resilience into my life - and that of my community - has near term benefits.  There really isn't a reason to delay transitioning to a more fulfilling, happier, and less fossil fuel dependent future state.  Clinging to the status quo may have some  financial benefit as the US rides what may be the final cresting wave of frack'd oil and gas.  Staying on that wave, as greater society seems intent on doing, seems irresponsible at best.  At worst it appears catastrophic, globally and economically.

Instead of getting discouraged and carrying a dour outlook into 2014, I resolve to make what incremental changes I can.  Teach more Traffic Skills courses.  Expand my garden plot.  Can more preserves and vegetables.   Engage in community focused bicycle and pedestrian education and advocacy.  Maybe even make some more radical life changes. 

Any resolutions of your own?

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Crashing is Okay

It's that time of year again when folks at work look at the bicycle commuter with a head tilt and ask, "You didn't ride in today, did you?"  I'm toying with escalating ridiculousness in my response.  "No.  Actually I decided to ice skate."  Or, "Riding a bicycle in the winter is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of.  Do you think I'm an idiot?  I stole my neighbor's car today."  I'd be interested to hear responses from other year round commuters when this perennial question returns each winter.

As an experienced user of the bicycle, my own two feet, transit, and even the occasional car, I should be patient in my treatment of those that ask seasonal and weather related questions that can seem repetitive.  The asker of the question doesn't realize they aren't asking a novel question and therefore don't expect or deserve my impatience.  In truth the question is welcome.  If I can find a way to twist the answer in a way that catches the person's attention or makes them think, perhaps they too will look critically at their rampant single occupancy vehicle trips.   As a friend of mine likes to remind me, clever assholes don't change many minds.

On the topic of changing trends, I've seen several more winter bicycle commuters at Pratt & Whitney.  Studded tires even.  Tomorrow will be a good test of these hardy souls with the low teens and 2-4" of snow predicted.  I received several email from co-workers disappointed that the bicycle racks near their building had been removed.  Curious,  I've dropped a note to our Facilities department who may not have realized that bicycles work in cold weather too.

The CT DOT seems to forget each year that the bicycle and pedestrian crossings adjacent to the Connecticut River highway bridges also need to be cleared of snow and ice.  Eight lanes of highway can be bone dry the day after a storm, but the eight feet of multi-use path can be left for weeks unless pestering ensues.  The level of clearing doesn't match that of the highway lanes.  For example the Charter Oak Bridge was plowed, but a 1" deep layer of dense and icy remainder was left along the entire length of the crossing.  No salt or grit in sight.  There is a tight downhill turn on this crossing, and even with studs the ice can be tricky to navigate.

That brings me to my final topic.  Crashing.  I crash.  On Saturday I spent several hours riding with Salem on my Kona with studded 700x35 Nokians.  They are a bit slow and noisy, and klunky for handling on dry pavement, but they significantly reduce my crashing in the winter.  We hit the perfect level of snow on the ground, smoothing out the trails and quieting my tires.

Later in the afternoon I thought it would be fun to take my fixed gear Schwinn out for an in town trip.  It was fun, and I got to practice locking up the back tire.  Feeling pretty good about my traction and having leaned turns all morning I headed into an intersection.  The slick tires didn't do any good at all in a hard right turn on a 1/2" of packed street snow.  Sliding sideways on my hip, I sprung up and did a little "I'm okay.  Enjoy the show!" dance for the concerned onlookers.  A friendly fellow picked up my fractured rear reflector and made sure I wasn't injured.  Fortunately I've entirely given up on pride, so no other damage was sustained.  When crashing on snow you typically slide, a good way to bleed off the forward momentum.

Crashing is okay, and it can be fun.  If I didn't do it often, it would probably hurt more when it happened on rare occasion.  Falling down is part of the human condition.  It's how you get up that matters.

More hardy P&W bicycle commuters confusing their co-workers this year.
Salem leads the way
Hopefully South Windsor's Bissell Bridge will be cleared more regularly this winter 
This is what happens when you forget you're not on snow tires.
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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Top 10 list

Connecticut Magazine and Hartford Magazine publish these stupid lists that rank towns in the area. As you can imagine, Hartford is always at the bottom of the list because everyone hates us. I used to think that if there was a list about rampant ATV use in public parks, Hartford would be right at the top. Sure, Tolland and bunch of places east of the river make a valiant effort, we're the best around here. Then yesterday, Salem and I were riding on that new bike path in Glastonbury. It's a very Glastonbury feeling bike path: well kept bridges, pine trees, some lights at the beginning, etc. It's not one of those Hartford or East Hartford bike paths next to an interstate highway. Well, what did we see, but crazy ATV tracks everywhere. Gravel spit all over the path, the hills on the sides totally torn up. This wasn't an ATV that took one lap of the path, this guy was out there fucking stuff up for awhile.

Geez, Glastonbury, can't we have our one thing? Read more!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Throwing down the Gauntlet, or Chris's Great Idea

You either engage or enrage.  Pick one.
What an amazing community showing at the third and final public info session.  The pitch from the seemingly professional Boston planning and marketing firm, Utile, envisioned a smooth and continuous outgrowth of the existing Downtown Hartford pattern.  Curiously, embedded in his delivery, one presenter cautioned that it is hard to understand or plan for the future that you cannot see.  The minivan or the personal computer were offered up as game changers.  I was on board for most of the presentation, the developments and plans they presented did seem to be contiguous with the fabric of downtown Hartford.  Unfortunately, the consultants not being local, missed the fact that Heaven is not and should never be a town green.  For those new to anything outside the cozy womb of downtown, Heaven is the enthusiastic remaking of an otherwise neglected city owned space bridging I-84 as a mecca of legal walls, skate park, and performance space.

Why can't the model for development in Hartford be a game changer.  The junction between Hartford's downtown and the near North area of empty lots and under utilized spaces served as a buffer, perhaps historically intentional, between an income level (and color) of residents that did not fit into the calculations for likely residents and customers in the newly developed housing proposed for the study area.  The Heaven skate and graffiti park straddling I-84 may not look like the grassy knoll that the insurance companies would instinctually prefer to overlook or walk past.  But the vibrant youth and young adults, the current makeup and future of Hartford that showed up in force, made clear that any plan for the area needs to balance the business needs with that of a rising, organic, and local creative class.  That rising tide, if not used to fuel Hartford's growth and regional draw, could turn and leave or become stagnant and frustrated in the box that they are consigned to.  You don't want to end up with frustrated graffiti artists, believe me.

I agree that there there is much opportunity in the area just North of I-84.  Open space provides a developer a blank slate without the hassle of redeveloping.  It also cuts down on demolition costs.  The vacant space often comes with funding or tax abatement from the city and / or state to fill it up with something that adds to Hartford - jobs, housing, commercial space, groceries, or even industrial.  Being a city, it is infill like this that pulls in new residents from the burbs (finally seeing the light) and is best done with some sort of plan.  Developers (large and small) don't like to risk or waste their money and plans generally last more than the tenure of a mayor or through the current whims of the city council.  Plans are good, but only if the plans involve, complement, and have the support of the community.  This plan wasn't looking good out of the gate.  Out of town consultant.  Poor publicity and minimal public involvement at the first two info sessions.  Unfamiliarity with the area and an overwhelmingly downtown-centric lens on the plan.

The residents, NRZ's, and Heaven supporters got news of the third and final session and showed up in force. It took grass roots organizing, but the session at the Hartford Public Library was packed.  I'm a huge fan of HPL, but please note that all three info sessions occurred outside the area being studied.  Good on ya Hartford citizens for making the appropriate noise.  I'm glad I live here, especially when I see stuff like this come together.  At this point we need to keep a keen eye on the final report and make sure that the input from the final session was absorbed and incorporated.

Now I ask, what should Hartford strive for as a future state so that we're not at the third and final session trying to claw back the community focus of an urban development plan?  Chris Brown said one of the most prescient things I've heard in a while during the feedback and comment session.  "Why can't Hartford develop an urban design firm of it's own?"  When studies like this are taking place, it could be with a firm having local roots and connections.  If an outside firm comes in on big projects, it will also be able to contract portions of the work to Hartford-local urban planning professionals.  I challenge Trinity College, UCONN, or Capital Community College to fill this vacuum.  There are local and national jobs in urban design and transportation planning.  Can we start filling them in Hartford, Connecticut with students educated in Hartford?  UCONN is bringing more classes and the metro Hartford Campus downtown, that would be a great fit.

A penny for your thoughts o'loyal readers and radical thinkers?

Don't piss away what you just started.  Build on it.  Own it.  Make it awesome.

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Bike tour

I was looking for a good map of Nepaug last weekend and I stumbled upon this. Now, I pay for racing sometimes and sometimes I'll even pay for one of those charities ride, but I've never paid some dude to go for a ride. Nepaug might very slightly inscrutable with its majority ATV and truck trails, but there's really only like four trails there. If you look at the Bike Rag map, I don't think you'll get that lost, especially in the era of googling phones. As part of my desire to explore new mountain biking spots this Fall, I headed over there.

As if magically triggered by my reading of that guy's advertisement, I met this dude in the parking lot who offered to show me around on account of my not riding there in seven years. Steve from Benindorm was a great riding partner, though we eventually got separated and then somehow rejoined going opposite directions on the trail. I have to admit that's the first time someone in a parking lot wanted to ride together and like the second time someone offered to show me the way on unfamiliar trails. Even during the ride, the two other riders I encountered were super friendly. Two, no three! cheers for Nepaug.

Today I went for a ride at Penwood. It was really pretty, though it started super icy. This was a direct result of me talking trash about studded tires.

On the studded tire tip, do you need some studded tires? Mike from Wethersfield, who's moving to Texas, gave me two sets of studded tires because he wrongly believed that it doesn't snow it Texas (it just snowed in Texas). Drop me a line.

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

If you like Hartford and Graffiti

I was reminded this week why Hartford is such an amazing city, especially if you give a damn.  There are so many opportunities to get engaged and influence the direction of the city.  Hartford is small enough that you only have to show up and you're making change.  This post may not seem like its about bikes, but it is.  Remember that being a cyclist or pedestrian means that you have decided to harbor radical thoughts.  Don't sit at home stewing in radicalism when action is imperative.   Hartford (or whatever city you call home) needs your radical thoughts for planning and the intellectual discourse.  These city plans and discussion groups often involve transportation plans, proposed bike lanes, and road diets.  Showing up at the meeting on a bike, and asking questions pertinent to non-motorized transportation keeps the topic at the top of the list.  Don't let your city wave the green flag without actually doing the stuff that makes change.

This time the info session is in Pope Park.  Do you think downtown dwellers can find it?
Next week you can weigh in on two different Hartford plans.  The first is the Hartford Parks Plan on Monday, December 9th at Pope Park from 6-8PM.  This is the final public comment session.  Hartford has extensive park acreage, and a limited budget for upkeep.  The public comment sessions are being used by the consultant along with paper and online surveys to find out what is important to Hartford residents.  The last info session rolled out a map showing desirable bicycle connections between the parks, which would also serve as a network for bicycling throughout the city.  This is a big deal.

If you're not at the table, your favorite park features might get dropped as the park plan is laid out.  This is a bit disconcerting for parts of Hartford's population that haven't been coming to the meetings.  The attendance and survey responses have been dominated by Westend and Downtown residents.   This last public info session has been wisely moved out of Downtown, which should make it easier for Frog Hollow, Behind the Rocks, and Barry Square residents to attend.  Spread the word if you live in one of those neighborhoods.

The near North of Downtown is being evaluated and a plan is being put together.  There is a public info session on Wednesday, November 11th at the Hartford Public Library at 6PM.  The initial feedback I'd heard on the North Downtown plan was negative, and that includes complaints of very little publicity for the previous public info session.  That means its time for residents  and business owners to show up in force and make sure their interests are being taken into account in this plan that will guide the City of Hartford when zoning and developing the area.  The planning also impacts the layout and improvement of city streets, which are currently highway no-man zones north of I-84.  I'm curious why the consultants didn't pick a location for this info session that is actually in the zone that they are studying?

If one is looking for information or intellectual engagement, it's here in spades.  Just this past week I went to a moderated discussion with the DEEP Commissioner at the Mark Twain House and a panel discussion on Hartford urban issues at the Hartford Public Library.  Coming up next Saturday is a presentation / discussion at Real Art Ways where they will be asking the question, "How do our surroundings shape us?"  A fitting question with all the Hartford plans in the offing.  The event starts at 1PM and appears to involve food if you get there by 12:30PM, and they want folks to RSVP.
All of these info sessions and discussions tie in to one of my favorite things.  Graffiti!   Heaven, a mecca of legal walls, just north of Downtown Hartford has a bunch of new stuff up.  Also took a stroll up the train tracks and was rewarded with several great pieces.  Don't forget to represent for Heaven, and tell your friends.  Friends don't let friends miss out on great street art.
So happy to find hieroglyphics.
They're watching you from the pyramid in the sky.
I really like when the graffiti includes characters along with the burner.  

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Blurry, misty ghostly ride

There's this big park in Tolland called Crandall Park. I went there yesterday as part of my explore-the-trails-between-Storrs-and-Hartford-on-Thursday-because-I-have-class-in-Storrs-in-the-morning-and-office-hours-in-Hartford-in-the-evening-so-I-have-free-time-between-1-and-4-and I-brought-a-car-tour (took a long time to put those hyphens in). As you may recall from Gov. Malloy's forecast yesterday, there was a lot of fog. You also may recall that I wear glasses now. Generally, I think they're great, because I can see things and also because I can recognize people. It's nice that people don't think so rude anymore. In fact, yesterday involved a lot of glasses reflection now that I think about it. I was sitting in the library reading without glasses and several people came up to me to say hi and from their initial saying-hi distance I couldn't really tell who they were. I wonder how I had any friends before glasses.

Anyway, I don't usually get glasses fogging up problems unless I'm eating soup or I stop riding after riding intensely. To cure the first problem, I take the glasses off until the soup cools. For the second, I start riding again and the rushing air seems to work as a defogger. Yesterday, the moving didn't work at all. The humidity was so high that they would stay fogged no matter what I did. So, the world was foggy and my glasses were foggy and I pretty much was blind. I still rode a few miles like this, albeit very slowly. Eventually, I decided it was too annoying. I put my glasses in my jersey pocket and my old nemesis depth perception returned. When I first started wearing glasses, the ground seemed really close, so without them the ground seems really far. Also, I was riding a 29er, so ground actually was pretty far. So, I spent the remainder of the ride hallucinating a tall bike in a fuzzy forest.

The trails at Crandall's are pretty good. I rode about 10 miles and I think there was maybe 1 or trail I didn't ride. Very, very twisty stuff, in a effort to pack a lot of trails into a small-ish area. Someone is putting considerable effort putting some new stuff in right close to I-84. They haven't removed the duff yet, so it wasn't the most fun surface to ride on. The park itself also seems pretty cool. It's got pretty much all the things you'd want out of a park except for a skatepark.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Waiting for a Body Count

I work across the street from the amazing engine of development that is Goodwin College and regularly take the short walk from Pratt & Whitney to stretch my legs and put eyes on the Connecticut River.   Jarring me out of river staring bliss is the high speed outlet of the busy Route 2 exit ramp.  Even more disturbing than my alert high stepping to cross the street between speeding cars is the position of the new Connecticut River Academy magnet school building.  Something felt very wrong.  A school at the foot of a high speed exit ramp without any observable traffic calming or cross walks. Seriously?

The new building for the Connecticut River Academy
Consider for a second the increasing traffic from Goodwin College combined with the existing traffic from Pratt & Whitney and then add in a very concentrated traffic load from the school.   In the meantime, the CT DOT is asleep at the wheel.   Neither of the nearby roads, Willow and Ensign, have sidewalks passing under Route 2.  The Route 2 exit ramp that sends traffic rocketing past the new school is unchanged.  A valuable bicycle and pedestrian connection between the Connecticut River Academy and East Hartford's Great River Park remains (legally) disconnected.  I felt physically ill.

Goodwin College has decided to invest in higher education, magnet schools, rental housing, and riverfront property value in this previously neglected neighborhood.  This is despite the CT DOT scar (Route 2) that cuts much of the Goodwin campus and property off from Main Street East Hartford.   In what I've seen of Goodwin College's leadership, they are in it for the long game, which includes environmental sustainability, ethical stewardship, and community building.  It would surprise me if Goodwin College hasn't approached the CT DOT about fixing the looming hazard of the unadulterated Route 2 exit ramp.  Little do they know, the CT DOT is waiting for a body count.

I challenge Kate Rattan (CT DOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator) and Sharon Okoye (CT DOT Safe Routes to School) to take a long hard (proactive) look at how Route 2 and the outdated interface with this neighborhood can be improved to the benefit of East Hartford and safety of the youths that are soon to attend the otherwise beautiful Connecticut River Academy.  I understand the the CT DOT is a large ship to turn, but to do otherwise would be negligent.

A view up the Route 2 ramp from the corner of the school yard
The exit ramp traffic is moving too quickly to read this sign.

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Wintry Mix

This past week is best described as a wintry mix.  Midwest, and the Northeast.  Small towns, no towns, tents in the wilderness, and back to the big city.  Hiking, biking, flying, driving, and buses.  Amazing graffiti. Ice and leaves.  Slippery rocks.  A really heavy bike that never should have existed, but did.

Crowd source funded bicycle graffiti in Urbana, IL.
I've been toying with this crowd source funded graffiti concept in Hartford.  If any CT local graffiti artists think this would be neat, get in touch with me.  Sort of like a mural (getting paid) but with the artistic freedom of a graffiti piece.  I've got a venue that is interested and could help publicize.  Lately I've been all about the Tavis / Skan stuff, which we saw a lot of today in Rocky Hill.
Beautiful sandstone canyon in Southern Illinois.
You wouldn't expect there to be massive cliffs, sandstone canyons, and mountain lions in Illinois.  I can confirm the first two, and the third is a maybe based on the eviscerated deer we stumbled upon while free-hiking in the Shawnee National Forest.  Valerie and I spent a couple of days hiking and winter camping over the holiday week.  It was awesome.  No one was there.  It might have been the frigid temperatures that resulted in our private camping and hiking experiences.  On night two of camping, I awoke with frozen condensation on my sleeping bag.  First rule of having fun - nobody died.

Back in Urbana, IL, I caught up with Joel at The Bike Project and put some time in on one of the oddest bikes I've come across.  This so-heavy steel rig from White Auto Inc was outfitted with some truly obscure Shimano components.  A rear disc brake was mounted by way of a self tapping screw.  The Shimano Positron shifter and rear derailleur were actuated by two cables - and indexed.  If it weren't for the inherent shitty quality of the rig, I might have adopted it.  The rear wheel had a radial hop of 1/4" and the front fork was misaligned, and I expect both were that way when the bike was new.  It served it's purpose as a loaner bike for a couple days, and was put back into TBP circulation.

White Auto Inc.  WTF?  Swedish tyres.
The top tube sticker had texture, like leather, to make it look fancy.
Yes.  This is a Shimano disc brake.  And that adjustment knob is a non-functional cover for the actual adjustment underneath.  More WTF.
And the Shimano Positron rear derailleur had two cables with a ball bearing for indexing.  WTF x 3.
Lovely mat brown finish.  
The Bradley Flyer is awesome.  Although the schedule can be sparse.
On my way back to Hartford, I caught the last bus back from Bradley to downtown Hartford.  If you are a downtown resident, the Bradley Flyer is awesome.  For $1.30 you get an express bus trip from Hartford to the airport.  Way cheaper than the $40 cab ride or parking a car at the airport.   The only drawback is that the schedule is sparse on the weekends and still not great during peak travel times.  It would serve Hartford well to increase the frequency of the airport express bus.  It would be way cheaper than something like Fastrak and I think the convention, tourism, and resident benefits would be significant.

On Sunday Josh and I wandered South and Southwest from Hartford.  I crashed on some slippery rocks and there was much graffiti and train tracks.  On the topic of graffiti, there is a final public input session on the Hartford Downtown North plan on Wednesday, Dec 11th at the Hartford Public Library.  You should go, and make sure that Heaven gets proper representation.
I heart graffiti.
And heart it even more when it incorporates existing features of the structure.
Sometimes a border catches your eye.
Josh really likes cracking ice that is suspended above the ground.

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