Tag Archives: biking

Why I sometimes ride in the sidewalk

As I’ve noted before, I commute by bike in warm weather.  I take Washtenaw Avenue, which has no bike lanes, from my home all the way up to the Medical Campus.  Because of the aforementioned lack of bike lanes, the high speed limits, and the heavy traffic on this road during my commute hours, I ride mostly on the sidewalk along Washtenaw, contrary to the official state guidelines.

I understand the reasoning behind the League of Michigan Bicyclist’s rule that cyclists should ride in the road, because for various reasons, it’s generally unsafe to ride in sidewalks.  I try to comply with this rule in high-density, slow-traffic areas like downtown Ann Arbor, or in Detroit where the roads typically have plenty of empty lanes.

But I think it’s stupid to say bikes shouldn’t use the sidewalks on stretches of road like Washtenaw which have heavy traffic and high speed limits.  Yes, drivers are supposed to share the road, but on the few times I’ve rode in the street I’ve feared for my life.  Even when following the rules of the road, halting at red lights (which I always do) and sticking to the right hand lanes, I’ve encountered hostility from drivers who want to kill me.  Meanwhile, for most of Washtenaw, the pedestrian presence on the side walk is pretty light.  I slow down and look carefully for drivers whenever I reach an intersection, and halt if I’m not absolutely sure a driver will yield right of way.  When I do get stuck behind a pedestrian, I slow down and go around them, usually on the grass.  I don’t care what the official guidelines are.  They are simply not appropriate for the particular conditions of the route I take, and I don’t see how mindlessly following them makes any sense.

When & why road diets might not work sometimes

In my last post I questioned Ann Arbor City Councilman Mike Anglin’s votes on a couple of transportation-related items at City Council’s April 2 meeting.

For the vote on parking minimums in the Downtown Development Authority’s district, Dave Askins helpfully summarized Mr. Anglin’s objections in a comment.  Meanwhile, the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition shared a link to the an AnnArbor.com story on the proposed road diet for Jackson Road.  Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link and scrolled down to see what the site’s commenters were saying.

I’ve found the commenters on AnnArbor.com, as with most other mainstream news sides, are predominately right-leaning in their politics, which in turn carries with it a bias toward single-occupant driving and against alternative forms of transportation.  As I anticipated, there were plenty of commenters who, like Mr. Anglin, opposed the road diet for various reasons.  The strongest argument against was one I hadn’t considered — namely, that this stretch of road is a bus route, so traffic would no longer be able to pass on the left in either direction when the buses stopped, as they do frequently.

Depending on the frequency of the bus, I thought that was a pretty reasonable objection.  While I ride the bus myself, I drive Washtenaw Avenue often enough to understand the significant delays drivers experience when driving behind a bus.   It turns out the Jackson route, the #9, only runs every half hour during peak weekday & Saturday traffic hours, and only hourly on Sundays.  On this schedule, a road diet would probably be disruptive to 9-5 weekday commuters, but minimally so for drivers during the rest of the week.

Conceivably, this could be a feature of the road diet rather than a bug:  that some rush-hour drivers, frustrated by the delays, would be able to switch to alternate routes or schedules, reducing the congestion.   Even more likely, the addition of the bike lanes could make people more likely to consider cycling along this route and leaving their cars at home.   However, if you are the kind of person who spends a lot of time commenting on AnnArbor.com (i.e. an older person who considers himself a “conservative”), you are also likelier to depend entirely on driving to get around, and hence will not be convinced that you’d benefit from these alternatives.

An alternative to bike lanes that popped up on the comment thread was the idea that cyclists should ride on the sidewalk in the absence of a bike lane.   I’ll devote my next post to recounting my own philosophy on that topic.

A month in Motown

I’ve been spending more time in Detroit lately since I got a membership at FitnessWorks.  It’s just a couple of blocks from my man’s condo, so I no longer have to choose between going to visit him and getting a workout in.

We celebrated our anniversary a month ago with dinner at Atlas Bistro, then wandered from the softly lit refinement of the restaurant to the raucous college street party of Dally in the Alley.  As an alumnus of two Big 10 schools, I’ve witnessed plenty of drunken student bacchanalia, but Dally offers a pretty unique experience.  Being Detroit, it’s way more racially integrated than anything you’d see in East Lansing or Ann Arbor, and Wayne State students seem edgier, more worldly, than their peers in those towns.

As I’ve previously mentioned, we’ve been biking a lot lately.  (Seems like everybody bikes in Detroit these days, maybe because the DDOT bus system has collapsed.)  We rode in the Tour de Troit a couple of Saturdays ago.  There are plenty of great photos from this year’s event online (see this Flickr set from LarryTheBiker) that will give you a sense of the unexpectedly great weather we had.  I made it all the way around Belle Isle, which I’d been planning to skip, and was glad I did — the island was beautiful in the early morning light, with downtown shimmering across the river in the distance, and we still easily finished the ride from New Center (where we joined it) in two hours, beating most of the crowd for the after-party.   The food and beer provision was much better organized than last year.  People seemed happy, &  Roosevelt Park looks like a million bucks thanks to the efforts of Corktown residents.

We enjoyed wings and some tasty sides from City Wings that night.  The place was empty when I went in to place my order, so we’re worried it might not make it too long.  (Get your asses over there to enjoy it before the place closes.)  The next morning I finally made it over to the new Astro Coffee, which by contrast was bustling and crammed with hipsters (as well as Toby Barlow).  So I’m optimistic that Astro will make it longer than did Mercury Coffee, its predecessor across the street.

This past Friday night, my man took me to Los Altos, a Mexican restaurant buried much further in Southwest Detroit than we usually go.   As with the Pupusería I mentioned back in the spring, some of the best values in Mexicantown lie off the beaten path.  Los Altos had a huge menu with a wider and more exotic range of authentic Mexican dishes than you find in most restaurants in Mexicantown.  I’m an adventurous eater, and ordered the lengua (beef tongue) entree.  For $6 it came with a huge pile of lenga, corn tortillas, charro beans (which I prefer over refried), rice, and a pile of lettuce, tomato and onion to garnish.   Almost as soon as we were seated a huge tray of chips, guacamole, two salsas and pico de gallo appeared.  My boyfriend had tacos with carnitas, the tacos running $1 or maybe $1.50 apiece.  It wasn’t a flawless experience: the queso flameado was soupy and the horchata unmemorable (but it was $1 so what did I expect?).  The other main drawback is no booze, but it helped keep dinner cheap.

Saturday morning we biked over to Eastern Market, a 25-minute ride from New Center.   Across from the Urban Grounds coffee truck, a vendor called Sweet Delights lured me away from the pricy French pastries I’d been eyeing.   This modest one-man operation more than lived up to its name — I bought a slice of frosted banana cake and an M&M bar, both decent-sized, for a dollar each.  Imagine my surprise when I turned the bar over to unwrap it and found out Sweet Delights is based in my hometown of Bay City and that, moreover, they sell their goods at a number of stores there.   No clue how they manage to make any profit driving all the way down to Detroit and selling at those prices, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a steal.

Whenever I’m fighting through the bustle of the market, I think of Ed Glaeser and all the other experts across the country busily dissecting Detroit’s decline.   I wonder if they might see things a bit differently if their local guides had brought them to Eastern Market on a Saturday morning, or to the seedy chaos of Dally in the Alley, or to Roosevelt Park right after the Tour de Troit.  The national media flock to Detroit to revel in the emptiness and strangeness of its empty quarters.  For us locals, it’s bemusing; there’s nothing novel about the environment in which we go about our daily business.  We go where the action and the people and the good food are;  we know where to find celebration, conversation, entertainment any night of the week.  We just don’t get what the fuss is about.

Cycling as activism

I started biking home from work last fall, & this spring I started making it a round trip.  It’s about 3.7 miles each way, & a year ago, the thought of making that trip twice each day would have been overwhelming to me.

Now I can’t imagine living any other way.  It’s possibly the best decision I’ve made all year, and one of the most significant & rewarding lifestyle changes I’ve made in several.  It’s been key to helping me control my waistline and finally start to lose weight, not to mention build stronger legs.  It’s made it easier and safer for me to make it home after a beer or two (not advocating drunk cycling, of course!).  And it’s helped me become a safer and more conscientious cyclist.  I’ve even decided to try biking into the winter months this year, purchasing a cycling cap at REI to wear under my helmet when it gets cold for that very purpose.

In light of the many benefits that biking has bestowed upon me, I want to give a shout out to a few organizations and colleagues:

  • Tour de Troit, which my man* & I are riding in for the second year in a row this coming Saturday.  It’s one of an ever-increasing number of organized rides taking place in Detroit.  My first time around last year, it was the longest ride I’d undertaken to that point and it helped show me I could not only ride that far, but enjoy it too.   In every neighborhood we passed through, the residents universally gave us an enthusiastic welcome.  It’s a great way to see the city, including parts many of us would probably never explore on our own, and I can’t wait to do it again.
  • The Washtenaw Bicycling & Walking Coalition, which has an active listserv I recently subscribed to.   It’s filled with insightful commentary and plenty of debate.
  • The Streetsblog Network, which serves as a clearinghouse for the interests of pedestrians, cyclists and anybody else who values safe streets and alternatives to motor vehicle transport.  Streetsblog tirelessly publicizes these issues on the national level and by helping to alert and engage readers in advocacy, most recently when Senator Coburn briefly (and, in part thanks to Streetsblog, unsuccessfully) held the federal transportation funding extension hostage solely for the purpose of stripping funds for bike and pedestrian safety projects.
  • Local blog M-Bike.org, which does a great job of publicizing and promoting rides in southeast Michigan.  It also offers diligent political advocacy similar to Streetsblog’s but focused on the state and local level.
  • And, last but not least, this blog’s dear colleagues at Damn Arbor, who introduced me to the novel genre of bike porn.  (Speaking of which, I can attest that there is nothing that drives pageviews through the roof more than casually including the word “porn” on your blog from time to time.  This was by far my most-visited post until my Richard Florida piece.)
There are plenty of people who hate cyclists and resent our presence on the roads.  I’m impressed by how effectively we are mobilizing and educating ourselves & others in response.  It’s one of the few bright spots of popular activism in today’s USA and has truly transformative potential for public health, transit, our economy, and the environment.  I encourage all able-bodied readers who aren’t already biking to take the plunge and start incorporating it into your daily routine, whether it be to work, to school, or for errands, and everybody else to check out the blogs and groups I’ve mentioned above.   I suspect that, like me, you’ll be glad you did.

*I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge my boyfriend, who first suggested we get bikes and register for Tour de Troit.  Without his encouragement all those months ago, I wouldn’t be writing this post.