More adventurous than anticipated

This morning I went on the Portland ByCycle Autumn Adventure to Vancouver and back via the two I-Bridges.

In a previous entry I described the ByCycle rides thus:

These rides are awesome. They start after work and end before dark, are hosted by incredibly friendly and knowledgeable city staff, and explore Portland’s bicycle infrastructure and nifty places.

This was a special ride, happening on the weekend rather than after work, and longer than the after-work rides: 25 miles rather than 5-10. Since it says 25 miles right on the description, and I knew perfectly well it was four or five miles from my apartment to the starting point, you’d think I’d be pretty clear that it was going to be a longish ride. But somehow I wasn’t: I kept thinking 20 miles, because it says 2 hours and the usual PBC pace is ~10mph.

Furthermore, yesterday in Portland it was in the eighties and sunny — a perfect, warm, late summer day. But today proved true to the “Autumn” epithet of the ride. Even now at 3:30, it’s only 68 degrees. This morning it was 58, and raining. I also somehow had a hard time believing it was really going to be wet and yucky out there, even though it said so clearly in the forecast.

So my brain was not really ready, and the adventure was more adventurous than I anticipated. I was wearing long shorts and a short sleeve jersey and jacket, and my summer gloves. My jacket was soaked through before I even arrived at Peninsula park, although I was doing fine staying warm. But after we started out at the group’s slower pace, in a continuing rain, and headed out toward the Columbia river with its associated wind, I got colder and colder, and my left thumb actually went numb — I couldn’t feel it properly when I rubbed against it. It became clear that I should have been wearing leggings and fall/winter gloves, and possibly arm-warmers as well. (My legs were warm enough, but most likely keeping them warm made it hard to make enough heat to keep my immobile hands warm.)

Fortunately, one of the wonderful Transportation Options staff managing the ride, Janice, lent me a pair of winter gloves that she wasn’t wearing. I was infinitely grateful for these as we went up the I-205 path: a bike path sandwiched in between two four-lane freeway segments. The path itself was like a normal bike path (blocked off with a low fence, two-way and about 5 feet wide in each direction) but was very, very wet, and very, very loud: probably one of single the least pleasant cycling experiences I’ve ever had. I felt deaf and headachy for a while afterward.

After we got over to Vancouver, it stopped raining for the most part, and with the gloves I felt more comfortable and enjoyed the paths we took along the river. Unfortunately, one person broke a chain, and then another later took a spill on some diagonal railroad tracks. I was very impressed with how well the staff handled everything — they were totally calm and cheerful about it. I was able to offer some band-aids that I often bring with me on rides (though no neosporin; it was in the cabinet at home).

On the way back, it finally cleared up and I was mostly dry (except for my poor sopping wet gloves, socks and shoes) by the time I got back. As the Ecotrust Hot Lips Pizza was on my route back, I decided to stop there and dry out and feed myself. Yum.

The whole ride was quite fascinating even aside from the weather. The first section was through low-traffic streets in North Portland, and then in an area west of the airport that seemed like it was almost in a different city/decade — quiet, semi-rural roads and houses. Very nifty. Then Marine Drive and the Marine Drive path to the airport and the I-205 path — a narrow bike lane, and a nice wide multi-use path, but very wet and windy.

The approach to the 205 path was quite well signed and designed — the street crossing of Marine Drive wasn’t signalized, but it was signed, with a light-activating button, and junctions were fairly clearly marked. Getting off on the other side was the same way — the path came down, veered left, and abruptly we were in a quiet neighborhood full of trees, then on a quiet street.

The paths on the Vancouver waterfront were impressive, wide and smooth, with new condos behind them and lots of trees, bushes, and other plant life. We went through several parks and saw lots of signs for the path showing that a lot of effort was recently put into it to revive the waterfront area.

The I-5 path was a totally different story. Although plenty of signs (similar to Portland’s green bike route signs, with distances and directions) directed us there, once we reached it we had to cross the street in a random and nearly unmarked spot. The path itself is set to one side of the bridge, and is one-way on that side (I assume there’s another side but didn’t see it). It’s a shared bike/ped path that is not even wide enough for a bike to pass a pedestrian unless the pedestrian ducks to one side when a pillar isn’t in the way. Still, the experience was less inherently unpleasant than the 205 path (quieter, because you’re to one side and have some steel supports between), and the bridge itself is certainly more attractive — like the Hawthorne Bridge on crack, kinda. (I can’t believe anyone wants to replace it with a 12-lane monstrosity, but that’s another story. ) But when you get to the other side, the access is TERRIBLE. Words are inadequate to convey its TERRIBLENESS. You have to get off the path, go around in a confusing way, cross the street a few times, ride on the sidewalk, cross the street again, and finally you’re on a path, which then curves around confusingly again. I have no idea where we were, and I’m so glad that I did it with a group led by someone who knew the way.

The fact that it’s so completely easy to take I-5 in a car to Vancouver (I’ve never done it but I can tell you how to do it from my place) and so completely confusing to navigate and/or unpleasant to do it on a bike is a classic example of how our transportation system is set up to encourage driving. It’s easy to drive; on a bike, it takes dedication to navigate and a certain amount of chutzpah to deal with the unpleasant noise and limited facilities on offer.

The freeway-crossings part of this was sufficiently educational that I’m glad I went, even if I did get wet and cold. I do like riding in the rain — I just don’t like doing so at 10mph when I’m underdressed. Can I suggest an optional, but planned, mid-route coffee break next time?

Urban trails

Before I moved to Portland, I was fairly meh on bike paths/trails. I have no trouble cycling with car traffic, although on steep or windy roads, it makes me nervous if there is no shoulder or bike lane. Urban bike paths/trails are often poorly designed, especially when they are intended to be replacements for onroad facilities, or crowded with pedestrians when they are shared multi-use paths.

However, after two months here I am beginning to understand the purpose of such trails. It’s not that they don’t have the downsides that I listed above, it’s that they have a previously unforeseen advantage: fewer $#@%*#* stop signs.

If I want to go on a recreational ride out here, my options are different from Menlo Park. Back then, I could climb on my bike, ride less than a mile (encountering only three stop signs), and be on Sand Hill Road, a veritable freeway for bikes, and out into the hills (on shoulder-ful roads!) in less than three miles. What a paradise. And I recognized and fully enjoyed that paradise, knowing this was not the case for others, but not fully appreciating how annoying stop signs every other block (or more) are.

I am still exploring my options here and no doubt will eventually find some that work better for me, but at the moment I have to navigate a maze of stop signs, and then either 1) go straight up (okay, it’s only 6-8% grades, but that’s steep!); 2) (and) share the roads with heavier traffic than I’m used to, or 3) find a trail, which may be crowded, but, as previously noted, has no cars and many fewer $#@%*#* stop signs. And often is pretty as well.

Urban trails, how I have maligned thee, and how I repent, and thank the good works of previous Portland cyclists for the Waterfront, Springwater, Esplanade, and other trails that thread through Portland.

Ten is cool, seven is cool

Xtracycle on Twitter today pointed me to a great blog post from Doug about his seven years as a car-free commuter (in Minnesota, no less).

I mentioned to someone recently that it’s been nearly ten years since I owned a car. (Actually, I’m not sure I ever technically owned a car, since the car I drove in high school most likely still belonged to my parents at the time that I was driving it. But I was its primary driver.) I hadn’t realized it had been that long until I thought back over it and remembered that the accident that totaled our 1987 Acura Legend happened in August of 1999, and it’s now August of 2009.

I don’t think my story is as impressive as Doug’s. For most of the time, I haven’t lived anywhere with an icy/snowy winter, and I haven’t bike-commuted to work every day. First I lived on campus at Rice for two years, then rode a mile or two on my bike each day from the Violin House* to campus, then went back to living on campus for a year. One summer I borrowed a friend’s car.**

For the summer after college, I drove the family car when I went to work or out. Then I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, within 15 minutes walk of the Linguistics building at the university, for two years. Edinburgh has an excellent bus system which I frequently took advantage of, or I walked a lot; I didn’t ride during those years. (Cycle on the left side? No way! :)

When I came back, I drove the family car again for a few months before I moved to the Bay Area. In the Bay Area, I starting cycling again, often to work (and even in winter rains), but I usually took the train part of the way. I frequently rode along with other people in cars to get places that had proven to be annoying or impossible to get to via transit or cycling.

Now, in Portland, I walk and ride the bus a lot as well as cycling, and I (finally) have access to Zipcar. I’m not a frequent user, but it’s nice to know I can haul stuff or drive to remote destinations myself, without depending on the kindness of others. Of course, if I had an Xtracycle I could do more hauling, but I don’t see hauling four kitchen chairs even with an Xtracycle. I love Zipcar for being 90% of what Doug describes a car as:

Even though I didn’t drive much, having a vehicle sitting there, just in case I needed it, provided my mind with a feeling of security. It provided a mode of transportation that was convenient, easy, and available all the time. Peace of mind.

Zipcar claims that each of their cars takes 20 cars off the road (they ask when you sign up if you will be getting rid of your car). Pretty amazing, and a great way forward for letting go of your car without letting go of all that peace of mind.

Even though I’m much more impressed by Doug than I am by myself, I don’t think this is a contest of who’s the most impressive. I certainly don’t do it to prove anything or make milestones, and he clearly doesn’t either. We’re both happier when we’re not behind the steering wheel of a car, and for me that is and will always be the main reason I don’t drive much. I hope in ten years I’ll still be car-free and that even more people will find it a viable option for themselves, and discover their joy in a different kind of freedom from the kind a personal motor vehicle offers.

* The house in West U I lived in during my junior year of college. With a lot of violinists, hence the name.
** Partly as a favor to him so he didn’t have to drive it back to Oregon. And I locked myself out of it once — in the middle of Tropical Storm Allison.

Trust Google Maps

[Didn’t post this because I kept thinking I would add pictures, but it might as well be accessible while I fail to do so.]

A few weeks ago after work I was going to Merit Vegetarian Restaurant (548 Lawrence Expwy, Sunnyvale, CA). I asked Google Maps how to get there, since I haven’t been there before and I’m not very familiar with the roads in Sunnyvale south of my office.

It told me to take Maude to Fair Oaks. Maude is okay, but I wanted to take Arques, which is quieter and which I had to be on after Fair Oaks anyway, but Google was (sort of) correct: Arques is apparently not continuous, since two blocks of it serve as an offramp from Central Expwy. Which is, incidentally, a fantastic example of the way our road system is designed to favor cars. Arques would be an excellent through route for cyclists, except that it isn’t through because it’s repurposed as an offramp so that people can get to work faster because their roadway is limited-access. Fantastic.

I took Arques anyway; there’s less traffic than Maude and Fair Oaks. So I detoured by a block, managed to get into the left-turn lane on Fair Oaks to get back on Arques, and all was well. Until I got to Wolfe, crossed over, and discovered that there’s no bike lane on Arques for one block, presumably because of the way the road configuration at the intersection with Wolfe is set up. Fantastic, again.

When I finally got to Lawrence, I made another left turn and then discovered that Lawrence isn’t just an expressway, but a particularly sucky one. Unlike true limited-access, where there are only a few merge lanes at major intersections/exits, Lawrence in that section has a bunch of little roads that intersect it at “quasi-T” intersections: you can get off or on, but not cross the expressway. (Apparently Central in that same area has the same issue. Yuck.)

These are no fun for cyclists, to say the least. But luckily I wasn’t going far. I arrived at Merit with no further aggravations.

Leaving again, after a very good dinner of soup and tea, I recalled the quick search I had done earlier to find out how to get to Lawrence Caltrain (closer to the restaurant than my usual destination of (downtown) Sunnyvale Caltrain). Not surprisingly, Lawrence Caltrain is off of Lawrence, but the directions Google Maps gave me were strange, instructing me to do what looked like: exit right, make a U-turn, and go right back out to the original road. What? But both at the time I looked at it, and the time I left the restaurant, I was in a hurry and thought “Whatever. It can’t be that hard.”

As I left it started to rain, first lightly and then with increasing intensity. I got to the intersection of Lawrence and Kifer, which I recognized as the place to turn, but I saw a sign that I thought said to turn left for the train. That was wrong, it quickly transpired, but by that time I had already wasted precious moments waiting for a light to turn green for me (it didn’t), going down the wrong road, turning around, and coming back, and knew the train would have left without me.

Still, I wanted to find the darn place so that I could regroup and decide how to get home. So I went back the other way. I saw a sign that said “Caltrain Station San Zeno Way” but that didn’t tell me anything because I didn’t know where San Zeno Way was or how to get there. Little did I know that was actually the street that Google wanted me to turn on.

It turns out that what Google indicated in the first place was this:
At Kifer, exit right.
Go to the closest point where you can turn left legally, and make a U-turn.
Turn right on San Zeno Way, just before you arrive again at Lawrence.
Take San Zeno Way to the train tracks (a few blocks), and there you find the station.

Now, as it happens, as a cyclist there is something more clever you can do.
At Kifer, cross the intersection and stop in the pedestrian island.
Dismount your bike, cross the right-turn area, and walk around the little curve in the sidewalk.
Cross the next pedestrian crosswalk to the triangular island. On the other side of the island, get on your bike and start riding, heading in your original direction, but on San Zeno, not Lawrence.

What I ended up doing was giving up, taking Kifer back to Fair Oaks, and then California to downtown Sunnyvale (to get on California I had to run a non-sensored red arrow, so that was an adventure). There, I discovered the public restroom in the parking garage by the train was actually, miraculously, open.

And then, crazy person that I am, I decided to ride all the way home. Even knowing I would be completely soaked when I got back, and probably would only barely beat the next-hour train. Because the cool thing about cycling is that I am basically self-reliant when I do it, even in the dark and rain.

And it was dark and rainy, and people were driving crazily. I had someone turn left in front of me, blatantly, on purpose, when I had the right of way. People were going way too fast for the conditions. I was really glad when I got home. And much more inclined to trust Google Maps rather than my own opinions.

Warm advocacy fuzzies

I don’t do a lot of writing about my advocacy stuff on this blog. If you think the bike-riding stuff is boring, imagine what you would think about stuff that doesn’t even involve riding a bike, but instead involves a lot of meetings and emails and often-tedious government agencies and regulations about bikes, and you’ll see why.

But today, I’m getting a lot of warm advocacy fuzzies for once, and I want to share that joy with the world.

For the last two months I’ve been chairing an SVBC “workgroup” (a small committee of members) on the issue of Caltrain bike accommodation. Basically, there are a limited number of spaces for people to take their bikes on the train to do a multi-modal trip with train+bike, and the spaces are running out. And many people who do this really like doing it, and don’t have other good options, and they were being delayed by 10 minutes to an hour or more, unpredictably, by having to wait for the next train with an available slot. For a long time, Caltrain was resistant to adding more spaces, and cyclists were getting angry and frustrated. A cyclist was arrested due to poor management of a conflict over bumping.

Late last fall, everything came to a head and, as a result of pressure from the community and both bike coalitions (SVBC and SFBC), the Caltrain Joint Powers Board asked Caltrain staff to investigate the possibilities for increases in onboard capacity.

Since then, the workgroup has been brainstorming on ways to improve the system and the amount of capacity, taking input from SVBC members and other cyclists, and meeting with Caltrain staff to express our ideas and concerns. The people on the workgroup have been fantastic to work with — thoughtful, concerned, energetic, and determined to make progress in coming up with feasible ideas for near-term improvements to the situation.

Yesterday at the February 5 Joint Powers Board meeting, staff presented their plan and members and representatives of SVBC and SFBC and the community at large spoke in support of capacity and other system improvements. After staff presentation and lively discussion, the result is that Caltrain is going to increase capacity on its newer, more limited 16-space cars by 50%, and on the older cars (which had 32 spaces) by 25% to 40, a total increase over the day from around 4,000 slots to a little over 5,000. They’re also going to take other measures such as gathering more statistics and formalizing bike input to the agency through a Bicycle Advisory Committee. The JPB also asked Caltrain to try to direct extra bike cars (each train is guaranteed to have 1, but some have 2) to the high-demand trains during the commute hours.

This isn’t everything we hoped for (the workgroup’s position includes a number of other items and a slightly greater increase in capacity), but it is branded as an “interim” solution, and will be revisited. The workgroup will continue to meet with Caltrain staff, and to discuss more ideas for improving the system. It’s a lot more than we had the day before yesterday.

The best thing for me has been seeing the results of our work in print and online (Mercury News, San Mateo Daily Journal, SFGate, SF Examiner), and through emails flying back and forth, commending me, the workgroup, and SVBC for our efforts. I’m but a small cog in this big movement, but it’s very nice to get a few warm fuzzies recognizing the time and effort (and many, many emails) that I’ve committed to the project. And equally nice to throw them back to the workgroup, Caltrain staff, SVBC board and staff, and everyone who cared enough to tell Caltrain that they wanted more.

Caltrain and cycling are my main transportation options, and being able to combine them when I need to is personally very important to me. I’m ecstatic that that’s about to get a little easier.

SKS Raceblade fenders

The Terry website, when I bought Meg (and still — also, wow, it costs $750 now?!), said that there is enough wheel/brake clearance to allow the installation of fenders. I’m honestly not sure what Terry was thinking of when they wrote that, because although there is more wheel/brake clearance than a normal road bike, every full fender install set I’ve seen requires quite a bit more clearance than they give. I was skeptical of the claim to begin with since they use dual-pivot caliper brakes instead of cantilever brakes, and they don’t usually have much clearance.

Mike’s Bikes, however, stocks road bike fenders from SKS called “Raceblade” that attach to the rear seat stays and front fork using rubber straps. Unfortunately the kind they stock are too thin for Meg, whose tires are 700x32c (good for commuting), not 700x23c. So I had to special-order them. Most of the websites that come up when you search also only have the smaller ones, except Excel Sports.

But they are totally worth it. I’ve only done one ride with them so far, but they install easily and work well. The rubber straps are easy to put on and adjust, but stay put unless traumatized. The instructions show you how to position the fender correctly heightwise (for enough wheel clearance) and then adjust the metal/plastic holders so that it’s also positioned just behind the brake. The only challenging bit is that sliding the holders along the fender is a bit tough at first until you figure out how it works.

I thought a some grit would still come off because of the clearance between the front of the fender and the brake, but it doesn’t really (although some reviews say it does — maybe it depends on geometry, or maybe my bag is catching the dirt…). The only downside is that the brake gets wet and gritty because it has no protection between it and the wheel, where full-length fender installs protect the brake as well. But…Terry decided not to allow that, so, I’ll do what I can. Poor Meg though…her white frame is very dirty now!

Bike+hike

Whenever I do Portola loop on my bike, I always pass the entrance to Windy Hill OSP, and I have thought many times about riding up there and hiking, but today I finally did it. I wasn’t sure if it would work well. I thought I might be too tired, but that turned out not to be the case. Again, my W2W-acquired endurance triumphs. I’m tired now though, and planning a nap soon.

Going up on the bike takes about 50 minutes, about 8.5 miles. Mostly it’s up Alpine, and then a little ways on Portola. There are no bike racks (that I could find), but there are plenty of nice-sized trees to lock up to. Bike parking was a lot easier than car parking; the preserve was quite busy.

I wasn’t sure if I would want to do this, but ultimately we did climb up to the summit, elevation approx. 1900 feet (the entrance is around 550 ft). The hiking took about three hours, so we were going pretty slowly to cover the 5 or so miles up and down Spring Ridge Trail and the Anniversary Trail. We saw several coyotes and a small brown lizard. The views were terrific, but the thick haze did make them a bit less exciting, so it would be better on a really clear day. But you can see all the way to the ocean and all the way to Mt. Diablo. Really amazing.

Coming down on the bike is faster — 35 minutes — and of course, a lot easier.

Overall, a challenging and enjoyable thing to do. I think I’m going to try biking+hiking for more of the nearby preserves, like Arastradero and the Dish area!

Wet ride

It was raining like crazy all day yesterday. I had agreed to go to a party in the evening, so I decided, in the spirit of adventure, to find out whether my bike raingear was up to the task of keeping me relatively dry and comfortable on a 9.6 mile ride in moderate to heavy rain.

Answer: relatively comfortable, yes, relatively dry, no. I was warm enough (mostly; I wish I had worn my long-fingered gloves), but my jacket soaked through eventually, and the rain came in between my tights and shoes my ankles to wet my feet, so that even wearing waterproof shoes was only somewhat helpful. The jacket was marginally breathable enough, and the weather barely cool enough, that I didn’t sweat too much, but I got wet from the rain instead. This is the eternal problem of cycling raingear. Some people swear by Gore-Tex, others say that it leaks or doesn’t breathe. I’m thinking of getting a cycling cape — apparently a place in Oregon makes them.

The waterproof shoes did show their value when I ran into a huge puddle in Mountain View. The entire right lane was covered in water to a depth of about six or eight inches, and I was nervous about riding through it, so I got off, walked up the cross street until I could get on the sidewalk, and walked through a shallower part of the puddle that was on the sidewalk (still 3-4 inches deep). And my feet stayed dry through that.

As I’ve found before, rain pants are not worth it; I just wear my bike tights, which dry quickly and are warm and comfortable even when wet (the microfleece layer stays soft against my skin and doesn’t feel wet). I also don’t bother with a hood or helmet cover; instead I comb out my wet hair when I get someplace. I wear my cycling glasses because I hate getting rain in my eyes, but I do take them off every so often to wipe them off, and occasionally when I get tired of trying to see through them.

My conclusion is that I need to find a better upper (or maybe alternate several, using the current one for light rain, a cape for warm and wet, and a truly waterproof jacket for cold and wet), and get some of those booties/gaiters for my ankles to limit the drippage. I hate wet feet more than I hate almost anything else.

Overall, I did enjoy most of the ride. There wasn’t much traffic on a rainy Saturday between 5 and 6 pm, so the ride wasn’t stressful. The trees are turning colors, making the scenery interesting, and the cool, dull color of the light was soothing. It was nice to try the central route in relative daylight, and see the interesting things I passed by — parks, schools, cool houses. Everyone still had Halloween decorations up, which was also fun. I wasn’t in a huge hurry (though it took longer than I expected — oops) and was riding my old commuter bike, the first long ride she’s been on in a while, so I just toodled along, feeling relaxed. However, I was very glad to get home and change into dry clothes and warm up in my cozy blankets.

“Looming”/chase instinct as a cause of fear among cyclists?

I was riding to downtown Sunnyvale today and got passed by a couple cars while sharing a lane. Absolutely nothing notable about it from a traffic standpoint, except that for several of them I was checking my rearview mirror as they came up and I found that I had an instinctive fear as they approached, almost a startle reaction, in spite of the fact that I could see that all was well. This is unusual for me, in part because I know that strike-from-behind accidents are only around 4% of car-bike accidents (largely at night with unlit cyclists), much less than many other kinds, notably left-cross and right-hook accidents, and in part because my experience accords with that — risky passing is not uncommon, but it’s usually clear that the driver knows where I am, but just doesn’t know that they shouldn’t be that close to me in case I move for some reason.

Nevertheless, overtaking accidents are a disproportionately common fear among potential, new, or inexperienced traffic cyclists, to the extent that many people prefer separated paths in spite of the fact that statistics suggest that in urban environments they increase intersection conflict significantly while reducing only the infrequent overtaking collisions. People feel safer when there’s a barrier to overtaking. Why?

I speculate that it may be due to something inbuilt. Babies have an instinctive negative reaction to someone “looming” (a large object moving rapidly into their space, especially overhead). And we all also know that if someone is chasing you who means you ill, and they catch up to you, your goose is cooked. Cars overtaking both loom (they are large objects coming into the field of perception at a rapid rate) and chase.

In spite of knowing about the low frequency of overtaking collisions, I usually1 feel safer on bike-laned roads than on shared-lane roads where the lane is marginal for sharing (wide, unstriped shoulders feel the same to me as bike lanes — also interesting to note). It feels like I have my own space, into which the other person is not likely to move without a sign of some kind.2 So even I’m clearly subject to this fear, despite my experience and statistics telling me that it’s not proportional.

I would suggest that whether or not it’s true that this fear has some deeply-rooted basis, this might be a useful way to approach the people who fear this. Rather than dismissing their concerns blithely with “not backed up by statistics”, say “I understand that this situation feels really threatening to you. I even agree that it can feel that way. However…”

Both actual safety and the perception of safety are important. Without the perception of safety, people will not engage in desired behavior (like walking and cycling). But perceived safety shouldn’t conflict with actual safety (ideally at all, but in practice, excessively). Given city setup and cycling practice in the US, sidepaths are generally a terrible idea even if they ‘feel’ safer.

1There are exceptions, mainly bike lanes that are partly in the door zone. The stretch of Old County/Pacific in San Mateo County that feels least safe to me is the section with bike lanes, because I feel that the possibility for conflict is greater if I choose to ride out of the bike lane (as I often do). Ditto Lytton Ave in Palo Alto (feels less safe than University) and Middlefield Rd in the block right before Montrose heading toward San Antonio.

2LAB teachers and religious VCs will here say “You’re clearly too far to the right then, because with proper lane positioning you communicate to drivers that this is your lane.” This may be true in some cases, but I would also note that you can only communicate with people who are receptive to your communication. My observed experience is that my lane position can help or hurt, but that overall people behave more inconsistently around narrow shared lanes, especially those with varying or marginally wide width. And inconsistency is scarier than predictability — which is the whole of the VC mindset!

And as far as passing in adjacent lanes feeling safe or not, it’s rare for cars to be passed consistently, repeatedly, with high speed differential in the adjacent lane because car speeds are normally roughly comparable. When the speeds are not comparable, such as on a freeway at rush hour when the HOV lane is running 65 and the regular lanes are running 25-35, sit in the leftmost travel lane trying to merge and try telling me you don’t feel threatened by the looming, chasing cars.

Wednesday brisk ride: Foothill commute

Back when I was planning my mileage for training, I decided that for some of the weekday rides with higher mileage, I would try doing my commute on Foothill rather than Bryant. It increases the hilliness and the mileage substantially. I went for that option this morning and was pleasantly surprised by it. After you pass Stanford, it’s really no more crowded than Bryant, and except for a few tricky intersections, not much more challenging either, except for spending more time on Mary (where the right lane is exactly that annoying width that means you need to take the lane if there are parked cars, and cars are exactly infrequent enough that people are annoyed by you taking the lane).

Stats:
AVS: 15.3 mph (!)
DST: 16.3 mi (a bit more than I thought)
MXS: 27.3 (downslope after Page Mill)
Ride time: 1:03
Total time: 1:20 (real AVS 12.2)

I did get a few typical annoyances: getting buzzed a few times — by both cyclists and motorists, people trying to turn right at stupid times, etc. There was a particular pair of cyclists on JS/Foothill that annoyed me greatly. One of them buzzed me, and then they failed to actually go much faster than I did until nearly Arastradero, because they were stopped by lights. And after the intersection of Page Mill where the bike lane narrows, they were still riding two abreast where there was really no room, resulting in a truck honking loudly and sustainedly right next to me. I don’t think the honking was appropriate, but neither is riding two abreast for no reason except your own pleasure on a road with a 45-mph speed limit in the travel lanes.

I do wish that more drivers knew that passing cyclists isn’t their God-given right though. I feel like the lives of most cyclists in the state or nation would improve greatly if every driver’s ed course and driving test asked two basic questions and required them to be answered correctly: do cyclists have a right to ride on the road (yes), and what should you do when you find a cyclist in your lane (slow down, be patient, and pass when safe, leaving a margin for error).

There’s a stretch of Foothill where I think the road must be uphill, but it looks really flat. But every time I’m on that stretch I’m going 13-14mph thinking “Why does this feel so hard?” And then once I pass it I start going 20mph, so I think it’s an invisible uphill/downhill thing.

The weirdest intersection is the one for Foothill/Fremont/Miramonte/Loyola. I had forgotten how awful it is to navigate (you can see from the map why, because there are all those roads coming together and you have to exit, turn left, turn right, and turn left in order to turn left), and waited there a long time, but people were courteous and I got through without incident.

I always find the South Bay a bit mind-bending because I imagine Mary and Mathilda as E-W but they actually are very much N-S, so I kept thinking, “Wait, I got off on Fremont and I’m going east because Foothill is N-S, so how am I going to turn onto Mary and still end up going east?” forgetting that Mary is only logically E-W (in that it’s perpendicular to the train tracks/Central, which go “south” to San Jose) and is actually N-S.

I’m feeling pretty good this morning, and thinking I might do this commute again in the future, and not just for training — it’s more fun than Bryant and Middlefield.