Thursday, February 26, 2009

Downtown Omaha Recycles

This blog post is not exactly about cycling, but rather, recycling.

I popped into Patrick's Market this afternoon to get some things needed at home. I like Patrick's because, to me, it represents a healthy downtown. Residents of downtown (which I am not) and downtown workers (which I am) need a full service market to shop. It's convenient for me to shop there, as I can more easily stop in on the way home from work than I can my own neighborhood market.

I think I read somewhere that Patrick's was considering installing a bike rack for customers, so that kind of ties this post back into the topic of going by bike.

Outside the store was the recycling and trash container shown pictured here. On the left is a hole for receiving mixed plastic, metal and paper recyclables. On the right is a hole for regular trash.

At first I thought this was a city owned fixture, but when examining the picture later, I realized it's provided by the Omaha Downtown Improvement District Association, a group of residents, property owners, and businesses in the downtown area. According to the group's website, there are a total of 10 recycling receptacles in downtown to aid in keeping Omaha clean and tidy.

The next time you're downtown and you see a plastic bottle or soda can lying about, pick it up and drop it in the slot. You'll get a little karma++, plus help to make Omaha a more attractive city.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cycling Fashion - An Experiment

This has got to be the most ridiculous thing I've done in years, but you only live once, right?

I'm wearing knickers.

For those of you in other English speaking parts of the world, I'm not talking about lady's underpants. Think knickerbockers, shants, pedal pushers, "manpris," or just plain old short pants.

I haven't invested much in this experiment. Basically, since reducing my waist from a size 36 to a 34, thanks to commuter cycling, I've got a few extra pairs of dress pants in my closet. I took a pair to a tailor, and for $16 (includes the $5 rush charge; made while I waited), I got a pair of pin striped cycling knickers.

I rode about 25 miles with temperatures in the 20s to 30s today and the knickers and sweater were both comfortable and warm.

Now I can ride my bicycle to a restaurant or bar, walk in, and proudly say, "Don't worry. I am wearing pants." Depending on the bar, I might get my butt kicked for wearing "capris."

The sweater was something I had in my closet. I'm still wearing warm tights and layers of technical fabric shirts, and a warm zip up jersey underneath, but I thought it would be fun to try something other than the hi-viz quasi-roadie look I've been fostering this winter. Another thing I'd like to add to complete this nutty look is a pair of crazy looking argyle socks that come up to my knees.

This photo looking down at my feet was taken by accident, but it turned out kind of neat.

Omaha has many recreational and sporting cyclists, but at this point, you don't see many people on the road with cycling gear that isn't related to traditional sporting road or mountain biking clothing. I'm hoping with the change in attitude about cycling for transportation, we'll begin to see some interesting outfits. For some photos of bike fashion in New Orleans, check out this blog post.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Man Needs To Know His Place In The World: Mine Is 112th

I'm lucky that my employer endorses bicycle commuting. Each year they participate as a Gold Sponsor in the Omaha Corporate Cycling Challenge, and also encourages employees to bike commute to work in the lead up to the group ride with participation in the Activate Omaha's Bicycle Commuter Challenge.

Additionally, they provide excellent bike parking facilities with two large wave style racks capable of locking up 20 or more bike in an area protected from direct sun, snow and rain, under the watchful eye of a security camera. Inside my employer's fitness center is a locker room with showers and temporary lockers to use while working out or just showering. For a fee of $12 a quarter, I can rent a small locker that I can use as my own.

A locker would be nice for me to store my toiletries, like a hair brush, razor, deodorant, and the like rather than having to transport them in my commuter bag each day. I could also leave a pair of dress shoes at work to further reduce the amount of items that I have to carry in my pannier. I'd also be able to leave my bike clothes and shoes in the locker rather than to pack them up to my desk.

The only drawback is that there is a shortage of rental lockers. Last week I spoke with the fitness center staff about renting a locker and found that there is a considerable waiting list. My name went on the end of a list 112 men deep (I presume the lady's lockers are in a similar state).

Fortunately, the management of the fitness center has adopted a policy that keeps things fair. In order to rent a locker, and to remain a locker renter, one must use the fitness center 25 (or maybe it was 20) times per quarter. If, at the end of a quarter, someone who currently rents a locker, or someone who is on the waiting list for a locker, has not met the minimum usage, they forfeit their locker, or their place in line. This policy prevents people from renting a locker that they seldom use and allows daily users (like bike commuters) to have a fair shot at getting a locker.

The fitness center staff wasn't able to estimate when a locker would be available for me, but I figure being 112th in line is better than not being in line at all.

Image credit: Marshall Brain

Friday, February 13, 2009

Six Inches of Snow: A Bit of Fun, With Lessons Learned

The Fun

All week long the weather forecasters had been talking about the big snowstorm that was to blow across the Great Plains on Friday. You'd hear it so much, and you'd begin to tune out. After all, the weather man or woman is often wrong just as much as he or she is right. (I'd love to have a job where I could be right half the time and considered a success)

Friday morning was just like any other mild winter morning that we've had recently. Dry, light wind, almost springlike. It was even in the 60s earlier in the week. By mid morning, we were reminded, without a doubt, that winter is not yet over. Almost without warning, snow began to fall and blow, at a rapid rate, all over Omaha. By evening, we had six inches of snow on the ground.

I was prepared for riding home in the snow, during an active snowstorm. At least, I thought I was. I put on the studded tires last night, packed my goggles, and I was already familiar with the sidewalk, trail, and back roads snow route to ride the five miles home without having to mix with road traffic. The cars were having a hard enough time on this slippery snow on roads largely unplowed without having to go around me.

Around 11:30am we got word at the office that we were being released for safety reasons. Around that time, I got a text message from Rafal (thanks, man!), who works nearby at the riverfront, saying that he was leaving, too, and he offered to give me a ride home in his car using his bike rack. I was looking forward to the bike ride, so I thanked him and declined, heading downstairs to get some lunch.

After lunch I got a call from the guard desk informing me that I had a delivery that I needed to come pick up. Surprise! My sweet wife had sent me flowers. You'll note that I have no way to bring these home, so I sure hope they look as nice after the extended holiday weekend.

After letting lunch digest a bit and catching up on some email, I changed into my winter riding clothes and headed off. The ride home was slow. It took me about an hour and 15 minutes to go five miles. Absolutely none of the streets I encountered had been plowed, perhaps with the exception of crossing 36th Street at Pacific. The Turner Boulevard and Field Club Trails were not brushed, and most of the sidewalks hadn't been touched, either. I found myself using "The Force" to try to stay on the trail where it winds around Dewey Park. Aiming for sidewalk cutouts was also a bit of a challenge. I had to try to get the ramps, but also play it loose if I hit a curb instead.

I'm sure I entertained the motorists at 28th and Douglas when I hit something that made my bike stop and fall over, while I went over the bars and off to the side, landing on my feet, running. It was similar to this, but without the roll.

I got all the way to the big hill going down Pacific Street toward the Field Club Trail when I realized that I had no brakes. The pads were so packed with snow that they did virtually nothing for many rotations when I pulled the levers. Note to self: next bike will have disk, roller, or hub brakes.

Riding on the Field Club Trail was magical. The snowy canopy of trees was worthy of a postcard. I wish I had taken a photo with my phone, but it was packed too deep in my bag. I found that as long as I parted virgin snow, and avoided the foot prints, the ride was smoother.

About a half mile from home, I stopped at a convenience store and grabbed sodas for the family. I knew they hadn't been out all day, and were probably wanting something tasty to drink. I felt funny going into the store with my balaclava on, but with my helmet and hi-viz jacket, I think it was pretty obvious that I wasn't there to rob the place during a snowstorm.

So after an hour and a quarter of low-gear riding, with lots of handlebar wagging and dead stops into drifts and the occasional curb, I was finally heading up my street. The unplowed hill is steep, so after all that riding, I had to dismount and push the bike for the last 30 yards or so.

The Lessons Learned
  1. Use the platform side of the pedal and/or wear regular shoes rather than being clipped on to the pedals. I need to be able to put a foot down or hop off the bike in a hurry when slipping around.

  2. Wear a balaclava when the snow is falling wet and sloppy. The snow melts on the face and a wet face is a cold face in February. Alternatively, grow a beard.

  3. Studded tires are great for ice and packed snow, but don't help so much in six inches.

  4. Consider a bike with something other than rim brakes for riding in deep snow. When rim brakes pads get iced over, it's like riding with no brakes.

  5. Allow a lot of time. I rode less than half as fast as my normal commuting pace.

  6. Keep a camera ready. It's beautiful out there. Cover it with snow and it's even prettier.

  7. Consider riding the bus when it's this bad. Though it was a lot of fun, accidents can happen, and sometimes it may be better safe than sorry. However, bring the bike just in case. Last year I rode the bus due to a predicted winter storm, and when my employer dismissed early, so did the transit authority, stranding me downtown until I got a ride home with a friend.
Riding a bike to and from work rocks. Do it on a snow day, when both schools and employers think it's too bad to be out driving in it and it rocks even harder.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bike Signage Goes Up On The Turner Boulevard Trail

The City of Omaha erected new signage along the Turner Boulevard Trail around January 28, 2009. If I remember correctly, that's the day I didn't see the new bike path stop signs in the morning, but did see them in the afternoon. It's remarkable to me that the City erected the signs with a quite a bit of snow and ice still on the streets. I guess a work schedule is a work schedule, and deadlines must be met.

These decorative stop signs are appropriate for the historic neighborhoods through which the trail runs. The stop signs are about half the size of a regular stop sign, and serve to remind cyclists to stop where the path crosses a street.

In my opinion, they also help to legitimize bicycle traffic to citizens who may not otherwise understand cycling issues by visually reminding motorists to expect the cycling traffic. I'd like to see some "bike crossing" signs around here as well.

At the intersection of 36th Street and Pacific stands a stop sign with some information about how to connect with the Field Club Trail. It reads:

BICYCLES [arrow pointing West]

PEDESTRIANS [arrow pointing South]
I would imagine that a similar sign will show up on the Field Club Trail at Pacific Street directing users up the hill toward 36th Street.

Originally, I thought that the Turner Boulevard Trail would connect directly with the Field Club Trail, but the placement and wording of this sign makes me think not.

These kinds of in-town, urban trails connecting neighborhoods together, and to the greater trail system go a long way to show the City's commitment to promoting cycling as part of the overall transportation plan.

More Turner Boulevard Trail information:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

OK, Mr. Oil Executive... I'll Buy Some Gas

My wife and I own two vehicles. She drives a 1998 Malibu and I have a 1999 S-10 pickup. We're not exactly the Joneses.

Since I started bike commuting last summer, I've found that I rarely drive the truck. It's useful for bringing home big things from the hardware store. Also, I bike or bus/bike home on Thursdays in time to pick up and deliver my daughter to her after-school drama classes. Other than that, it mostly sits in the driveway.

Every week I look at the fuel gauge to see how much is there, and this Saturday, while taking my daughter to a friend's birthday party, I noticed that it was getting darn close to "E."

As I filled the tank, I tried to recall the last time I had put gasoline into the tank. The best I could come up with was in November. Depending on when in November, it could be that I'd gone at least two months, and maybe almost three months without paying the Gas Man.

The price of a gallon of gasoline is much less than when I started bike commuting, but it still hurts to fork over $27.42 cents for my 15 and a half gallons of petrol. In bike terms, this could be a single pedal, a jersey, a pannier, some really nice socks, most of a helmet, gloves, lights, or several burritos (my favorite).

I expect the price of gasoline to go back up this Summer, so when it does, the savings from bike commuting will be even greater.