Saturday, November 28, 2009

Metropolitan

The weather here has been awful since I've returned from Vienna. So while I've used my bicycle to get where I need to go, the long "welcome home" ride I fantasized about does not seem to be in the cards. Stretches like this remind me to take advantage of good weather whenever possible, and so I offer these photos from one of the nicer cycling days we had at the beginning of the month.

These photos were taken in front of the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse in Cambridge, Mass., which is a local landmark of sorts and has been functioning since 1917.

We do not usually have a good reason to visit this area, but I was intrigued by the Vassar Street bike path controversy that I had read about on Chic Cyclist and I wanted to show it to the Co-Habitant. To summarise, the Vassar Street path is criticised because it is "European style" - running mostly on the sidewalk and therefore conflicting with both pedestrian traffic and with the cars that frequently pull in and out of the various parking lots that cross the path. Compared to what I had been expecting, the path is actually not so bad in person. In fact, it is set up like a typical bike path in Vienna. The main issue is that cyclists must keep to a fairly low speed in order to ride on the path safely during peak traffic times - and Americans are simply not used to cycling at such low speeds and continue to ride at a brisk pace.

I am not certain what my stance is on the Vassar Street critique; it is a complicated issue. But I do enjoy cycling through the MIT/ Cambridgeport neighborhood during non-traffic hours. When these streets are empty, I feel that the personalities of all the warehouses and industrial sites and contemporary constructions really come out, and the abandoned urban landscape becomes "communicative". Is it all in my head? Maybe so. But that does not make the experience any less interesting.

19 comments:

  1. I notice that Rodney has a custom kickstand. Was the original one inadequate? The standard kickstand is one thing that made me ambivalent towards the Pashley -- I've seen an upended Gazelle with a similar one.

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  2. Giffen - Rodney is his vintage 3-speed bike; his Pashley has no name yet. The male Pashley comes standard with the same kickstand as Gazelle and other old-fashioned transport bikes. The Co-Habitant prefers this two-legged one, so he added it on without removing the original kickstand. I am not sure that either is better; it is really a matter of preference.

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  3. An opportunity to speak about my Pashley!

    The kickstand you see in this picture is a standard double-legged Pletscher kickstand that folds into a typical one-legged shape as it collapses. I saw them for sale on rivbike and VO (but I got mine locally for a similar price).

    Of note, the Pashley (in their infinite wisdom) welded a kickstand plate in addition to providing a rack-integrated stand (which so many Dutch bicycles also have). I might add that the rack-integrated fold-down stand is a royal pain in the behind and I've been planning to get an auxiliary kickstand ever since I got the Pashley. It's not just stability but ease/speed of operation that make the Pletscher stand a win-win. If I wanted to, I could lift both wheels off the ground by deploying two stands simultaneously.

    Filigree's Pashley also has the same Pletscher 2-legger in black. The Princess does not come with a fold-down stand.

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  4. I *so* totally knew that Rodney is the Raleigh. If you think this is bad, just imagine what I am like with names in real life!

    "If I wanted to, I could lift both wheels off the ground by deploying two stands simultaneously." Impressive! So just how stable is the Pletscher kickstand?

    Any idea why pashley didn't just use a kickstand like Dottie's Oma has? They seem a much more practical than the rackish ones.

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  5. Giffen - I think that there is no such thing as "the" best kickstand, and it really depends on (1) the specific bike you have, and (2) your personal preferences. The fold-down kickstand is a traditional kickstand for transport bikes, and I have spoken to people who swear by it and consider it superior to all others. I have also spoken to people who both love and hate the Pletscher 2-legged kickstand and likewise with "Dottie's" Hebie kickstand. Some prefer the Pletscher over the Hebie and will give you very persuasive reasons why the Pletscher is better. Others prefer the Hebie and - well, you get the idea! Unfortunately, it is all trial and error as far as I can tell.

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  6. In the third picture from the top, is the giant arrow intended to draw the cyclist's eye to the edge of the drain grate?

    Speaking of kickstands, I must admit that, though I would never install one on my commuter bike, the two-legged Pletscher I tried out last night on a "Gary Fisher Simple City" bike was very nice indeed.

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  7. Off-hours is okay on the Vassar lane, and on-hours is so-so?

    What does this say for the engineering and design of the shared path here? You'd think busy time would be where it would improve the "sitch."


    Is it just "That's traffic for ya." or do you think it is worse now with the change? Better?

    I believe that winter riding (snowbanks, ice) will prove that it's a mediocre-to-poor design.

    Non-automobile transportation stops in winter? No effing way!

    Thank you for for your honest opinions about the facility... we DO need to figure these things out and the sooner the better.

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  8. Ray - My personal view is that "vehicular cycling," when it is done properly, is safer and more efficient than a system of bike paths. However, I also understand that many people find this hard to believe because cycling on the road looks scary while the paths look so friendly.

    My favourite urban design for cycling is when a road is wide enough to accommodate both a cyclist and a car in the right lane, and when the city paints "sharrows" to remind vehicles that bicycle presence is legal and legitimate. I have had the best experiences in this sort of set-up.

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  9. this is sort of off-topic, but filigree's comment about the industrial history of cambridgeport makes me recall my college days in the area, before the cambridgeport/MIT area became the biotech mecca that it now is. i work in the building right next door to the storage warehouse, and it too has a significant place in the rich industrial history of cambridge (and, like many other buildings in the area, it too has succumbed to the decline in manufacturing and has become repurposed to support the growth of the biotech community).

    but an interesting urban fun-fact about the storage warehouse is that when viewed from certain angles, some of the block letters are obscured, and what is seen is "rage warehouse... ire proof".

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  10. I hope the weather gets better for you before launching into snowy winter. I know how nice it is to return home to one's own bikes after a long trip.

    I can't say much about the bike lane without seeing it, but I love the bright and clear markings. I wish all bike lanes were like that.

    The double leg Pletscher stand is the same my husband got for his Raleigh. I think that's what I'll get for my Rivendell.

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  11. I can't understand why the Vassar St. bike lanes have been criticized so widely. Certainly there are other streets in the city that are less safe and comfortable for cyclists?! Is it just because it's near MIT?

    As for vehicular cycling, as safe as it may be, most cyclists (I think), myself included, find it stressful and tiring. Simply much less pleasurable than riding on separate paths.

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  12. Giffen - I think the criticism is mainly due to the money that was spent to make the path and the fact that it was intentionally made the way it is. That's the way I understand it at least. I agree that there are other streets in Boston that are far more dangerous.

    somervillain - "rage warehouse"! Funny : )
    I need to read up on the industrial history of Cambridge.

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  13. I have ridden that Vassar st. bike path several times, and I will chime in on the side of people who do not like it; I think that anything that further removes the cyclist from the attention of drivers, and reinforces the idea that bikes "should be on the sidewalk" is a step in the wrong direction. I was actually in that area late today, and it is practically a dream to ride with the non-existent traffic of a late Sunday... normal commuting hours is a completely different story!

    Filigree; I completely agree with your view on "vehicular cycling".

    Here is a pic that better illustrates what Somervillain was referring to with regard to the "Rage, Ire" Warehouse... not taken by me, courtesy of Flickr ;)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/wseltzer/2334861943/

    I hope you had an opportunity to get out and enjoy how beautiful it was yesterday or today, as it looks like the weather is going to turn rainy again tomorrow.

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  14. love the retro style of those pictures..

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  15. Re stands: you might like to see what Henry over at WorkCycles has to say about them in his today's (Nov 30) entry: http://www.bakfiets-en-meer.nl/

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  16. My boyfriend and I have been having a discussion about bicycle culture, and how it applies to they type of facilities you should build, how people will use them, etc. Something that works in Europe may or may not work in an American city. Here in Atlanta, even the basic bicycle lane is a novelty, fraught with misuse and misunderstanding. And without snow to plow and pile on the roadside, we rarely have shoulders on our roads. As a result, my favorite riding conditions are on low volume, multi-lane roads where I can take an entire lane for myself. I think I'm spoiled.

    See my post at http://idreamofbicycling.blogspot.com/2009/12/good-bad-and-overgrown.html on this very subject.

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  17. I am am not a fan of vehicular cycling and feel a reliance on it has held back the US and UK from developing a fully fledged cycling culture. I do not feel we will ever see cycling in the numbers found in Holland or Denmark until we build a proper infrastructure of separated paths. I don't think most ordinary people want to share road space with HGVs and nutters speeding in cars. The bike path you describe sounds much like the piss poor attempts at cycle paths found all over the UK. The Dutch have a set of standards which show how to build safe paths which prioritise bicycles over cars. The WHO are now saying this is the way to move urban design forward... I could go on about this for several days but David Hembrow says it better than I can...
    http://hembrow.blogspot.com/

    best
    Nipper

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  18. Nipper - Thanks for your comment. Two things:

    1. I am very familiar with David Hembrow's blog, as well as with the arguments advocating NL-style paths. I am also very familiar with the flip side of the coin - John Forester's view. Both views make sense from the perspective of the persons advocating them, and I respect both views.

    2. As a relatively new cyclist who lives in both US and Europe, I can only speak of my personal, limited experience. I often use and enjoy cycling paths. And often, I enjoy them more than vehicular cycling. However, I wish to retain the option of vehicular cycling, because I have seen first hand that lanes and paths can be designed in such a way as to restrict the cyclist or to put them in danger. In Vienna, I have seen what can happen when the paths and lanes are mandatory (i.e. cyclists being forced to ride in the "door zone"), and I do not feel safe in those conditions. I know that the ideal bike path design would not have such flaws, but in real life there is no such thing as ideal, and so I wish to retain the option of vehicular cycling.

    Those are my current views. They are flexible and are still forming, and I am always open to the views of others.

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  19. I will dig deeper into your site when I get a chance

    I love the shots!

    good stuff.

    gotta pack my bags and tune my bike for a cyclocross race in the am
    this all needing to be done before going out for a drink with the wife

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