Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bells Are Ringing, Car Doors Flinging... Holiday Time in the City

Just as I start to think of myself as a seasoned transportation cyclist, something happens to throw me off my game. Yesterday I had one of the most stressful rides ever. It was a 10 mile route out to the suburbs that passed through several town centers. Despite it being the middle of a work day, traffic was unbelievable and I kept trying to figure out what was going on. Then it hit me (almost literally - as two car doors swung open simultaneously directly in front of me and a pedestrian jumped into my out-of-the-doorzone line of travel at the exact same moment): It's holiday shopping time and people are on their lunch breaks.

Don't get me wrong: I am glad to see so many shoppers patronising establishments in their local town centers instead of going to the mall or shopping online. I've heard campaigns on the radio promoting local holiday shopping, and I am certain that I am seeing more of this trend now than in previous years. The lively community feeling seems to be returning to places where it had been absent for years; it's fantastic. But assuming that most of the holiday shoppers are indeed local (why else would they visit tiny stores selling things like bespoke stationery, knitting yarn, baby clothing, and jewelry crafted by women who teach at the local arts center?) it is ironic that they choose to drive. Parking alone must eat up a good portion of their lunch hour, which probably explains why they run in and out of the shops like mad, swing open their car doors without looking, then shout in irritation at cyclists like me merely for being there and almost getting killed by them. They would probably be happier if they walked, as would the rest of us. I know that some town centers have considered banning parking or car traffic during peak shopping times, but there is resistance from business owners - who believe this will deprive them of customers.

Anyhow, I write this not so much to complain, as to warn those who are new to cycling during the holiday rush: Be careful out there and take alternative routes if possible. After almost getting doored for the nth time, finally switching to a trail for the last portion of my return trip was a welcome relief. Peace and quiet and dirt and gravel and no swinging car doors: I'll have that on the rocks, please. And I'll walk or ride to do my holiday shopping.

35 comments:

  1. Part of the problem is the design of that bicycle lane you are showing in the picture above. Properly designed lanes would have a buffer zone between the right edge of the lane and the car door zone.

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  2. True, but the picture does not necessarily illustrate my route (which was varied and mostly did not contain bike lanes).

    When there is a great deal of traffic, I find that it is not possible t comfortably "take the lane" without having a dense line of cars continuously honking at you; you've got to stay to the right anyhow and on narrow roads that makes staying out of the doorzone tricky. Think Rt 16 in Watertown, Newton and West Newton.

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  3. yeah- I hate rt 16 in Newton.

    It's crazy all right out there. I need to make a run tomorrow to the Camera shop, toy store, ski shop and maybe food store. Love that it's all in a circle around me. I had to go to Natick for a particular thing and was so cranky to have to be there. No more!

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  4. These problems clearly transcend the pond!

    http://cyclestuff.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/woeful-wednesday/

    Sometimes being a cyclist is akin to taking the lead role in' Frogger'(the 80's arcade game). I read an interesting article recently that considers the impact of cycling on retail sales. The link is here:

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2007/11/cyclists-are-better-shoppers-than.html

    Hope you find it interesting - the posts at the end contain some good links - and glad to read that you were unhurt.

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  5. ...ugh, Rt 16? You are in my neck-of-the-woods and I totally appreciate the stress that route can cause, even on a good day.

    on a positive note, though... at least most of the college students are on break and out of town :)

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  6. This is exactly why I avoid downtown Portland on weekdays, the traffic is horrendous. Though, the worst part of it here is that you just get stuck in traffic jams or waiting to cross streets that have a long line of traffic flowing down them, which is annoying, but at least not dangerous. But you never feel like you can just relax and meander, you have to always be watching out. There are a couple of freeways that run right through parts of downtown, and the areas where there are exits onto and off of the freeways are almost always, during the week, either at a dead standstill, or else people come flying on and off the freeway, not thinking that they are entering a dense, slow-moving part of the city.

    I think Portland downtown loses some people who might otherwise stop and hang out for a while because of this. I actually really like Portland's downtown, there are a lot of great shops and restaurants and even entertainment and some nice parks, but it's just not that pleasant to be there a lot of the time, especially during the week, unless you're inside a building - once you leave the building, you have to start watching out again.

    I hope that businesses will more and more start to realize that if they could change to some extent how people get to their shop, they could get more people to their shop, and that having foot and bicycle traffic near their shop is good for their business.

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  7. Having to ride it a handful of times a month, I've made peace with Rt 16 and even find it soothing in a way. But yesterday was really something special. Cars would dive into parking spaces despite the driver clearly seeing me in their line of travel. Doors swung open with abandon. Non stop honking everywhere. And very frazzled stressed out shoppers!

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  8. I agree with the feeling, but doubt walking is really a viable alternative in many cases. There are packages to carry, after all, and if the shopping district is more than, say, a mile from work the walk both ways could eat up the lunch hour. If only we had, say, a viable package delivery service, shops closer to work, not to mention public transportation -- in other words, Europe, or something like the America pictured in pre-war movies. One can dream.

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  9. Then there's "free holiday parking":

    http://arlington.patch.com/articles/free-parking-for-weekend-shoppers

    Some of the problem (I think) is that "bike routes" are often weirdly chosen. In Belmont, it's often the case that big main roads are proclaimed as "bike routes" because they are known as the main routes, when in practice, I (experienced cyclist, traffic-tolerant) avoid those roads, I recommend that my kids avoid those roads, etc. The best roads to ride on for cyclists, may not be marked as bike routes. I think this is partly a side-effect of a too-literal application of "same roads same rules" -- if you're willing to cut across a road at a signalled pedestrian crossing, you get a much better route. If you're willing to ride wrong-way for all of 100 yards, you get a much better route. If you are wearing the SRSR blinders, you won't see those routes as options.

    This is amusing... http://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Hillside+Terrace&daddr=Hillside+Terrace&hl=en&sll=42.383935,-71.16551&sspn=0.004394,0.004844&geocode=FTG5hgIdDRbC-w%3BFSq-hgIdcBfC-w&vpsrc=0&dirflg=w&mra=ltm&t=m&z=18

    The obvious route includes a steep-but-bikable path connecting the two paved street ends.

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  10. Jon - I am trying to think of how similar situations are handled in, say, Viennese suburbs - which also have little town centers but are otherwise residential-only. I guess they have very frequent trolley and bus service that makes it easy to hop on/ hop off even with an armload of packages. I remember going to IKEA (which is hell knows where in the outskirts of Vienna), on my lunch hour in January, and returning to work with bags full of stuff via the trolley/bus service. It's not so crazy.

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  11. @V - there's a ski rental/sales place on Washington St, not too far from Harris. Centre Ski and Bike. I think they used to be on Galen (a really terrible street).

    I improvise a route along the Charles, crossing at Bridge, R on Linwood, and then on 16 after all the crazy is missed. I cut over on little streets (Davis/Dunstan/Cross) if I need to get to stuff on Washington, because that road is awful, always.

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  12. But they don't have a line of people paying for the bus, taking 10 minutes to load/unload. You don't have to reach into your pocket while holding a crapload of loot to fish out a ticket and make it work with the reader or remove the smart card from your wallet and get it to read.

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  13. MDI is right. In Vienna (an many other EU cities) they don't check your train/bus/trolley tickets and you just walk right in. Everything functions a lot quicker that way. It is assumed that you have a ticket (or more likely, a monthly/yearly pass) and fear of random ticket controls with enormous fines keeps people honest. I wonder whether that system could work in the US.

    Thanks dr2chase, I will have to check it out.

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  14. @Velouria our streetcar and light-rail work that way - you have to have a ticket (or pass), but you don't have to show it to anyone when you get on.

    The other thing that would make it faster if you didn't have to show your fare getting on the buses, is you could load and unload at both doors. This would also help the usual "get in the door, take two steps, stop. Driver asks you to move back, take another two steps, stop again. Driver asks you to move back again, take another two steps, stop." phenomenon. Americans getting on public transportation is one of my biggest pet peeves with the whole system, so many have such an aversion to losing their personal space bubble.

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  15. Ah, class warfare comes to the holidays. Where else would it be?

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  16. @V 11:34 AM:
    Los Angeles Metro trains work exactly that way. So yes, it can work in the U.S. Bus drivers do check as there's a convenient single point of entrance.

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  17. In Pittsburgh we have "pay enter" and "pay leave" depending on whether the bus is travelling towards or away from downtown (downtown itself is free). I think the idea is to speed things up, and theoretically this could work really well since people could pay up front and exit through the side door on the way to downtown, reversing the process on the way out. This would result in a more or less orderly flow of people through the bus.
    However, of course, they don't do it that way. Entry and exit is always through the front, unless an exiting passenger requests the side door be opened. So at every stop, the exiting passengers get off, paying or not depending on what direction the bus is going, then the entering passengers enter likewise (often having to be reminded by the driver whether they should pay), and everybody tries to crowd up front so they don't have to fight their way through the crowd when the bus arrives at their stop.

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  18. I like how you said you've made peace with the route and "even find it soothing in a way". Great attitude!

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  19. There is a ski shop on RT 16 in west Newton. I have to pick up rental skiis and boots for my two.

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  20. uh yeah what Dr2Chase said- that's the name. they used to be on Centre street and comm ave I think. Galen is insane!

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  21. I don't think the problems that you've described are limited to Beantowm or other urban centers. I live in a populated surburb, and over the past couple of weeks I've notice that driver hostility/lack of courteousness is ramped up. There are no bike lanes in the towns that I ride through. So, negotiating any shopping area is combat duty. A few dyas ago, one of my own neighbors cut me off while leaning on the horn in a rush to pull into his driveway. He was shocked when I confronted him on his doorstep about his poor driving. It's a good time to get out the MTB or CX'er and get off the asphalt.

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  22. "I don't think the problems that you've described are limited to Beantowm or other urban centers"

    Oh of course not; didn't mean to imply that.

    MamaVee & Dr2Chase - I am determined to go skiing locally this winter. If there's ever snow that is. Otherwise, cycling year round is just fine by me!

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  23. Ski local! Wachusett Mountain has some kind of ski-train deal with the T commuter rail. Not that it's biking-related (I guess you could go on the weekend and ride around N Central MA and S NH towns).

    In Pittsburgh the scheme works as Jon describes - and works well in the city center 'cause it's a free zone and all doors can open. Outside the center - like in the many city commercial districts - it's outside the free zone, so people are only supposed to use the front door, and indeed the buses are too crowded for that.

    Bus rapid transit proposals sometimes include the idea of a 'paid platform' like in Curitiba, Brazil - so all doors can be used and there's no delay waiting for people to count their change. If you aren't paid up you can't get on the 'platform'. Could this work here? Would they make the turnstiles work with bikes?

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  24. You don't have to show your ticket or go through a turnstile to get on Dallas light rail, but the DART police do get on the train and do random ticket checks. However, to get on the DART buses you have to swipe your ticket or pass in the reader at the front of the bus.

    I think holiday madness is here too. We were driving to the dog park the other day and almost got in an accident a couple times because other drivers kept pulling out without looking, stopping at a green light, etc. I wish we had some of those town centers that were closed to cars.

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  25. If you really want to get yourself in the mood for some holiday cycling, check out this cycling themed parody of the 12 Days of Christmas. Everything down to a Cartridge and some Bearings.

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  26. Taking the lane: here in NJ there is always some guy or gal who will try to squeeze by you, no matter how narrow the road, how much oncoming traffic, or how far into the lane you are. In fact, when I've been riding fairly far towards the road center I've had drivers cut around me on the RIGHT, driving on the shoulder rather than wait for a bicycle.

    That being said, MOST of the drivers have been pretty courteous so far, but I'm avoiding the areas around big shopping centers.

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  27. yay local skiing. If there is snow but the roads are clear- you should come out to the Weston Ski track. x-country skiing or snow shoeing. I went once last year and plan to go this year as much as I can. I should have bought x-c skies though.....

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  28. Those who love XC skiing should check out She Rides a Bike. Karen lives in Colorado and basically switches to skis for transportation once the snow sets in! She actually skis to work(!!) - so cool.

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  29. When Portland actually gets enough snow to last more than a few hours (once every 5 years or so), you often see people cross-country skiing down the streets :) Now THAT'S local skiing :)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/poetas/3128040351/

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  30. There were people skiing down the street here in the 'hood during the blizzards of last winter, but the plows cleared the snow fairly quickly. This time my ancient LL Bean skis will be nice and ready in case the roads are skiable again!

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  31. In 20 years from now when the number of bicycles will be equal to the number of cars, all cars will have sliding doors.

    (A dream for the Christmas season.)

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  32. Ugh...I feel your pain,V. People are morons when they drive (and yes,I'm including myself when I have to drive in that remark as well). Be careful out there.

    Disabled Cyclist

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  33. Perfect case for pedestrianisation of downtowns. I only Xmas-shop when in Europe, in the provincial towns around my inlaws: all downtowns are pedestrianised all year long and that makes for the best shopping experience...

    "I am determined to go skiing locally this winter. If there's ever snow that is."

    Tell me about it. It's gonna be a dreadful season for our industry. They already announced a green Xmas.

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  34. Skiing to work -- would love that. A friend of mine commutes on skates in the winter. He lives in Ottowa.

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