Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bike to Work Week diary

Monday, May 12. Under lowering skies, Cedar Rapids residents began their observation of National Bike to Work early this morning, meeting at Red's Public House (112 2nd St SE) to hear Mayor Ron Corbett's official proclamation.

We had a good crowd, considering the weather and the hour:

Red's had a special for those who got there in time. I'll have to remember this next year.

After Mayor Corbett read the proclamation...

...we went on a group ride up 3rd Avenue as far as 19th Street, then back on 4th Avenue. Here we are, occupying the rightmost of the three lanes on 3rd.

The ride was fine: the rain held off, and I trust we all got to work (or in the case of one girl who came with her parents, school).

We in Cedar Rapids obviously still have a lot to learn about mixing car, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Riding down 19th Street, which is narrow but heavily-trafficked, was awkward. Even on 4th Avenue, which has two lanes heading downtown, one driver was clearly flummoxed when we all occupied one. She hovered anxiously as she moved slowly alongside and slightly behind us in the left lane, while cars lined up behind her. Eventually she passed, and all was well. (But if she'd wanted to turn right, that might have been tricky.)

Later, when I was downtown searching--in vain--for the "City's first bicycle pit stop" advertised to exist at 1st Avenue and 4th Street, I heard a squeal of brakes as a taxi stopped--just!--for a pedestrian in the crosswalk.

There also is the matter of road conditions. As the town builds ever outward, some of our older streets resemble the lunar surface, particularly on the side where you'll find bicycles. (It would take a much larger crush of bicycles to produce these craters in the bike lane on 4th Avenue.)

Tuesday, May 13. Today riders were to meet at Cedar Lake at 7:10 to hear from, and ride with, Nikki Northrop Davidson, President of Bike2Work Consultants. This was billed as teaching people how to commute to work, and was specifically aimed at those "nervous about biking to work." But, as if auto traffic and one's own cycling confidence weren't daunting enough, the weather was unseasonably cold and windy.

To make a long story short, I live some distance from Cedar Lake, and moreover was running late, so I went downtown first and then towards the lake. The largest group I met coming the other way was three in number, led by an exuberant woman who greeted me as I passed. I'm thinking that was Ms. Davidson. I took a quick picture of the lake, then tried to catch up with them, but they had melted into the madding downtown crowd. If you live in Chicago or Boston, this is easy to imagine... in Cedar Rapids, not so much. I hope they found their way indoors to a hot breakfast. I rode around downtown until my ears could stand the wind no longer. I did see some individual riders, most of them probably biking to work, in spite of the weather.

I would like to ask Ms. Davidson's advice about this crosswalk, where the trail crosses 1st Avenue:

When a rider or pedestrian passes between the posts, the censors cause lights in the pavement to flash, alerting drivers to stop. The lights aren't very attention-getting, though, even on a dark day, and even when drivers are paying attention as the cabdriver referenced yesterday probably wasn't. The setup terrifies me, and I avoid it either (a) by walking a block to cross at a regular intersection, or (b) waiting until all traffic on 1st Av. has cleared. If you live in Chicago or Boston, that is probably difficult to imagine.

Wednesday, May 14. No events today, but I biked to work, as I have most clement days for the last 25 years. I live less than a mile from my office, which is of course unusual even in a small city. It's a pretty uncomplicated ride through tree-lined streets.

This is my street, Blake Boulevard SE. Along the side are mounds of wet sand leftover from last winter. Today I could ride blithely around them, but when there's car traffic it gets awkward.

Wherever you're going in Cedar Rapids, getting across 1st Avenue is a challenge. The intersection at 13th Street offers these options:
The right side of the road is a right-turn-only lane, but I don't want to turn right. I used to go straight in the center lane (after waiting for the right-turning traffic), but the entry point onto campus has been closed off during a remodeling. That leaves turning left, which has become more difficult here since traffic was diverted this direction when 2nd Avenue was closed by the PCI building.

My current favored solution is to ride through the parking lots and cross mid-block here...
 ...between EnCompass and Tallgrass Business Resources. It's not ideal, but neither firm has yet insisted that the price of using their parking lot as a trail is a contribution to their office NCAA tournament pool. Once I get to 1st Ave this way, there's almost always a complete break in traffic every light cycle, making it easier to cross than at the actual intersection (and certainly less nerve-wracking than the lighted crosswalk downtown, described yesterday).

So here I am at work!

Thursday, May 15. Still chilly. About two dozen undaunted souls arrived in Greene Square Park to bike with the mayor. There was a booth, and I finally caught up with some swag, a neon green t-shirt commemorating Bike to Work Week and a slate gray water bottle. There were also bananas, granola bars and water.

Mayor Corbett in his brief greeting highlighted two reasons why the ride was important: to remind seasonal riders of the rules of bike safety, and to remind drivers to be aware of cyclists. [Most of us are "seasonal riders," and this is about the temperature floor of my season. But we did hear as the ride progressed that one of our number rides year-round.]

We rode across the river on 2nd Avenue as far as 11th Street West, then back downtown, then down 3rd Street to the new Geonetric building on 12th Avenue in New Bohemia...

where apples and water awaited us. (The developments in New Bohemia are quite a story, and should fill a future post.) CEO Eric Engelmann had ridden with us, not quite as well-wrapped as the weather might have warranted. He complimented my gloves.

Nikki Northrop Davidson of Bike2Work praised Geonetric's green design, which includes indoor bike racks and showers for bicycle commuters.

Friday, May 16. Still cloudy and cool today, such that--I must confess--I did not bike to work. Nevertheless I found the bicycle pit stop up and going this afternoon, with some though not a lot of traffic.

That's the city's bike point-person, Brandon Whyte, changing a tire.

I'd like to see them try this on a nicer day, say on National Trails Day (June 7) or during the Freedom Festival (late June through July 4).

Friday night was the Wrap-Up Party at Brick's Bar and Grill, 320 2nd Av SE.

There were drawings for prizes...
...but despite stuffing the box with three tickets, I did not win so much as a water bottle. Still it was good to see so many people gathered to celebrate bicycle commuting. May it prosper.

IGreenCR page on local bicycle related events, http://www.cedar-rapids.org/government/departments/public-works/trafficengineering/trafficsafety/bicyclespedestrianstrails/Pages/BicycleFriendlyEvents.aspx

Interesting post on cyclist behavior in traffic: Joseph Stromberg, "Why Cyclists Should Be Able to Roll Through Stop Signs and Ride Through Red Lights,"Vox, 13 May 2014, http://www.vox.com/2014/5/9/5691098/why-cyclists-should-be-able-to-roll-through-stop-signs-and-ride

Two of my posts from last summer on bicycle commuting:


  1. Bruce this was a great recap of the Bike to Work Week events! And yes the weather was really unfortunate. I think next year we will aim at more afternoon events and less morning events. But all in all it was a decent first attempt. Glad to met you and I'll be sure to keep you updated whenever possible.

    1. The best laid plans of mice and men gang oft agley. Had last week's events been scheduled for the afternoon, a lot of them would have been rained out!


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