Sunday, November 21, 2010

What is it about Portland?

Why does Portland understand the cyclist like no other city in this country? If you don't know what I mean, watch this video:

You see, a bike lane needs to be more than a line painted on a road. There needs to be an acknowledgment that automobiles pose a serious threat to our well-being as cyclists. A well-being we value greatly, hence the constant biking.
I'm not here to pontificate about what is a good bike lane and what is not, there is plenty of that out there. What I want to try and do is explore why Portland understands what makes a safe and inviting bike environment, while other municipalities just paint lines on roads and wonder why it's not enough.  I'm not going to answer these questions, because I don't have the time or energy to do the research. I'm just going to speculate because that takes very little time or energy.
   Could it be that Portland just has reached that point of critical mass that has pushed the city over the precipice. Now that they have enough cyclists the biking development seems to drive itself? I could imagine this becoming a very productive cycle, where better cycling facilities leads to more cyclists leads to even better cycling facilities and so on and so forth. 
  If this self-driven movement is the reason Portland is so good for bikes, then I want to know what was the seed that started the community? And how do I plant that seed where I live? I suppose this is partly why I write this blog, I feel if more people see how to bike commute in the triangle then maybe more will bike commute in the triangle, leading to better facilities to accommodate the growing biking community.
   Alternatively, Portland could have just been blessed with local government with excellent foresight and strong conservation ideology. Because of the green/progressive image I have of Portland, I am prone to believe local government has played a large role in the development of biking facilities in the city. Throw in a couple of city managers who ride bikes and WHAM, you get excellent cycling infrastructure. I am hesitant to believe even a strong local government alone could drive this development because of my time spent in Charlottesville, VA during a time when the mayor was strictly a bike commuter. I saw little good bike infrastructure develop during Mr. Cox's tenure as mayor.
   I'm guessing what Portland has is the perfect storm.  I know they have strong grassroots cycling community that pushes for new infrastructure.  They probably have a government willing and able to provide the new infrastructure, and work out creative solutions that make biking from A to B safe even for young children. Now, how do I get the perfect storm to come to my hometown?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Route #6, And Now, For Something Completely Different (Stagecoach, Barbee Chapel)

About 18 miles, 1 hour 15 minutes

Google map begins at end of Tobacco Trail because bike only routes are beta and don't support embedding

I want a dedicated bike route between Chapel Hill and Durham. Unfortunately, that isn't going to happen anytime soon, so I decided to see if I could use the American Tobacco Trail (ATT) as part of my commute to Chapel Hill.  I was not optimistic, but I actually found a decent route that uses the entire north end of the Tobacco Trail, and does not require travel on a deadly stretch of highway 54.

The American Tobacco Trail is a Rails-to-Trails
project stretching from downtown Durham to Wake County
The American Tobacco Trail:
The ATT is wonderful, but at this point it doesn't go in a direction that is useful for my commute to Chapel Hill. However, I did find a route that is comparable to the Mt. Sinai route in length that incorporates a seven-mile ride down the ATT from downtown Durham to the Southpoint Crossing shopping center (note this is not Southpoint Mall, but it is nearby). The ATT is flat, smooth and free of motorized vehicles making for a super pleasant ride for the first seven miles of this commute.

The Stagecoach Shunt:
There is not a good direct route to get from the current end of the Durham ATT to Stagecoach Road. I take the combination of Highgate Drive, Audubon Lake Drive and NC751 to get to Stagecoach Road. Highgate and Audubon Lake cut through an area that looks like big development was at one point planned then completely abandoned. Except for a couple of car dealerships and some apartment complexes there is nothing back in this area. On NC751 I rode on the sidewalk until I reached the Greek Orthodox church, where I crossed the street and rode on 751 for the last half-mile to Stagecoach Road.

Audubon Lake Drive at Johnson Victory Circle Roundabout

Stagecoach Road:
Stagecoach Rd Near Barbee Chapel Rd
On the day I took this route I was running late leaving for work so most of my travel was after rush-hour.  That said Stagecoach Road was a very pleasant ride at 9:30 in the morning. The shoulders are very wide most of the way. The traffic was low and cars seemed to be very bike tolerant and friendly.  Stagecoach passes through part of the Jordan Lake preservation area and through farms, so the scenery is quite nice.

Barbee Chapel Road:
Barbee Chapel Road has a bit more traffic than Stagecoach but is fairly wide so it's never a tight squeeze for a car to get by a cyclist.  There are several housing developments along Barbee Chapel leading to the higher traffic, more vehicles entering and exiting the road and ugly scenery.
Barbee Chapel Road

Old Mason Farm Road

Finley Golf Course:
From Barbee Chapel I cut though Finley Forest to the UNC Friday Center park-and-ride lot where I was able to catch the bike path that runs along 54. I took this bike path over to Finley Golf Course Road where I turned to get away from 54 again.  Finley Golf Course, which turns into Old Mason Farm Road back by the golf course is a nice but narrow road with very little traffic because it only loops back to 54. Once at 54 I cross, with the aid of a traffic signal, (if there was not one it would be impossible to cross here).

Laurel Hill Road:
Here's your hill. Up to this point this ride is flat, flat, flat, and Laurel Hill is payback. Get your bike in low gear and get started it takes a while to get to the top. I recommend going up through this residential neighborhood in October because it smells amazing. If you're not from the south you probably don't know what a fragrant tea olive is, one ride through this neighborhood in October and you'll never forget.

Ridge Road and Manning Drive:
These are just campus roads that go with the requisite warnings about riding on the UNC campus. Watch out for students, buses and tigers of which there are many.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dirty dancing with a bike

This guy is awesome, although I can't help but think "he is gonna break his spokes doing that".  I lived in Senegal for two years and I never came across him, he is clearly in a touristy area and I visited most of them, you can tell by the number of toubabs watching and the tourist art surrounding the area.  Enjoy!