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Tampa Bay’s Commuter Choices Week 2008

Today I attended the kickoff party for the Bay Area Commuter Services “Commuter Choices Week”, where folks pledge to try a different form of commuting transportation than their usual mode for the month of October.

I didn’t attend in an official capacity…rather, I went along to help my friend Alan Snel get the word out on the upcoming Bicycle Bash by the Bay.

me and Alan
(photo courtesy of SWFBUD)

The crowd at Poe Plaza was smaller compared to last year…but there were a variety of transportation agencies (TBARTA and the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization), community organizations (Tampa Downtown Partnership, among others) and bicycle-friendly folks (Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium and Southwest Florida Bicycle United Dealers, the organizing arm behind the Bicycle Bash).

BACS

Here, Manny Sierra of Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium offers free commuter tuneups for anyone who brought a bicycle…he’s rockin’ the official American League sweethearts Tampa Bay Rays haircut.

manny

Of course, one of the big crowd draws is the free pizza and soda offered by one of the event sponsors:

pizza

A shot of the crowd:

crowd

And, of course, I had to represent by bringing my Xtracycle along…obnoxiously parked so that everyone had to pass right by it. This rig may have attracted more attention than a lot of the display tables…I got a lot of questions about it and handed out a few “Eleven Answers” cards provided to me by Xtracycle. I wasn’t in the mood to offer free passenger rides around downtown Tampa, though…maybe I’ll do that at the Bash.

xtra

We had a good time…talked to a few bike-friendly people and gave some of the local transportation planners some good-natured grief about their lack of support for more bicycle infrastructure in our area. Somehow, this year I missed the official speeches, but that’s ok…we still had fun!

Traveling Cyclist Amenities — New Zealand Style

Our friends Nick and Lynn Tucker sent the following photo to share:

bicycle assembly station

Clicky for big

What on Earth is this, you ask? It is the bicycle assembly station in the international terminal at Auckland, New Zealand’s airport…how cool is that?!?

New Zealand is widely regarded as one of (if not THE) ultimate destinations for bicycle tourists — good climate, friendly people, stunning vistas. If the airport there (and it is reported that the airport in Christchurch also has one of these stations) made the effort to secure a special spot for traveling bicyclists to reassemble their bikes, you can be sure the rest of the trip will be a smashing success.

Both airports list these assembly points as an offered service on their respective websites:
Auckland
Christchurch(complete with a photo of their facility).

Anyone seen ANYTHING like this in a U.S. airport? I sure haven’t. If anyone has run across a similar facility in their world travels, let us know.

Get a Load of This…

The other day, Emily Kaiser of the Minneapolis City Pages blog forwarded an article she wrote as a response to an Anti-Strib blog article that infers that more bike commuters may mean a victory for Sen. John McCain’s campaign. Why, you might ask? Because more bike commuters on the streets mean more injuries and deaths, reducing the number of hardcore cyclists and potential Democratic voters who back Obama. Yeah, they’re serious. Oh, and they take a vicious stab at low-income cyclists, too. Classy folks over there…

screenshot
(screenshot of the City Pages blog article, courtesy of City Pages)

Read the rest of Emily’s entry by clicking over to the City Pages blog, and from there follow the links to the original Anti-Strib article. Emily summed things up beautifully by stating:

We know blogging often hits pretty low, but this is really disheartening. In a week when many people across the Twin Cities are mourning the deaths of loved ones due to bike accidents, this isn’t the best time to turn their grief into a tirade against Democrats.

One ironic fact that really sticks out for me is that there are a number of studies that suggest the more bicyclists there are on the roads, the SAFER we’ll all be…safety in numbers, motorists more familiar with how to react when confronted with slower-moving two-wheeled vehicles, etc. But, as you may have realized, many conservatives rarely have time or patience for science.

What do you think about this?

Commuter Profile: Abhishek “Shek” Mukherjee

Meet Abhishek “Shek” Mukherjee, a faithful reader and commenter of Bikecommuters.com and soon-to-be owner of an Xtracycle (his birthday present to himself — Happy Birthday, Shek!):

Shek

How long have you been a bike commuter?

Since 29 May 2008.

Why did you start riding your bike to work and how long is your commute?

I started riding my bike to work and to other errands for fitness, health and reducing my carbon footprint. After being car-lite for a few weeks, I found a new motivation in being independent from cars. That is what drives me most now. My work commute is 2 miles one way. I come home for lunch, so I get almost 10 miles a day. I commute around 260 miles a month on my bike (and 170 in the car).

How does Bike Commuting help you with your lifestyle (economics, health, relationships)?

Bike commuting saves me $150 a month in gas money alone. (see details here: link ). I have lost some weight. I feel energized and ready-to-go when I get to work. I feel very active now. Overall, my quality of life has definitely gone up.

route

What do you do for a living and in what city do you bike commute?
I am a Logistics Engineer and work for a contract logistics company (3rd Party Logistics). I am not in IT.

I work and live in Jacksonville FL’s Edge City. It is the part of Jacksonville south of the river built around the JT Butler Blvd. primarily for office complexes. The commute to work is lined by manicured lawns and trees but no bike lanes. Housing in this area is in the form of large sub-divisions with winding roads. This whole part of town is very car-dependent (Walkscore gives it a whopping 28 out of 100). Oh, the joys of having suburbia within city limits!

What kind(s) of bike do you have?

I have a 12+ year old Specialized Rockhopper Comp that I bought from my friend. He bought it when he was a teenager and it has been sitting in his garage since then. The bike was well kept, has no rust and is sturdy as a rock. I have replaced the knobby tires with slick road tires. This bike is the work mule. It has plenty of low gearing to haul groceries in a difficult head wind. Once I sell my car, I may convert this to an Xtracycle or buy a complete long tail. Right now, my Banjo Brothers waterproof panniers do the job. A crate of 12 cans of dog food or a 12 pack of Heineken fits nicely on the bike’s rack. A bag of dry dog food is what I cannot carry yet. I am sure the Xtracycle will solve that. I also use this for my 5+ mile rides.

specialized

My other bike is an Amsterdam. It is an old city bike, probably from the 1960’s and 1970’s. It has a French flag on it but I dont know if it is French or Danish. It is an old-school single speed bike with a coaster brake. It is also my primary mode of commute to work. I wear business casuals on Mondays and Fridays and business formals (dress clothes and a tie, no jacket) on the other three days. This one lets me hop on the bike and go. I don’t have to be hunched over the handlebars and fold up my dress pants. I get a lot more respect on the road with this one than on the Specialized. I rarely get honked at. This bike has a generator on the front wheel and it powers the headlight and taillight. It is almost perfect for a short leisurely ride if you are not trying to break the sound barrier.

dutch

The 5 way OYB bag switches bikes depending on which one I ride. It holds my extra tubes (2 sizes, one for each bike), an adjustable wrench and a cloth napkin to wipe off sweat. I carry the wrench to fix a flat on the Amsterdam bike though I hope the rear tire does not get a flat. It is a big pain to remove. The panniers are exclusively for the Specialized. They come on only when I have to buy groceries or pick up clothes at the dry cleaners.

I recently bought a Solvit Trackr large dog trailer for my 60 Lb greyhound. Laya has begun to grow fond of it and it will be mostly used for trips to the vet or the dog park. It is a tight fit if she stands and she has not started to lay down in it yet. I recommend it for your pets.

more route

Any funny or interesting commuting story that you may want to share?

The people at the local Panera Bread were very amused to see my “Drink Beer Not Gas” T shirt (designed by my co-worker Matt Martin at nopollutecommute.com). Maybe the next time I will get a free souffle!

What do people (coworkers, friends) say when you tell them that you are a bike commuter?

They thought I was crazy when I started riding to work. Most didn’t think I would last over a week. They gave me stories about bicycle crashes, motorist negligence and failed bicycle commuting attempts of other people, pretty much every play in the book to dissuade me. I even got a lot of resistance towards riding on the roads as opposed to sidewalks. Some still think that I impede traffic. They got a lot more supportive after the first two weeks of riding. I keep getting offered rides. Even the VP of my department has commended me for it. Motivated by my gas savings, a good friend and coworker got himself a bike and started commuting 3.5 miles on way. He has stopped for a while due to the uncertain rains and storms as he carries a laptop.

Now that I am getting close to going car-free, I get a lot of criticism. Friends and coworkers do not think that is possible. They ask me if I am going to start hunting for my own food too! I have a log (http://www.sheksfootprint.com/car-dependency ) of all the times I drove my car since going car-lite and I can do all of those by car-pooling, xtra-cycling and hiring a taxi.

almost there

How about bicycling advocacy? Are you active in any local or regional advocacy groups?

I participate in Bikejax. It is a blog hosted by Matt Uhrig in promoting bicycle commuting. There aren’t really any bicycle commuting advocacy groups in Jacksonville FL and I am not into racing and mountain biking.

Anything else that you want to share with us?

In my journey to commuting by bicycle, I am surprised to how dependent we have become towards the car. It is a very good convineance but we have made it a necessity. There lies my fundamental problem with cars that they are an expensive depreciating necessity. I hate to lift cars up in the ranks with shelter and electricity.

I recommend everyone to read the book “Divorce your Car” by Katie Alvord (editor’s note: I will be reviewing this book in the coming weeks). It is a fantastic history lesson explaining America’s dependency on oil and cars and suggests a lot of methods for living car-free or car-lite.
I also see a shortage of understanding with the general public that a bicycle can be used for commuting. Most are of the opinion that bicycles are for racing, mountain biking or just plain riding. The majority of people here in Jack-sprawl-ville do not understand that concept of riding your bike for something more meaningful like going to work and groceries and visiting friends! That is a big change in mindset and culture that I hope happens if we are to be truly independent.

We’d like to thank Shek for contributing his profile and his photographs. To get even MORE Shek, spin on over to Shek’s Crib…his own blog, links to his photos and a whole lot more.

Book Review: “Traffic” by Tom Vanderbilt

One of the joys of working in a library is that I often have access to free books — particularly sample review copies sent by publishers. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt caught my eye a few weeks ago, and I’m glad I brought it home.
Traffic is published by Alfred A. Knopf (New York, 2008).

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt

This book is an utterly fascinating look at the physiological, psychological and social dynamics of motor vehicle use worldwide. In a nutshell, this book contains insights into everything you’ve ever thought of (and a lot of things you never dreamed of) while stuck in traffic: why is the other lane always moving faster? What’s up with all these signs? Why do our personalities change when we get behind the wheels of our cars? Why is it so hard to find a parking space?

Vanderbilt traveled the world, speaking to traffic engineers, road planners and law enforcement officials. Along the way, he discovered many tidbits, from the absurd — topless Danish models holding speed-limit signs (strangely enough, it worked — no one sped!), to the nearly-suicidal traffic frenzy in Delhi, India, where somehow traffic moves efficiently. Vanderbilt also spends a good bit of time discussing the work of Hans Monderman, a Dutch traffic engineer and visionary who is the father of the Shared Streets concept.

The book is wonderful; filled with lighthearted humor and great insights into what’s happening on the streets of the world. Although it is not geared towards cyclists, exactly, there are tidbits contained within these pages that address some of our concerns.

You may ask yourself, “are humans REALLY meant to drive?” after reading this book. I know I did, and as far as I’m concerned, the jury’s still out on that…in any case, I sincerely hope that motorists who wind up reading this book may start to consider bicycles as a valid mode of transportation. Put this book on your “short list”, reading-wise. It’s really good stuff!