Thursday, August 30, 2012

A stylish battle with the heat but I don't know what to do about those blocked sidewalks

Nearing the end of week two of the start of my masters program at ASU.  Are the late summer temps starting to break?  I think so but maybe it's all in my head.  It was still hot so either I'm acclimating or it was just a little less deadly.  Regardless, I still have to carry around a hand towel to soak the perspiration off my face and neck so if I want to arrive at class or my field placement looking pulled together and knowledgeable, I've got to dress smart.

Light colors and a hat beat the heat.
I could buy nothing but black t-shirt but somehow they aren't the best idea when the sun is blazing down on my back so Monday I opted for a white cotton shirt with 3/4 sleeves and black knee length shorts.  Since my class started mid-day when the sun was high I wore my hat to avoid adding to the light sun burn I got on my forehead over the weekend.  I still arrived on campus a little bit damp but the white shirt didn't show perspiration marks and it dried out relatively quickly.

Favorite new dress from Ann Taylor in a French ponti knit.  That's one of my late grandmother's long necklaces.
For my field placement assignments, I wore shift dresses to work.  And high-heeled sling backs.  I can't say enough about wearing a dress for biking on a hot day.

The shift dress is fitted but the stretch fabric made it easy to pedal and get on and off the bike.
 Very cool and comfortable both to and from work.  Very little perspiration. 

A little bit of a farmer's tan on my legs.
A SRAB reader suggested trying men's boxer briefs under my dress for modesty.  They provide the same coverage as bike shorts, hitting at about four or five inches above my knees.  I wore Under Armour  boxer briefs made of a light-weight, moisture wicking fabric and were so cool and comfortable on the ride in that I nearly forgot to remove them when I arrived at the office.  The fit was very smooth so I didn't have to worry about an unsightly outline under my clothes.  Best of all, boxer briefs are infinitely less expensive than biking shorts.

My second favorite dress.  Slightly fitted and just a little stretch.
Now if I just knew what to do about this:

Something must be done about these overhanging shrubs.
I kinda know what to do actually.  The location (if anyone with the City of Phoenix is interested) 7th Street just after Thomas, bordering the Phoenix Country Club, as you head toward Indian School Road.  I'm not sure what kind of tall shrubs these are but they little white flowers.  They are appropriately cut back past the sidewalk  part of the way but eventually have just been allowed to grow out of control over the sidewalk.  Two people couldn't pass one other on the sidewalk without one of them having to get into the road, and into on-coming traffic.  I have to get off my bike and walk it through a jungle of limbs at about this point.  Someone traveling in a wheelchair would have great difficulty passing through.  So, like I mentioned, I do know what to do - I have to contact City of Phoenix and file a request that someone (maybe the Phoenix Country Club??) cut back the shrubbery.  Only a month in town and I'm already complaining!  Heavy sigh!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bike parking whimsy

Two of my favorite pastimes - riding a bike and croquet.
Bob and I saw this whimsical bike corral in Tempe last weekend in a lovely common area tucked behind some commercial space downtown.  As you can see, the artist who created this corral chose a croquet theme.  Why?  I'm not judging; I just don't see the connection between bikes and croquet.  I actually really enjoy croquet and was rather disappointed when Bob didn't want to install a croquet area in our backyard in Flagstaff. 

Yep, that's him.  Our friend David.  The croquet ball has to pass through a New Belgium 6 pack carton - several of them actually.
Our friend David, who lives in a splendid LEED certified house that he built in Mountainaire, just a bit south of Flagstaff, holds an annual Extreme Croquet tournament in his backyard (which happens to be the Coconino National Forest) every summer (sometimes twice in one summer). 

If you can send the ball through the carton without toppling the Old Milwaukee car, well, that's pretty cool too.
Extreme croquet involves beer, beer related items and nontraditional croquet terrain.  Bikes are not involved in anyway, unless you decide to arrive on bike. 

Our friend Connor has made it through a harrowing obstacle course and is on his way back down the home stretch.
Since David and probably most of his friends ride bikes, it's completely conceivable a bike might eventually be incorporated into the game. 

And this picture of Nicole is just too funny for some reason!
Had to share.

Bob did not win the Extreme Croquet tournament and regrets not creating a croquet area in our backyard.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hang that bike!

Bob, in Tempe, finds the perfect bike to coordinate with our Bike Shop Hub Ortleib panniers.
Bob and I took the rail to Tempe last week in order to check out a new triathlon store that just opened up.  The train was surprisingly crowded with bicycles last Saturday, mostly parked in opposite the door, and since our ride would last about 20 minutes, Bob suggested that we hang our bikes inside the bike compartment.  It was a rather awkward maneuver, despite the fact that Bob's a pretty strong guy, since he to work in limited space and within the short time that the train is at the stop.  He hiked both on to the hooks though. 

Our his and hers Breezers hanging in the bike section of a rail car.
So far, I've never tried to hang my Breezer.  For one thing, it weighs 35 lbs, and I just don't think I can manage lifting it up to the hook, which is pretty high for a 5'1" lady.  For another, I pulled a muscle in my lower back and don't want to completely incapacitate myself while riding public transit.  To be quite honest, half the people on the light rail just stand with their bikes by their side during their trip.  Most of the people that I see lifting their bikes up to the hooks are youngish, fit men.  The instance I saw a woman do so, she was lifting a fixed gear bike that appeared to be very light weight and void of any bags or accessories.  I've never seen a senior citizen attach their bikes to the hooks, period.

This kid is probably texting his roommate to meet him at the station and help him get his bike off the hook.
Nonetheless, the trip would probably be more comfortable and the cars easier to move around in if bicycles were off the floor and in the bike section.  I wonder if the problem is the design of the bike hanging system.  When I first heard about it, I assumed that it would have a curved track beginning at the floor that would allow the cyclist to easily wheel the bike up to a hook.  No, this is not how the system is designed.  The track simply runs vertical to the floor of the rail car and begins about two feet from the floor.  The hook is located almost to the ceiling.  Even without back pain, I couldn't do that, and I'm strong.  I think a better design could accommodate many more bikes against a single wall of the bike section and leave the other side available for seating and standing - as well as room for mounting bikes to the hook.  What do you think?  Have any SRAB readers used a system more friendly to people who aren't power-lifters?  I wonder if Valley Metro would consider looking at a different system for future expansions?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Undoing alt transportation's negative public image

Me, trying to stay cool and dry, rapidly losing concern that I might be mistaken for a homeless American.
I've related in this space on numerous occasions that I first began using alternative transportation to get back and forth to work in 2001 in order to better economize and have more money left over at the end of every month to save or spend on priorities other than gas for my car.  Bike commuting came much later in Flagstaff in order to help makes ends meet in a high-cost of living town.  In both cases, I've run into a lot of negative stereotypes about people who travel other than by car, and have been more than surprised at some people's assumptions, and, on occasion, out-and-out prejudice, against those of us who are car-less, car-free or merely car-lite.  A certain large, bald, loud, middle-aged guy for whom the Louisville media seems to have a perplexing fondness referred several years ago in a local tabloid to people who ride the city bus as "losers".  We don't know each other so he couldn't have been referring to me but I wondered if he meant any of the really cute and smart architects  I used to flirt with, the numerous students from St. Francis High School (aka: the School of Thought), the staff of the many downtown hospitals or municipal services or simply your average Route 17 rider  just trying to get to work and eek out a living at a minimum wage job with no benefits.  WHAT A JERK! 

Several years ago in Flagstaff, I was in the ladies room at City Hall repairing my hair and makeup after an unusually sweaty bike ride to work.  After a patronizing expression of sympathy from another woman in the bathroom about having to clean up in the bathroom, I thought to myself "She thinks I'm homeless!"  Part of me wanted to follow her outside and assure her that I wasn't homeless but I also felt indignation that she would jump to that conclusion.

At Tempe Campus.  I keep reading that 20somethings are less in love with auto ownership than the generations before them.
This week NPR featured a story about how the City of Phoenix is planning for increasingly high temperatures and hit on the topic of commercial and residential development along the Valley Metro Light Rail route.  Metro posted a link to the feature on their FB page and it elicited a number of comments, including a few from one poster that were idiotic.  I'll let you, the reader, decide who I am referring to.  I decided to delete his name and undo the link to his FB page to avoid hassles. 

2 · ·

  • You and 10 others like this.

    • RS:  how the light-rail helps bring losers to phoenix, I'm sorry you only make 18k a year but at some point these people made the choice to lower there expectations of life. If its too hot for you MOVE. I see the people that ride the light rail, and every now and then when I take it to Tempe so I don't get a DUI when I go home, I fear for my life. Plus at 33 miles an hour whats the point??
      Tuesday at 9:09pm ·

    • SA:  Hey (blank), I thought you loved riding the lightrail! ;)~
      Tuesday at 9:12pm via mobile ·

    • RS: lol
      Tuesday at 9:12pm ·

    • RS: if i wanted to buy crack I'd ride it
      Tuesday at 9:13pm ·

    • RS:  i love how the main fb page for the light rail show normal people. How about they take some new pictures at random times.
      Tuesday at 9:14pm ·

    • SA:  Now (blank), only upstanding citizens ride the light-rail. Downtown workers nd all!
      Tuesday at 9:26pm via mobile ·

    • Trinity Marler This is a great article! Let's start today, build more miles, and increase frequency and let's get a different mindset here in Phoenix that doesn't always involve a car.
      Tuesday at 11:03pm via mobile · · 5

    • Bryan Bazley The light rail is a great investment back into the city. Would like to see Phoenix get back to it's public transportation roots. Every big city relies on efficient transit
      Wednesday at 2:49am · · 4

    • Marc Mackie Really interesting,the light rail extensions are gonna be massive.
      Wednesday at 6:54am · · 1

    • Lennox D. Punch Jr. Interesting idea... But it will be a tough sell to get your traditional single family home builders to invest into building in urban areas and to build up. This city is going to continue to sprawl until some type of legislation is passed to curtail the sprawl.
      Wednesday at 9:03am · · 2

    • Sean D. Sweat Significant land-use changes that should stem from introducing local rail transit are the only hope for Phoenix's future. If we aren't able to leverage the opportunity that rail transit has now given us, this city will decline into a poverty-stricken ecological nightmare with some of the worst social inequities in the country.

      All aboard Metro!
      Wednesday at 8:23pm · · 1
Anyway, I decided to stay out of the conversation and most of the posters just ignored the dumb stereotyping and left thoughtful comments.  But I couldn't help wonder how prevalent is this type of, not only negative, but hostile, perception?  I can understand fear of the unknown if you've never ridden public transit, but why the ugly looking-down-your-nose, and feeling comfortable enough with it to post it on a FB page? 
I don't have a job but it looks this guy, JB, does.  And a cool hat and bike.
Yes, I am pretty sure there are people looking to score drugs on the light rail.  A lot of homeless people are probably hopping on to escape the high heat, too.  I heard several years ago and any one of us is a job loss and three months away from homelessness, and since I can escape the heat  in my air conditioned house, who am I to  denigrate someone who lacks that option? 

Lots of college kids on board now that ASU is starting back up.
Frankly, I chatted with a very nice 50ish man at Central and Van Buren Station, I'm pretty sure a sometime laid off, formerly middle class guy now living in a shelter.  As with most people I meet on the rail, we talked bikes and he told me he used to own a Gary Fischer.  So sure, I see some homeless people riding the rail every day.  Some of them have bikes laden down with everything they own, often very ingeniously so.  I don't take their pictures because it seems insensitive and exploitative for this format.  

Bike section getting a little cramped.
Most of the people I see riding though are still lucky enough to have a job and represent every income level.  I also talked bikes with cute architects yesterday.  Architects love public transit, it seems.  So do yoga instructors - we bemoaned our sports related injuries that prohibited us from hanging our bikes in the bike section of the car. 

Surprisingly, I see a lot of middle aged, yuppy guys on board with their bikes.  This one looked expensive.
Yes, I rambled a lot in this post and didn't come up with a single answer. Alternative transportation still has a good way to go before it is embraced by the majority of the public. Even those who agree it is a good thing might be wary of actually taking the step to use it out of concern about what others will think.   If you bike, take the bus, ride the rail or walk rather than drive a car to work or wherever else you need to go a fair number of people will wonder . . . did you lose your license due to a DUI?  Are you homeless?  Are you too poor to own a car?  Are you just another pinko, tree-hugging, liberal, elitist?  I've guess I'm sorta that last one.  I AM about to begin my Masters in Social Work after all, and I'm not entirely sure how that perspective will affect this space so be prepared.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A bike outing before an ouchie!

Why, yes, I am adorable in this pannier!

What dog likes a trip to the veterinarian?  They always, always, always result in an ouchie, don't they, no matter how now nice the lady in the white coat.  But as any well-loved pooch knows, vet trips are just the price one pays for living in a world filled with warm blankets, soft pillows, caressing hands and dog cookies.  Daisy accepts this but she still didn't want to the vet since today would certainly involves ouchies in the form of a heart worm test and a micro chip.  I decided that in exchange for needles, I'd treat her to a bike ride.  Originally, I had planned to walk the less than a mile distance but having fallen short on doing my physical therapy for my bum knee since the move to Phoenix, it has been popping and pulling again, making biking the much more comfortable option.  Naturally, we set out early, before 8 a.m. to avoid the worst of the day's heat.

Soft-sided but servicable, the Nashbar pannier subbed as pet carrier for today's trip to the veterinarian.

Normally, I would have mounted my Snoozer Pet Bicycle Basket on the front of the Dahon but since I sold it to Cousin Angie, I would have to take the Breezer.  Unfortunately, the Breezer's headlamp interferes with  any bike basket I've ever tried to use to I would need to carry Daisy in a pannier attached to the rear bike rack.  A less than ideal choice, so I tested Daisy in one of our boxy, Bike Nashbar panniers in the backyard, putting her plaid, fuzzy blanket in the bottom of it for comfort.  I also attached her leash securely to the rack so that she could not  climb out.  No worries, I soon discovered.  Daisy seemed quite content in the basket - not excited but happy to be along for the ride.  Reasonably confident in her safety but preferring to have my eye on her, I positioned my rear view mirror so that I could see both Daisy and the road behind me.  

We set off for the vet.  I was able to stay on my street for half the trip before I switching to Thomas Road, which is quite busy with fast traveling cars and no bike lanes. With resignation I moved to the sidewalk.  Daisy remained a cooperative little traveler, though very interested in her surrounding and the feel of the wind on her face.  We arrived at Dr. Ruiz's office without incident.  Ouchies were soon completed followed by a delightful spoonful of canned dog food!

A palm tree canopy provided welcome shade for stopping for a drink of water.

I decided to take side streets, mostly through the quite residential Willo Historical District for our trip home.   Except a brief time on 3rd Avenue, which has a bike lane but is one way in the opposite direction of my destination, I happily pedaled on the street. 

Despite the comfort of shade, Daisy was ready to get going.

We crossed back into Coronado Historical District, where we live, at the aptly named Palm Lane.  Actually, most of the street we pedaled on our return trip could easily have been named after palm trees.
Molly in the Sleepypod
Photo by Melanie Meyers Colavito for Commute by Bike.

While the Nashbar pannier was perfectly serviceable for carrying Daisy, I really
missed having Snoozer basket, with its collapsible metal frame mounted right in front of me.  Fellow Commute by Bike contributor Melanie Meyers Colavito, recently posted this review of Sleepypod's Sidekick front rack and Air pet carrier.  I'm pretty impressed and will likely consider this system for the Breezer once I upgrade my front lighting system and relocate it to the fork.  The Air pet carrier would satisfy Valley Metro Light Rail's requirements for transporting a dog on the train.  The entire Sleepypod system is stylish so that doesn't hurt either.  Daisy might not care about style but I do!

Monday, August 13, 2012

My struggle to be cycle chic in the heat

I'm just not very cycle chic at the moment.  I'm trying my best but for the last week Phoenicians have suffered, yes suffered, from extreme heat above and beyond any objective definition of extreme.  Like 113 - 116 degree Fahrenheit.  It's just damn, freaking, searing hot and when the TV news reported earlier this week about some guy rescued from a nearby desert mountain, I just shook my head in disbelief.  Why?!  I've still got to get where I'm going though, so again I'm heading out early, seeking the protection of shade wherever possible and using light rail.

My hat is woven from paper, perhaps explaining it breathability.  The black t-shirt is not an entirely stupid choice in searing heat since it is made of a wicking fabric.
Last week, someone suggested that I also consider wearing a hat for a little extra sun protection. Initially, I rejected this idea as just one more thing to cause my head to perpire.  My SPF has been very effective but my tanning face still needs protection so this week I decided to wear a hat and deal with my perspiration soaked hair in the restroom at my destination. 

Me, doing my best impression of Greta Garbo incognito at the University/Rural Rd Station in Tempe.
My hats, which I wore all the time, sweat-free in Flagstaff, worked reasonably well because they were much more breathable than I thought they'd be.  I also keep a terry cloth towel close at hand to soak up sweat at stop lights and on the train.  Finally, I packed a small, travel sized hair dryer in my pannier for a quick zap of air in the restroom when air hand dryers aren't available.  I don't know if carrying a small hair dryer is a drastic solution or not but I'm willing to look like a fool for a few minutes in the restroom if it means avoiding both skin cancer and hat head.

Camo pants can be cycle chic but at the moment they just provide breathable sun protection for my legs.
I was pretty much well stocked in the clothes department up in Flag, an excessively casual little town, in my opinion.  As long as my clothes weren't ripped or stained and kept me warm, I was pretty much had all the clothes I needed.  Naturally, since it rarely gets above 80 degrees, even in the summer, I really had to exert myself in order to work up a sweat.  Not here, baby!  I had nothing to wear moving down here, and I've had to do a little shopping for "school clothes". For me, being a student over traditional age, I'm going for more professional clothes since a big part of my education is the two-day-a-week field placement where the Hello Kitty t-shirt just doesn't send the right message.  Dresses mostly, as they are the most comfortable thing to wear on an ozone action day, which is pretty much every day and all night long here.  School hasn't started yet I've been spending a lot of time in sleeveless shirts and an old pair of Ralph Lauren camo pants.  The camo pants offer sun protection and are unexpectedly breathable as well since they are made of rip-stop material. 

Probably the best image of my foot I've captured in the nearly four years of writing this blog. 
My only slightly cycle chic moment this week came when I paired Ann Taylor Outlet sandals (I got such a smokin' deal on these, by the way) with the camo pants.  Since my pedicure seemed to be holding up, I decided to share them with SRAB readers.  Most of the time, however, I'm just wearing black flip flops, which I'm not sharing with readers because they are also my shower sandals and it just seems too personal.  Flip flops, by the way, seem to be the official footwear of the Valley.    A couple of times I've observed otherwise professionally dressed women on light rail wearing flip flops.  I can only assume they are carrying some pumps or open-toed sling backs in their tote bags.  I really can't see my sister sporting flip flops while refinancing mortgages at BB&T.  I doubt things are that casual in Phoenix either.  Anyway, I kinda like these sandals as they made me feel a little less like a refugee mountain woman on a bicycle.  Unfortunately, the thong portion of the right sandal became dislodged during a Saturday night walk to dinner so my stylish feet will now be pedaling to a nearby shoe repair shop.  Heavy sigh!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bike parking and the lack thereof. . . .

Attendees of last Friday's First Friday Art Walk in downtown Phoenix.
My husband and I went out last Friday night for our first First Friday Art Walk downtown.  We didn't really know where we were going or what to expect and I think we missed a lot. 

Bob patiently waits for me to get the perfect shot.
More than anything we were just trying to get our barrings by bike. 

An ice cold beverage on a hot, hot night brings a smile to Bob's face.
We stopped for drinks - the atmosphere by the time we got there was pretty young, undergraduate age, I suppose, so we were among the oldest people there.  After drinks we headed for dinner a few blocks away.

I'm not even sure if locking up to a tree is permitted by the business owners or the City of Phoenix but we couldn't find anywhere else to secure our bikes.
One of the thinks we noticed was a deciding lack of bike parking.  We found things to lock on to, such as sign posts and trees but few businesses seem to place bike corrals in front of their businesses or even where they can readily be seen.  This is too bad because bike corrals are a wonderful invitation to patronize a business.  They send the signal that I'm welcome inside their establishment; an especially polite message if I'm on a bike wondering if I might be a too casually dress (I think it's understood that I don't mean sloppily dressed).  If we can't find a bike corral and there is not a nearby sign or tree that I can lock on to, we'll probably keep pedaling and save our monies for elsewhere.  Let me say that again:  we'll keep pedaling and spend our monies elsewhere.  And we do.  Bob and I are foodies so we will spend money on delicious, intriguing menus.

The bike themed signage in front of my new favorite cafe, Astor House, is welcoming but a bike corral right out front would be even more so.  With bikes locked up to it, a bike corral also sends the message that the business is worth a visit.
I've noticed this in my neighborhood, as well, where many independent restaurateurs have set up shop.  We aren't seeing as many bike corrals as we'd thought we would, even though we see a lot of residents on their bikes.  I actually see quite a few who seem to be quite obviously on their way to or from work or school every day from the window over the kitchen sink. 

One of my usual bike routes in the Coronado District.
One of the reason people return to urban neighborhoods is the convenience of being able to walk and bike to retail and services rather than get their by car.  In fact many young people are choosing to be car-free because the expense of ownership often takes requires sacrificing in other areas of life they find more fulfilling.  Bob and I aren't so young but having the expense of only one car definitely has freed up monies for dining, art, travel, and now, for me, graduate school.

Waiting at Encanto Station.
A bike lane found at the Government Mall downtown.
I know that City of Phoenix is trying to promote transportation cycling as an alternative to driving.  I'm discovering more  bike lanes every day, and of course the Valley Light Rail and city buses offer bicycle accommodations.  I think the bike corrals I've seen near the Phoenix Public Market off Central were installed by the City, although I could be wrong.  But there really aren't enough of them, and I wonder if the business owners are themselves ignoring the potential revenues brought by transportation cyclists (even those who are of the weekend variety)?  Elly Blue and our friends at the Path Less Pedaled have both written about this subject quite a bit but maybe it's just us bike bloggers who've read about the economics of bicycling.  Does the City of Phoenix provide any type of incentive to encourage business owners to install bike corrals, like a reduction in how many parking spaces each business has to provide?  Not just any bike corral will do, by the way; bike corrals have to be functional and thoughtfully placed in a location that's easy to find.

Bike corrals are aplenty at UCenter at ASU's Downtown Campus.
I have to hand it to Arizona State University, though.  Whether it's the Downtown Campus or the main campus in Tempe, they do bike parking just right.  Bike corrals in front of every building; sometimes all the way around the building.  No searching necessary.  Lots of bike corrals that are really easy to lock on to.  So many great bike corrals everywhere you turn sends a clear message: PLEASE RIDE YOUR BIKE; WE'RE BEGGING YOU!  I had to go to Tempe Campus on Tuesday to have my operating system upgraded at the Technology Studio and even during summer semester's searing heat, I saw many students, faculty and staff on bicycles.  And people are using those bike corrals, too. Other than summer session, most bike corrals are packed.  I think most universities do a good job in general promoting transportation cycling; there is no shortage of bike corrals at Norther Arizona University either.  Why?  Because campus parking is expensive (What school does not contend with unending complaints from students, faculty and staff about the price of a parking permit?) and most universities have limited space on which they can grow in order to accommodate new programs and growing campus populations.  Nobody just throws up a parking garage if they can possibly avoid it.

My initial observations about the availability of bike parking at Phoenix businesses could be wrong.  I've only been here a month and, due to the heat, I haven't been out exploring as much as I'd like so there is probably a lot I've missed in my quest to escape into an air conditioned environment.  Nonetheless, I plan to take advantage of polite opportunities to encourage businesses that I patronize to install bike corrals in front of their establishments.  If you cycle in Phoenix, I hope you will, too.