1000 miles to the new job.

October 1, 2015

(written in July, now it’s October) I got a new job 4 months ago, now in Kendall Square all the time.  I only bike to work, unless I work from home (done that 2 or 3 times so far) and I even commute by bike when I visit the mother ship in Mountain View.  In 4 months I accumulated just about 1000 miles to work, a combo of neighborhood streets, bike lanes, cycle track, sharrows, and fitting in wherever it is appropriate.  October update — 1750 miles now, about 250/month, and writing this from NYC where I rode Citibikes to/from the NY office today.

There’s a lot more sprinting than there was on the old sometimes bike commute; lots of lights have countdown timers, others I know the timing, if I wanted to sit on my dead ass waiting I would drive a car, so I increase my speed as necessary to hit as many lights as I can, or coast if I know that’s not possible.  There are some where it doesn’t matter so much; my rolling mount and dismount are getting better, so if a light has an all-ways pedestrian phase, I morph into a pedestrian and jog across.  I’m working on my track stand, too — it’s still not good, but it’s better, and I get off the line a little faster.  Three months later, for the first time in years, my calves and thighs have grown about a centimeter each in circumference, and the twingy tendons in my knees have quit twinging, so I’m getting off the line even faster.  My main concern now is to try not to be an jerk to pedestrians or other cyclists, because it’s fun to go fast and it’s fun to sprint.  I’m still working on my track stand.

I’m getting a little grumpy at Cambridge; *I* can ride to work happily, but most people I know are not comfortable in traffic, and Cambridge and Somerville are stopping short of what it would take to really make it happen.  Their incentives to not drive are mostly stick and not much carrot — parking is inadequate and expensive, and traffic is awful.  Within Cambridge there’s mostly come-and-go bike lanes in the door zone, often with taxis and trucks unloading parked in them, plus some experimental cycle tracks near MIT.  My guess is that the cycle tracks are intended to make short-trip biking around Kendall Square more comfortable, and maybe they do, but anyone who could get to Kendall Square on a bike is likely to be indifferent to them anyhow, and their experimental non-uniformity is a little off-putting and I suspect less safe.

It would be great if Concord and Broadway and Mass Ave had wide protected lanes to get people from the edge of Cambridge to Kendall Square and MIT, but that would require taking away parking — so it doesn’t happen.  A great cycle track gets you to Fresh Pond Parkway, and then whoops, you’re on your own — itty-bitty spaces between traffic and parked cars that most people can’t or won’t thread their bikes through, leaving most people stuck slow in traffic instead of filtering to the head of the line (yes, that’s legal).

Cambridge and Somerville also need to make it legal for bikes to go on the advanced walk for pedestrians; it gets bikes clear of  right-turning traffic and also makes it clear to anyone oncoming who plans to jump the left that they can’t do that (this is good for pedestrians, too), and it saves bikes a few seconds per light.  Cambridge has to fix their lights in Kendall Square; heading out Broadway from Main, it takes a sprint from Ames to Galileo to make that light before it goes red, and the light at Tech Square is always red.

Two more missed opportunities are the lack of abundant one-way-for-car-two-way-for-bikes roads, and a lack of good way-finding.  Quite often streets are one-way for neighborhood traffic reduction, not for traffic capacity.  Bikes aren’t as noisy, polluting, and dangerous as cars, so for traffic-reduction one-ways it makes sense not to exclude bikes as if they were cars.  Streets up here are confusing, but in general it is easy to spot main roads for cars because they are sized for a lot of traffic (and usually have a lot of traffic on them).  Bike routes tend to be squirrelly and undermarked (what signs there are, are easy to miss).  Anyone new to bicycle commuting is likely to pick unpleasant routes or just plain get lost.  Yes, I know that Effective Cycling says bikes get to use the (exact!) same roads as cars, bikes are vehicles just like cars, but at least in Cambridge and Somerville some of those roads really suck and they seem to not be very safe — if nothing else, the chances of a dooring are lower in residential parking zones.

A surprising problem around Porter and Davis Squares is the existence of not-too-awful alternate inbound routes, but no comparably calm return routes.  Outbound at Davis it’s possible to swing to the right and take (one-way, low-traffic) Orchard all the way to Porter Square, albeit with a few stops, but Orchard is one-way.  At Porter inbound, you can ride past on Elm, then right on Mossland and then jog right onto Beacon, but for the return there’s no similar option; I end up riding a stretch on Somerville Ave, right for a bit on White Street, that becomes one-way, so I cut through the Porter Square parking lot, which is probably not a very safe choice (parking lots are usually slow places, but the traffic is very unpredictable).

In Davis, it’s also a little off-putting that if I did want to stay on the bike path, I must dismount and walk for more than a bit, and if I wait for the walk signal across College Ave, that can take a surprisingly long time, and it seems like the must-walk requirement extends alongside the bus-way on the other side.  It all seems to be a bit of infrastructure design by nudge-nudge-wink-wink — “we’ll not do anything to inconvenience pedestrians, or the T, or drivers, but in return, usually we’ll look the other way when cyclists break a few of our sillier regulations or ride carefully on the sidewalk, which in turn allows us to complain about their behavior whenever they ask for better accommodation”.

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