bikes at work

Several less cars this week

Riding to work in the winter (especially in Pittsburgh) can be a lonely journey. Not everyone is crazy dedicated enough to ride through the rain, snow, and single digit temps day in and day out. But Wednesday, I was pleasantly surprised as not one, not two but three of my coworkers joined me in the car-free commute.

bikes at work

This goes to show you that one person can make a difference. And if there are enough one-persons that can encourage their  coworkers to bike to work, then the world would be a better place. Changing the world… check.

The other great thing about working with others that ride to work is that going out for lunch is more fun. We biked the ~2 miles from our office to a local eatery (Double Wide Grill). Fortunately, our office and the restaurant are both very close to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, so no worrying about traffic (just walkers, joggers, dogs and baby strollers).

biking to lunch

bike to lunch

Making Pittsburgh More Livable

MOVEPGH kickoff meetingPittsburgh is taking steps to be even more livable – starting with a comprehensive transportation plan aimed at getting more people walking and biking and less people driving. Go ahead, do your little happy dance.

I just got back from the kickoff meeting for MOVEPGH, which is the transportation portion of PLANPGH. If you haven’t heard about either of these, go to the sites for the full details, or read Bike Pittsburgh’s post about it.

Briefly, the purpose of MOVEPGH is to “provide a transportation network that is safe and efficient while meeting the city’s commercial, residential and recreational needs.  At its essence, MOVEPGH is a vision of the City’s transportation network for 2035.”

A big effort is being put on increasing the transportation options in a way that leads to a healthier, more vibrant and economically thriving community. And although Pittsburgh has already been named the most livable city in America (on several occasions), there is still a huge opportunity to improve. One area in particular that I’d love to see increase is the percentage of the city’s population that bikes to work, which is at 1.4%. That puts Pittsburgh at 53rd out of the 244 biggest US cities (by population). In comparison, Boulder Colorado is tops with 12.3%, followed by Eugene, Oregon at 10.8%. Portland, Oregon, a city that is more comparable to Pittsburgh, is at 5.8%. (2009 American Community Survey Commuter Statistics)

When it comes to pedestrians, Pittsburgh is already #2 in the country, with 14% of the people hoofing it to work.

From the PLANPGH site, “As more people move to Pittsburgh’s urban core, enhanced transit, walking and biking options will be required in order for improvements in safety, capacity and efficiency to be achieved.” There are tremendous opportunities for us to not only improve the cycling conditions and options in the city, but also for walking, transit, and yes – even driving.

It is essential for the success of this plan that you participate. Make your voice heard. Share your ideas, complaints, and opinions with the planning team – this is an opportunity that won’t come again for a very long time, and it will affect the city’s transportation decisions for the next 25 years. There will be additional opportunities for your input during a goal setting workshop (early March) and a series of 4 week-long workshops to be held between April and August. See the PLANPGH outreach events calendar for details, and follow their Facebook Page to stay on top of what’s happening.

Google Maps Biking Directions

Biking Directions in Google Maps

If you live or work in a large city, choosing the right path to take on your commute can be the difference in enjoying your daily ride and getting run over by a car. While there are some streets that are wide enough and maybe even have bike lanes, there are others that are narrow with no shoulders or have parked cars lining the curb. Trying to figure out the quickest, and safest path to work can be difficult, especially if you’re not familiar with the labyrinth of city streets, alleys, bike paths, rail trails, etc.

So how do you choose your route? If you’re in Pittsburgh, you’re lucky – you can download and print the Pittsburgh Bike Map from Bike Pittsburgh. For everyone else who’s not so lucky to live in the new Portland, you can use the biking directions feature of Google Maps.

“Google Maps has biking directions?” Not an uncommon question. The answer is yes. You can go to Google Maps, click on Get Directions, type in your starting and ending points and get driving directions. You probably already knew that. But have you noticed the little biker icon that you can click on? (See below)

Google Maps Biking Directions

Clicking on that biker dude will bring up directions geared for pedaling. They’ve been available since March 2010, but have recently been updated and improved. As of last week, a new legend feature provides better understanding of what the different colors on the bike maps symbolize.

  • Dark green is for dedicated trails and paths
  • Light green is for roads with dedicated lanes
  • Dotted green is for roads that are friendly for cyclists

Now when choosing your route to work (or wherever you’re going) it’s easier to see which roads are more cycling-friendly. That way, you can live to bike another day.

Your Turn

What resources do you use to plan your routes? Are there some great local organizations in your city that provide bike maps or something similar? Let me know in the comments!

Rainy Pittsburgh - view from Station Square

Another rainy day in the ‘burgh

It’s been a rainy winter here this year. In fact, it’s been so wet I’m finally going to break down and spend some of my hard-earned cash on some proper rain gear (pants and shoe covers, to be exact). As soon as I get something and have the opportunity to wear it a few times, I’ll report back on it to let you know if it’s worth the money.

In the meantime, I’d like to keep this post short and sweet, and leave you with a picture I took on my ride home this evening. It was raining pretty steadily, but I managed to find a dry spot under the roof just outside Joe’s Crabshack in Station Square. There was a slight mist surrounding the city, which made the glow of the lights hauntingly beautiful.

Rainy Pittsburgh - view from Station Square

(This image was taken with an iPhone 3Gs and has been enhanced in Photoshop)

underwear

Don’t forget your underwear

underwearI was debating whether or not to post this, because I don’t want to make any co-workers who may be reading this uncomfortable. But I have an obligation to all hopeful bike-commuters to give any and all tips that can be helpful. And this tip, like many things that are common sense, needs to be said out loud because sometimes the obvious things are the first we forget about.

Don’t forget your underwear.

If you wear biking clothes on  your commute and pack your work clothes to change into (like I do) this should go without saying. But if you went to bed late, got a bad night’s sleep (two kids under 3 years old will do that) and woke up late, you may be in a rush when you’re packing your clothes in the morning. That’s exactly what happened to me last week. Yeah, I forgot my underwear.

Granted, there are worse things in life than free-ballin’ it, but I’d rather keep everything snug, if you know what I mean. I now have an acronym that I use EVERY SINGLE MORNING to make sure I have at least the bare essentials:

PS – SUB

It stands for Pants. Shirt. Socks. Underwear. Belt.

Emphasis on the U.

 

How to dry out your wet shoes

Inevitably, you will be caught in the rain. Your pants, coat, helmet, gloves and shoes will be thoroughly soaked at some point. Although it does make bike commuting miserable at times, it’s important to remember to take the good with the bad. And more importantly, when you do get drenched, how will you dry out your gear overnight so your morning commute doesn’t start with soggy feet?

Here’s a little tip I’m putting to use tonight – how to dry out your shoes. It’s simple, really. Just take a newspaper, crumple up a page and stuff it into your shoe. Do this until the shoe is full, then place your shoes in front of a dehumidifier.

This trick has worked even when my shoes have been saturated and dripping, so I know it will work for you too.

I rode my bike today

I don’t know everything, but…

I rode my bike today

Image by BikePortland.org

I don’t know everything there is to know about bike commuting. Far from it – there’s a lot that I’m still finding out everyday (and sharing with you here!). Learning things the hard way isn’t always fun, like the time I forgot to check the radar before heading home when an impending storm was moving in. Now, if there’s even a small chance of rain, I’ll look out the window and check weather.com before leaving.

I much prefer to learn things the easy way. Fortunately, this interwebz thing makes it easy to learn from other people’s mistakes and experiences. As I find some good intel, I’ll be sure to share it here.

The first thing I’d like to share with you is Paul Dorn’s Bike Commuting Tips. This is a well written, entertaining summary of the top things to consider to make bike commuting easier for you. He covers topics like choosing a bike, choosing a route, parking and locks, bike maintenance, safety and more. He also has a blog that, although it hasn’t been updated in a couple months, does have some interesting material.

It’s Your Turn

I’d love to hear your tips – that’s what the comments are for! Let everyone know your top tip on bike commuting and we can all learn from each other.

Pittsburgh bridge and skyline

Pittsburgh skyline from two wheels

We don’t get too many sunny days in Pittsburgh (especially in the winter) so the view from today’s ride was a Kodak moment worth stopping for. Here’s what I see everyone morning, at least when the sun’s shining:

 Pittsburgh bridge and skyline

Bridge over the Ohio River in Pittsburgh

View of Pittsburgh Skyline from the west end

I took these pictures with my iPhone 3GS, which, by the way, is hard to do if you don’t have the special gloves that work on touch screens. Here’s a tip: if you push the main button twice, you can go straight to the camera without having to swipe the bar across. Just touch the camera icon with your nose, then use the volume button to take the picture. That way you don’t have to take off your gloves just to take a picture.

iPhone 3GS nose swipe

One less car today

I’m happy to say that I wasn’t the only person in my office who biked to work today. My coworker Phil rolled in shortly after me on his vintage Cannondale road bike. One less car on the road.

It’s a good feeling to know that I played a small role in encouraging him to ride to work. Of course, the 50 degree January day helped! Part of the reason I’m doing this is to show people it’s possible to give up the normal bumper-to-bumper grind for a two-wheeled commute. So far so good – one week in and +1 rider.

1 week down, 51 weeks to go

I’ve committed to riding to work every day this year, and sharing all the helpful tips and information I learn along the way. I created the Resources page last night, where I’ll be adding links to great content that will help make bike commuting easier and more enjoyable for you. There are a few links there now, and I’ll be adding to it regularly.

How ’bout that weather?

hourly weather for bicycle commuteTuesday and Wednesday this week were below 20 degrees. Tomorrow (Friday)  is going to be around 45 degrees. People always talk about the weather – it’s cliche. But when you’re biking to work everyday, it takes on all new importance.

Knowing whether it will be 25 or 35 degrees is the difference between wearing an extra shirt or the heavy gloves. And you don’t want to dress too warm in the morning if it’s going to be warming up throughout the day.

But one thing I’ve found is that knowing the weather the night before is critical to winning the mental game of riding to work in nasty weather. If you’re not ready for it, waking up to a below-freezing or rainy morning makes it easy to make excuses and rationalize why you should just drive to work. But just knowing the night before what you’re in for, and preparing for it (breaking out the rain jacket or extra fleece) makes it so much easier to stick to it.

What do I do every night before bed? I check weather.com (they have a nice iPhone app) right before I plug my phone in and crawl under the covers.