Tuesday, February 27, 2007

guerrilla Link schedule

We were just lamenting the drift away from useful tips towards comments on AANews articles that now make-up the bulk of our postings. Despite our best efforts to come up with new resources and suggestions for carfree life in Ann Arbor, we're running out of ideas. But in our darkest hour, Ed Vielmetti has picked up the torch, creating a simple flickr post giving estimates for a bunch of bus stops for the Link service.

The comments in his image show his best estimate of Link arrival times by the minute, as well as nearby destinations, parking options, and wireless sources. We have been researching ways to represent this kind of info with map mash-ups or other tricks. While we were pondering and tinkering, Ed made it happen. Thanks, Ed!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

bikes on buses: good marketing or excessive luxury

Paul Dorn of bikecommutetips posted this pic in his post on intermodal travel.

While Paul claims that the upright position is an efficient use of space, note that two seats are folded up to make space for the bike. As a bus rider, this looks like one passenger taking up three seats. Accomodating bikes on buses is great, but if we had to stand in the aisle while a wet bike taking up two seats dripped on our pant leg, our sympathy for all-weather cyclists would fade fast.

On the other hand, as a bike commuter, we have to admit that in-bus parking does give us a slight case of transit envy.

We love the front-mounted bike racks on AATA buses. We've never had a problem using them or seen any damage to our bikes. Besides, it would be a pain in the rear to get a bike into the bus. Does any one else see a reason to move bikes inside the bus?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

summing up a carfree year

About this time last year, Alan Durning decided to give the carfree lifestyle an honest effort. His family of five committed to not owning a car for a year, though they did carshare, carpool, bum rides, and borrow from friends. He has provided updates throughout the year, and now he has posted a summary of the experiment, listing the many ways that going carfree has changed their lives.

In the final analysis, he's not completely sold on the carfree family life, especially for his wife, who, he notes, takes the bulk of the transportation burden.

laptop housekeeping on the bus

We're always on the look-out for ways to keep occupied/entertained/educated/productive/satiated during a bus ride. For those who cary a laptop, a bus commute would be a great time to check email, catch up on the latest carfree ann arbor tips, and all the other Internetty items on your to-do list. Unfortunately, AATA buses don't offer internet service yet. Some cutting-edge bus commuters may be taking advantage of GPRS connections via PDAs and smart phones, but many will have to wait for AATA wireless bus hubs or (more likely) the Wireless Washtenaw project in order to access the Internets on the bus.

That said, there are all kinds of manual maintenance and gtd (getting things done) tasks from which Net connetions tend to distract us. A 20 minute bus ride may be the perfect Web-free time to focus on a little virtual house cleaning. commutesmarter.blogspot.com posted a list of Internet-less tasks that help keep your commute productive. They include updating itunes playlists, deleting old files for disk space, and catching up on RSS feeds. We would add calendar and task list updates, prepping email and blog posts, and sorting and labeling pictures as other mundane but necessary tasks that fit nicely into a bus ride.

Of course, there are limitations to how productive bus seat typing can be. Sunlight makes the screen hard to see, bumps and sudden stops could send a laptop flying, and the twitching elbows and wandering eyes of other passengers might make you think twice before booting up on the bus. But we would, as always, be interested to hear how you take advantage of the free time on the bus, with or without technical aids.

Monday, February 19, 2007

hooray for the link!

AATA's beloved, purple, younger sibling to regular bus service, the Link, is catching on with downtown residents and visitors. AATA announces that the Link set record-high ridership in January, as well as breaking the single-day record in December.

The freeze-bomb that dropped on the city in the middle of January certainly helped boost ridership, but the trend seems to be sticking as February shows four days of +1,900 ridership. The Link is finally getting the love it deserves. Considering that it is free, frequent, and easy to spot, one wonders how it took so long for Ann Arbor to catch on.

According to Chris White at AATA,

"The Link provided five times as many rides last month as it did in January, 2004, the first year of operation. These figures are quite impressive, since the service was fine tuned more than a year ago and now runs fewer hours, but carries many more riders."
Hopefully, a continuing increase in ridership will encourage AATA to expand Link service into the evenings.

Ypsi [heart] bikes

As mentioned "in brief" in the AANews, WBWC will host a little non-motorized get-together at the Corner Brewery in Ypsi on Thursday, Feb 22. The event includes a showing of "Still We Ride", the Critical Mass movie, as well as updates and info on upcoming NMT projects and events in Ypsi. The News is quick to point out that these projects "would be funded by grants from groups outside of Ypsilanti."

Upcoming Ypsi events include a Safe Routs to School training session on March 13 and "Get Active Ypsi", a month of fun events that encourage Ypsians to get 30 minutes of exercise every day which is very easy if you walk or bike to work). The events coincide with Ann Arbor's Curb Your Car Month.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

DIY warming pads for mittens

While scouring The Internets for more useful carfree tips, we stumbled across a local hiking blog. We're are quickly learning that the most inovative carfree tricks, tips, and hacks are not labeled as such. Hiking tips are easily converted to town & city pedestrian use, so look for more links to simplehiker in the future.

Simplehiker points to a instructables post dead link on how to make microwavable rice heating pads.

However, the project seems pretty straight-forward: make a pouch, fill it with rice, put it in the microwave, then slide them into your mittens. We assume they can be reheated over and over. Without further guidence, we suggest testing the heat of the pad before sticking your hand in a hot mitten. This will work much better with a roomy pair of mittens than with gloves. Oh, and they are using dry rice, not cooked!

We stand by our theory that all you need to stay warm is a good pair of mittens and a Michigan beer. But this is a good DIY for those who haven't found the right mittens yet.

skis on the bus

We have unconfirmed reports from Ypsidixit that you can bring your x-countries skis with you on the bus*. Now that there is a little snow on the ground, this may actually come in handy. Note that they haven't added a ski rack or anything, but storing them under your seat appears to be acceptable.

"kudos to people who eschew snow-whining/excuses and instead embrace the beautiful snow and enjoy it."
Amen to that!

*your milage may vary, and is likely directly related to the friendliness of your greeting to the driver!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

headphone cord wrapping tips

Whether you ride the bus, walk or ride a bike, mp3 players are a great addition to a carfree journey. Unless, that is, you are spending half the trip trying to untangle a rat's nest of headphone cord. Lifehacker posted a video from instructables on how to wind headphones so they don't get all tangled. As usual, the comments have a bunch of (possibly better) additional suggestions.

Most important is not to wind the cord too tight or bend it too much. You'll end up breaking the wire eventually.

Monday, February 12, 2007

bike lanes and sidewalks slated for stadium blvd.

The AANews announces proposed construction on E. Stadium between Main and South Industrial. On-street bike lanes and a sidewalk on the south side of the street are included in the improvements. The project, slated for 2009, will make a mess of traffic, but the NMT improvements will be great. From the article:

Already there are ideas about a pedestrian connection from South State Street up to the East Stadium Boulevard overpass, as well as sidewalks along both sides of the bridges and walk-throughs below.
The city also plans to add a "path for pedestrians and bicyclists" along the west side of Main from Stadium to Ann Arbor-Saline Rd. That project would start sooner at a cost of $1.5 million. We're generally opposed to mixing bikes and pedestrians, but at least there are few driveways to cross along this stretch. We're also not exited about the prospect of a pedestrian bridge.
Engineers will consider whether a pedestrian bridge would fit the area and perhaps whether safety islands in the middle of East Stadium Boulevard would help pedestrians crossing it on football Saturdays, Nearing said.
In our walking experience, pedestrians avoid climbing stairs at all costs. We much prefer safety islands.

All in all, this is a great set of NMT improvements in an areas that is decidedly pedestrian-unfriendly, along with sorely needed bridge improvements. Despite the expected traffic delays during construction, everyone should be happy with the project- except for the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club.
Members are worried that, at worst, new sidewalks would mean realigning one or more holes on the course, which, in a domino effect, might mean changing the entire layout of the course, said Tony Werderitsch, board president of the club.
The proposed path might affect the course, as well as game day parking that the Club makes a nice wad of cash from during football season. And of course, the club is concerned about pedestrian safety:
A sidewalk along the club's periphery might encourage people to cross either Main Street or East Stadium Boulevard in the middle of the block, Werderitsch said.
Thanks for the concern, but the sidewalk not a threat to walkers, the auto traffic is. Surely there are a plethera of ways that the Club could better express their interest in pedestrian safety than opposing this project.

DDA bails on fifth & division redesign

This came out in Thursday's paper, but we held back on posting it til today in hopes that is was an error. Alas, it appears that we can't blame this on typos or poor reporting. After all the effort put into Calthorpe and design consultants, the DDA did an about face, tightened their collective sphincter, and voted against the pedestrian and bike improvements on these parrallel rivers of traffic that divide the city.

The project already has conceptual approval and funding set aside, but several DDA members balked at the potential expense of a project that will add only 110 parking spaces downtown.

Arbor Brewing Company co-owner Rene Greff, sounding annoyed, pointed out that the DDA had approved spending $5 million to pay for the addition of 140 spaces atop the garage at Fourth Avenue and William Street, which she called the "least desirable'' parking structure.

No, it's not all about parking. We lost out on multiple improvements including bike lanes, sidewalk bulb-outs, and better streetscaping. In all it was one of the best integrated, full-featured plans to come out of the DDA. As baffling as it is that such a full featured and well researched plan would be shot down, even more incomprehensible is the fact that the majority paid for the whole process only to shoot it down with bean counting arguments at the very end.

Well, maybe it is not the very end. The designer is coming back in March. We'll keep our fingers crossed...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

bike advocacy how-to

cyclicio.us has posted an interview with Dan Grunig, Executive Director of Bicycle Colorado, on how to participate in, improve, or jumpstart bike advocacy efforts locally. He doesn't offer any magic tricks or short-cuts. Mostly he hammers home the fact that "our governmental decision making process is dominated by people who show up." Well worth a read for those who want to get involved as well as those who think there is no reason to participate.

AANews round-up

Our housekeeping staff fell asleep at the wheel while the local rag covered a few items of interest to the carfree community.

We mentioned this in December and January, so the News' announcement is a bit behind the times [insert your own snarky comment on "old media" here]. However, it is nice to find that riders are actually making use of this tool and that it seems to work for them (we were skeptical about the usability of this feature when it first came out).

a serious culture change
The biker banter that we've heard has been pretty positive about this article. Sure, it overlooks the dangers of cycling on the sidewalk, but at least the News is creating a discussion on the topic of road-sharing culture, right? The point of the article, that infrastructure alone will not encourage walking and biking, is a fair criticism.
However, instead of offering examples of other aspects of change, the editorial's advice dwindles at this point. They sum up by saying that, "We'll need a serious culture change, one in which bike riders are viewed as having a legitimate place on our roads." Yet they fail to identify any implementable goals or policies that might bring about this serious cultural change By the end of the article, we were left feeling hopeless about the future of NMT in Ann Arbor instead of inspired.
We also have a gripe with the over-played caveat they tack on that, "That respect cuts both ways, though - cyclists also need to respect the rules of the road, and too often that's not the case."
We're taking the hard line here. Unlawful traffic behavior by a few cyclists should not lead to a less safe environment for all cyclists. This line of argument seems to condone the flawed and dangerous concept of some motorists that cutting off cyclists, running them off the road, not giving sufficient clearance when passing, throwing garbage at bikers as they pass by is justified because some cyclists roll through stop signs or disobey other traffic laws. The News makes the mistake of equating a culture of law with a culture of respect and decency, and they completely disregard the "might is right" attitude that dominates interaction between large, heavy, and fast-moving automobiles with bicycles.

it's cold
AANews declares the recent temperature drop to be a sort of cosmic equalizing to make up for any joy Michiganders may have gotten out of a balmy December. This weather should be taken seriously by carfree folks. Especially those with kids, who lose body heat quickly. Stay warm and keep trips short or stop along the way to warm up. Of course the bus is usually a toasty option. And dress appropriately, as the article points out:

The CDC recommends that in extreme cold, adults and children should wear a hat; a scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth; sleeves that are snug at the wrist; mittens (warmer than gloves); water-resistant coat and boots; and several layers of loose-fitting clothing.

They're warm, they're stylish, and they're statriotic. As we've said before, wear mittens and drink Michigan beer!