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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Scoot Commute Diaries: Thar She Blows

When there’s a weather advisory for 25+ mph winds and your office is smack dab between two light rail stations, the downwind station is the right choice for an easier way to glide.

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About the Bike Commute Diaries: Launched in May 2012 for National Bike Month, this series explores the unexpected and surprising things I’ve learned about bicycling for transportation.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Commute Diaries, Other Stuff

 

Anything Goes Commute Challenge: How to Score It

I flew home from my busy week in Las Vegas yesterday and I’m settling back into my usual routine. Normally that would mean grabbing my bike this morning for my preferred Caltrain + bike commute. But in the spirit of the Anything Goes Challenge I grabbed my scooter instead and pushed off for VTA Light Rail.

Since I’ve only taken tried scooter + light rail commute once, I didn’t think not fair to judge it yet. We’re biased toward what’s familiar and like any route planning, it takes a few times to work out the kinks and otherwise optimize the trip. Plus the Wi-Fi on the train would give me some time to work on this post.

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When I started this challenge, I thought I could come up with an equation that would definitively choose the superior commute mode given specific data points. But since we all value things differently, creating a universal equation would be as short-sighted as the usual method of simply considering travel time and cost. We know there’s more that drives our preferences than that. Here’s my personal value equation:

  • Time Wasted Score = overall time – (exercise time up to 45 min) – (50% reading time, 90% if Wi-Fi)
  • Lifestyle Convenience Score = 1 pt for each positive answer (partial credit given)
  • Determining Factor = A particular criteria that drives a particular choice.

Anything Goes Overall

Why didn’t I focus more on cost per trip? Because it’s not what drives me to choose one mode over another. I’m not strongly driven by environmental factors either. Except for driving, they are all equally good in my book.

To enter the Anything Goes Challenge: Take two or more distinct transportation modes to a specific destination you visit regularly (work, school, store, etc). Take the same mode a least twice to give it a fair shake. Collect data, tabulate your scorecard, and assess each mode according to your own value equation. Explain which mode works best for you and why.

Send your summary to ladyfleur500@gmail.com by April 30. Please include one or more photos that I can include in a post about you, as well as your scorecard data and your personal value equation. Selected stories will be featured on this blog throughout May for National Bike Month. If you’re private about things, just let me know and I’ll use your first name only or an alias of your choosing.

And while this is a challenge, not a contest, my buddy Richard of Cyclelicious is seeing what he can do to scrape up a prize or two. So you may get something more than just bragging rights for your efforts.

So get out there and scoot, ride, pedal, paddle, run or glide today! Take a watch, take photos and be creative.

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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Anything Goes, Around Town

 

Anything Goes Commute Challenge: Caltrain + Bike

In 1863, barely 10 years after California became a state, passenger rail service between San Francisco and San Jose opened for service. The line paralleled El Camino Real, the Spanish “king’s road,” hitting every small town on the peninsula. Ridership declined after World War II and the service was nearly shut down in 1977.

It was spared the chopping block and reborn as Caltrain, which has continued to struggle due to lack of dedicated funding. But ridership is booming these days, in part due to “baby bullet” express trains that do the 50 mile trip from San Francisco to San Jose in an hour, and due to bicyclists. In the mid-90s Caltrain rolled out modified rail cars that store 40 bikes, one car per train. The bike cars became so popular that bicyclists were turned away, so now two of the five Caltrain cars are bike cars and bicyclists make up 10% of Caltrain ridership.

Caltrain in the morning

If you’ve read this blog for long, you know I ride Caltrain with my bike almost every day for my work commute. The Mountain View station is one short mile from my home, the train ride is 15 minutes on an uncrowded train, and when I arrive in San Jose it’s an easy three miles to my office on the delightful Guadalupe River Trail.

The Advantages: The train is fast with easy-to-use, plentiful bike racks, and full of interesting, friendly people aboard. The bike ride is long enough to get some exercise, but short enough that I don’t need to change clothes. And it’s on a low stress, quiet route with trees and birds and harmless homeless people. There’s a big shopping center with almost every kind of store just off the trail, and since I’m not carrying clothes I can buy a decent amount; the limiting factor is whether I can carry it aboard the train. I can also go anywhere else along the Caltrain line after work, even all the way to San Francisco, faster than if I drove.

The Disadvantages: Most Caltrain cars require climbing three tall steps to get aboard, which takes some skill in heels with a bike. As far as transit fares go, Caltrain is not that cheap and requires tagging on and off for most passes, which is surprisingly hard to remember. If you forget, it’s an expensive ticket.

Caltrain + bike

The Upshot: I love my Caltrain + bike commute because it’s the perfect low stress blend of exercise, reading, socializing and access to after work activities: shopping, dinner and meetings. Pretty efficient for 50 minutes.

Next up in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge is how YOU can take the challenge. Bike, train, scooter, skates, ferry, kayak: how will you do it?

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Posted by on April 13, 2013 in Anything Goes, Around Town

 

Anything Goes Commute Challenge: VTA Light Rail

When I moved to Silicon Valley in the mid-1980s, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) was busy launching their first light rail lines from the mostly residential South San Jose through downtown to the technology office parks in North San Jose. Then in the late 1990s, not long after I quit my job in North San Jose, they extended the line to the Caltrain station in Mountain View, a 20 minute walk from my home.

VTA Light Rail was specifically designed to reach the major South Bay employers and indeed it does. I’ve worked at five different employer sites within 1/2 mile of a station. That’s almost half of my total work sites. But I’ve never ridden it regularly. VTA Light Rail is not particularly fast and the walk isn’t particularly short or fun.

VTA Light Rail Wide

My current job is once again within 1/2 mile from a station, so it’s natural for me to try VTA light rail again. Since I now carry a laptop every day, the one mile walk to the station feels even longer. Bikes are allowed on board, but the racks are designed for lighter bikes, not city bikes with panniers and front baskets. My solution: a push scooter with a messenger bag. It shortens my time by 1/3 and makes me feel like a kid again.

The Advantages: At $2 a trip without a pass, VTA is definitely a bargain. The trains are clean and quiet with free Wifi that works well enough for me to work on the train. Using the push scooter exercises different muscles than I use on the bike and I get a solid 20 minutes of exercise and 50 minutes of work time.

The Disadvantages: The overall trip time is longer than riding my bicycle the whole way to work. That’s slow. There are decent sidewalks on the route, but the San Jose segment is not a pedestrian-rich area, so drivers are less careful. After almost getting right-hooked when walking across a driveway on N 1st Street, I switched to taking the sidewalk against traffic so I can see the cars coming. It’s harder to go out to lunch and the after-work shopping is limited to what I can carry in a messenger bag. And I can’t wear most of my heels.

Light Rail

The Upshot: Riding VTA Light Rail is great for getting a solid 45 minutes of work in route to the office, and riding a scooter is a fun way to work out your gluteal muscles.

Next up in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge is Caltrain with my bike. How will it will compare?

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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in Anything Goes, Around Town

 

Anything Goes Commute Challenge: 100% Bicycle

In the mid-90s I bought an inexpensive mountain bike to ride around town. I fell in love with that bike and rode it longer and longer distances until I realized I could do the 10 or so miles to my job in San Jose, not far from where I work today. I had rear rack to carry my clothes, a locker room with a shower at work, and a safe place to store my bike. My only issue was finding a bike-friendly route to get there.

The problem was that my office was across the freeway from my home and the only crossings were on high-speed, heavy-traffic roads. The answer came at my company’s health fair where a volunteer from the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition helped me find a less obvious, better freeway crossing plus a more mellow route along the bay. It was about an hour each way, so I only rode 1-2 times per week, and only during summer.

Bike Commuter

Riding a few miles south on that bayside route takes me to my current job near the San Jose airport, a 14 mile trip that’s half on moderate traffic roads and half on bay and creek trails. The more direct alternative is 11 miles on Central Expressway which has a wide shoulder, but cars moving at close to freeway speeds. Not my idea of fun. And strangely, the longer bay route is almost as fast since there are fewer stops.

The Advantages: Riding over two hours a day is a great way to get in shape. You can take it easy for base training or work hard in intervals for true training. With a good route like the Bay Trail you can get some fresh air and enjoy nature on the way to work. And it’s virtually free, about 5 cents per mile for bike wear and tear.

The Disadvantages: Finding a good route isn’t always easy and road construction can leave you stranded without options. You need to pack and carry clothes and preferably have a shower if your ride is over 8-10 miles. Unless you’re wanting the training time, longer rides are tough to do both ways every day. My route is windy in evening which adds 5-10 minutes. Riding a road bike to lunch may not be comfortable in your work clothes, and you’ll likely have limited bag space for shopping after work.

Pure Bicycle

The Upshot: A great way to get a workout if you have a good route and a shower at work, but don’t expect to do this kind of commute every day.

Next up in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge is VTA Light Rail. Can you guess how it will compare?

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Posted by on April 10, 2013 in Anything Goes, Around Town

 

Anything Goes Commute Challenge: Driving Solo

It’s the way the overwhelming majority of people get to work in the US: the single-occupant private automobile. Where workplaces sit on high-speed, crowded roads, far from neighborhoods where people live and without frequent or reliable transit available, driving can be the only option. I’m glad I have more transportation choices.

For the first eight years of my career, I drove to work exclusively. Even after I started dabbling in bike commuting I still drove alone 90% of the time, until a few years when I took a job five miles away. When the car trip takes 10-20 minutes vs 20-25 minutes by bike on a quiet neighborhood streets, it’s easy to make the switch.

Hwy 101 Freeway

My current job in San Jose is 11 miles from home in Mountain View. By car, it’s an 1.5 easy miles to the freeway, 9 miles on the freeway in the reverse commute direction and 1/2 mile from the freeway exit to the office. There’s little traffic in the morning and only moderate traffic in the evening, so it’s short by Silicon Valley standards: only 20-30 minutes.

The Advantages: My car commute has many advantages: I can leave when ever I want, I can wear whatever I want, and since we have a parking garage that connects to our building I don’t even have to bring an umbrella. I can listen to the radio and have my own private space. I can also do errands at lunch and before and after work.

The Disadvantages: In the car I can’t work, read, text or safely talk on the phone. Even with hands-free I find the phone conversations too distracting to be safe. Errands before or after work or at lunch are often not as convenient as expected. Due to bad traffic near the main shopping areas, even basic errands add an extra 10-15 minutes. Driving times are unpredictable. What’s usually 20 minutes can easily become 40 minutes with an accident on the freeway or extra traffic from a concert or other large event. Driving isn’t cheap either, which is why the US government sets mileage reimbursements at 56.5 cents per mile for business travel.

Anything Goes Driving

The Upshot: Driving is very convenient and comfortable with my short commute, but it’s not as cheap as it seems and I have to take other time out of my day to get exercise or read.

Next up in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge is bicycling to work. Can you guess how it will compare?

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Posted by on April 9, 2013 in Anything Goes, Around Town

 

Take the Anything Goes Commute Challenge

It’s the start of the second week of the 30 Days of Biking challenge and I’m a little bummed out when I hear everyone’s daily bike stories. I’m bummed because I’m at a trade show in Las Vegas for a week, and between the heavy workload during the day and running around town with co-workers and partners in the evening, I knew I couldn’t pledge to bike every day. Not to mention that the Las Vegas Strip is not known for being bike-friendly.

Las Vegas Strip

Rather than whine about not being able to participate in that challenge, I propose a new one: the Anything Goes Commute Challenge, a face-off between all possible transportation options for your work, school or other commute. Why? Because most people select one and stick to it without trying all options, including me.

When I started my current job over a year ago I researched options for my 10+ mile commute: drive, bike, light rail and train + bike. The plan was to try them all, compare them, and write up the results. But after riding Caltrain with my bike a few times I settled into a routine and more or less crossed other options off the list.

So here it is a year later and I’m finally compiling my results and will share them with you this week, barring excessive work or late-night partying. I doubt I’ll have many bike stories from Las Vegas to share.

Right Tool  for Trip

What about you? How many commute options have you tried? Two, perhaps three? Have you tried everything? Maybe you should take the Anything Goes Commute Challenge with me. I’d love to hear all about your varied commutes. I know some of you have some interesting commutes involving trail rides, bikes on ferries, running and roller skates. (Those were all from Californians, but I know there are creative people everywhere)

To join the challenge: Try two or more commute options during April. Think out of the box. There’s probably an option you haven’t tried yet, like the bus or multi-modal trips like bike + car. Record the distances, time spent in each mode and cost of the trip for each. If your work or school commute offers only one reasonable option, feel free to substitute another frequent destination such as a store or friend’s house.

On Monday, April 15, I will post my results give you details on evaluation criteria and how to enter. Note that there are no prizes since I’m not one of those sponsored bloggers who gets free stuff to give away. But I can give you a chance to be spotlighted on my blog during May, which is National Bike Month in the US. So take pictures. Lots of them (landscape preferred). The contest will end on April 30, so get started today!

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Posted by on April 7, 2013 in Anything Goes, Around Town

 

Fashion Friday: Scooting Along in Razor-Sharp Red

When you’re zipping over to the light rail station on your scooter, you need the right accessories: a large close-fitting bag for your laptop, a small bag for your transit pass, sturdy shoes, and a helmet if you’re a novice like me. They say learning new things keeps you young. I don’t know about that, but I feel like I’m 10 again.

Red Coat Red Shoes Red Scooter

When I was a little girl I wanted a pair of red Mary Jane shoes, but Momma said they weren’t practical.

About Fashion Friday: Inspired by a 2011 Bike to Work Day challenge sponsored by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, this series highlights the broad range of “dress for the destination” bicycling fashions.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2013 in Cycle Fashions

 

Why We Ride: Cycletherapy

To cope with high-pressures jobs, some people head outdoors to sweat off the stress, while others seek out friends to talk it out over a drink or a cup of coffee. When you have good friends to ride with and beautiful places to ride right in your backyard, you can multi-task by sweating it off and talking it out all at the same time.

How do you deal with stress? Do you prefer to go it alone or seek out others? Is there a special place you go?

Cycletherapy

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2013 in Backroads

 

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Bike Commute Diaries: All Aboard for a Field Trip

The wheels on the bus may go round and round, but the Caltrain flies down the tracks at 80 mph. This large group of lucky school kids were headed up to San Francisco for a tour of AT&T Park while I was headed down to San Jose for work. If I were a kid, the train ride, not the SF Giants, would be enough of a field trip for me.

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About the Bike Commute Diaries: Launched in May 2012 for National Bike Month, this series explores the unexpected and surprising things I’ve learned about bicycling for transportation.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2013 in Commute Diaries

 
 
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