Sometimes Biking Isn’t the Car-Free Answer

Longtime readers of my blog know that it started off talking about biking, biking as a woman, biking while trying to stay fashionable, and making biking safer and more accessible. Over the years, my sewing has taken a larger role and some of the biking-as-transportation topics have dropped away. Although there are multiple reasons for the slow shift, lately, the reason why I haven’t been blogging about biking is because I simply haven’t been. Major surgery at the end of March kept me off my bike for almost three months, then emergency surgery three weeks ago put a stop to my slow increase back into the bike commuting world. It’s frustrating to not be able to bike.

This is what my commute should look like – my bike at the rack at work.

I suppose that most people now are thinking, “Oh, so you are driving to work instead.” Well, no. I don’t own a car. I haven’t had a car since 1999. And although The Mechanic now has a truck, A) it’s his hobby truck B) it’s a “vintage” fixer-upper C) it’s a manual transmission. I did learn on a manual transmission as a 15 year old but haven’t driven stick shift in 30-ish years, so I’m not exactly going to beg to borrow his car to get to work. Instead, I’ve been taking the bus. And Lyft. And I’ve been eyeing those dockless e-scooters that are popping up all over the area. I’m telling you, *those* are a game-changer.

Taking the bus to work is actually a pretty pleasant, convenient commute option. There’s a bus stop a few blocks from our house, and two blocks from my office. I’ve always managed to get a seat, although the buses do tend to fill up. I read the news (depressing) and Twitter (also depressing), post on Instagram, delete unwanted emails, write emails, and obsessively plan future sewing projects. Can’t do that on a bike.

But it’s not ideal. Buses don’t run all the time, and even when they do, you are still shackled to the timetable. No jumping on the bike and going whenever you feel like it. I don’t know what’s going on lately with the driver but I am getting seasick from all the herky-jerky driving, ugh. And I gotta be honest – there have been a few crazy people on the bus. Nothing like a relaxing ride home with the wild-eyed guy in the back cussing up a storm to no one in particular.

Never seen this before – a screen that rotates through camera views *inside* the bus – smile, your commute is on candid camera!

So I’ve been eyeing the dockless e-scooters like Bird and Lime. These electric scooters function similarly to dockless bikeshare – you download an app, agree to a bunch of stuff, enter a credit card, then use the app to locate the closest scooter. Because they are dockless, they can be found and left anywhere – preferably someplace responsible, please, and not the middle of the sidewalk! In April, the Washington Post reviewer said she couldn’t ever see a reason to use them and wasn’t sure anyone else could either. Well, I’m here to give you a reason.

Current and potential commute options

Post-surgery, I’m not allowed to bike, so even electric bikes, docked or dockless, are not an option. Riding the bus is getting on my nerves. I don’t have a personal car option. Lyft is too expensive for a regular commute and if I wanted to ride with other people in a Lyft Line or UberPool, well, I’ll take the bus. However…. an e-scooter is really appealing. I could just stand and let the scooter’s tiny motor get me where I need to go. And I could wear a pencil skirt.

I think the limited amount of effort required to make an e-scooter work is exactly what could make them so much more accessible by people who can’t or won’t bike. Older people, people with balance issues, people with certain mobility issues, people who don’t want to sweat on their way to work – all possible e-scooter users. We in the transportation industry who want to see fewer cars on the road need to find ways to reach beyond the brave, athletic, committed ones and I think e-scooters could be a solution.

Dockless bike saddle share?

Obviously there are many things that e-scooters can’t do, like haul three kids to school the way an e-cargo bike can, but that’s okay. It’s just one more option in the toolkit of carfree living. Because having a range of transportation options for all your different needs means having the flexibility to live without a car. Now we just need a single app to rule them all, Helsinki-style.

I haven’t yet tried an e-scooter but as they move into Arlington, I’m sure I’ll test one out sooner rather than later. I’ll let you know how it goes. It could be my non-bike car free answer.

Maybe I’ll Give Up Biking

Yes, Dear Readers, I had this thought – maybe I should give up biking.

I am normally a pretty patient person but I was really OVER the whole bike commuting thing last week. One (or three) too many drivers cutting in front of me to get to the parallel parking on the right side of the bike lane; one (or two) too many buses speeding past me to zoom into bus stops at the right of the bike lane; and one too many pedestrians running across the road *not* in the crosswalks, then saying “watch for crazy cyclists!” Seriously?!? The selfish, unthinking, clueless, uncaring attitude is what is driving me nuts – is it really THAT HARD to look out for others?!?!?!

The next day, I saw a Tweet from Nelle Pierson, deputy director for WABA (Washington Area Bicyclists Association), saying that she knows 60 people who have been hit by drivers in cars. Sixty! I’m trying to imagine ALL of my friends having been hit by drivers, not just the few who actually have been, including The Mechanic. That same day, Rootchopper blogged and tweeted about the fact that he’s actually Number 66, since he had just been hit by a driver not paying attention. And here is my colleague’s experience after she was half-doored by a driver: Why You Should Care About Other Modes Now.

All of this was clearly the straw that broke my back – I’m so sick of having to prove to the world that biking is a perfectly reasonable, healthy, safe, green transportation option, not crazy, stupid, dangerous, or MAMIL-dominated. They do it in other countries, in quite high numbers, and without helmets! Why is it so impossible to do it here?!*

It would be just as easy to not bike, and probably easier. My alternative commute is a super easy bus route. In the morning, my bus stop is a block from our apartment, and the bus drops me a few blocks from my office. In the evening, the bus stop is in front of my office, and drops me in front of my apartment building. The bus ride takes about the same amount of time as it takes me to bike, with the added bonus of the super nice bus driver who calls me “Supermodel.” It’s nice to start the day with his friendly face and cheerful words.

Not only does the bus offer a super easy route, riding the bus means I don’t have to deal with a helmet, lock, lights, panniers, gloves, pants strap and whatever else I might need. It means that on rainy days, I get to the office comfortable, instead of mostly dry. It means I can read the news or Twitter or catch up on Instagram friends’ sewing projects. It also means I walk right past three different breakfast place options, rather than detour as I normally do, if I want to buy breakfast that day. It means not having to jockey for a spot on the bike rack, either. So there are many reasons why riding the bus to work would be SO MUCH EASIER than biking to work.

Rainy day bus stop selfie

But would I really give up biking?

I don’t know.

At least it did me some good to do some bike errands this weekend – The Mechanic and I biked to Westover where we purchased art from local artists at the Handmade Arlington craft show, then purchased potting soil and some planter boxes, so we can grow lettuce for Gaston. It was a leisurely day with minimal traffic interaction, and made me feel a bit better.

Easily transportation bags of potting soil on a Workcycles bike

Maybe I just need a break from it.


*I know all the reasons, but I’m tired of the excuses. Please don’t try to excuse away the behaviors, put the blame elsewhere, or whatever. I’m perfectly entitled to feel how I do.



Cold Weather Not Biking

I turned on the TV this morning to start a yoga DVD, and an extended Nassau Bahamas commercial was playing – “The Top 10 Reasons to Visit the Bahamas.” White sands, crystal blue waters, people snorkeling, swimming, kayaking in shorts and tank tops and bathing suits – just what I wanted to see on another cold, cold day. Sigh. Growing up in California, I didn’t understand why East Coasters went to Florida every winter, but it didn’t take me long to figure out once I spent a few winters in New York. After 15 years, I still dislike the cold, and seem to be having a harder time dealing with it this year.


The “polar vortex” temperature swings are probably not helping. Anything below 32*F makes me unhappy, so waking up and seeing 11*F with a “real feel” of -2 makes me want to cry. I’ve opted against biking in this weather, but that hasn’t worked out so well…. I have a bus that runs 3 blocks from my apartment to mere blocks from my office, direct. It should be easy. And yet, it hasn’t been. Biking to work all the time makes me forget how awful public transportation can be. So here I am, cussing at Metro along with everyone else. It’s hard to promote public transportation right now when missing buses, perpetual problems on the Metro lines, and unprotected (and therefore freezing) bus shelters all result in miserable, cold, delayed commutes to or from work.

Knowing that I dislike being cold, biking in the cold, changing clothes once I get to work, and wearing thermal underwear all day, last month I made a pair of “winter biking chaps.” Made from the sleeves of an XXL polar fleece, and some ripstop nylon, trimmed with reflective grosgrain, these chaps are intended to wear just over my thighs while I bike. They help cut the wind a bit, and keep that part of my leg from being too cold. My winter biking jacket covers them more than I expected, so the reflective trim gets buried under red quilted down, and they admittedly look pretty dorky when I’m standing in the elevator of my office building, but it’s a small concession to cycle chic, just to stay warm.

I made them up as I went along, and I didn’t have the buckles and as much webbing as I wish I’d had for the waist and leg straps, so they don’t look great, but that’s okay. Someday, it will be warm enough again to wear them. You know, maybe in the 30s.

If only I could be as jolly as this snowman...

If only I could be as jolly as this snowman…

Copenhagen Part 4: Bus and S-Tog Fun!

The pleasant surprise of our trip was that Copenhagen is not only a bicycle-friendly city, it is also a public transportation-friendly city. I was constantly amazed by the bus and S-tog system, which we used every single one of our eight-day stay.

Our apartment was near several bus lines and two S-tog (metro trains) stations, but we mostly rode the bus. It was a direct line from half a block from our apartment building to the 66 bus, and we never waited for more than 10 minutes, even on Sundays and the holidays. 100_8706The buses were very quiet! Not only was there little noise from the bus itself, but the passengers were remarkably quiet. The bus drivers all played soft music, and we could hear it in the middle of the bus. Even the crowded buses were not really loud. If you’ve been on a crowded WMATA bus, you know how loud they can get! 100_8305

The buses all had wheelchair-accessible jump seats that seemed to be mostly used for baby carriages. P1040829And luggage! Even when the buses were full, parents would calmly and politely edge their huge baby carriages into this space, and equally calmly and politely other passengers would shuffle to accommodate them. I really appreciated how everything was labeled and intended for wheelchair, baby carriage, and bicycle (well, not on the bus, not even outside racks for bikes). It shows attention to the entire population, making the system accessible to everyone, comfortably and easily. That is definitely missing here.

But no bringing your hot dogs on the bus!

But no bringing your hot dogs on the bus!

The buses, and the S-tog, were equipped with free wifi, but you had to be a local to set up an account; I tried. But I think it’s a great idea for a public transportation system to offer free wifi, especially on trains. You could get work done, or at least update your Facebook status or blog without losing signal every few stops.100_8946

There seemed to be several different ways of paying fares, and here again the Copenhagen system was technologically more advanced. With your free wifi, you could apparently purchase your ticket, then just show it, on your phone, to the bus driver. I saw several phones waved at drivers. We seemed to be the only ones with the klipkord, or clip card. Valid for ten rides, we had to validate it every time we got on a bus or S-tog. Conveniently, we didn’t each need to get a card, we could both ride on one. There was also a big blue dot system that must be a smart card – you touch your card to the dots to either tag in or tag out of the system. 100_8829100_9350100_8300

The S-tog trains were the most thrilling link in the transit puzzle, because they offered bicycle-specific sections of the trains, generally half of the last car. There were bicycle locations on the platform to stand, and then racks inside the car to stand your bike in. And they were used! It was full on the day after Boxing Day, clearly the first day back to work for everyone. Again, the car also was marked for wheelchair and baby carriages. And there were elevators large enough to comfortably fit more than one bicycle! Have you tried to cram your bike into a WMATA elevator and felt folded into a pretzel? I have.100_8844100_8940100_8950Once inside the train, and out of the bike section, there were other luxuries to behold – again, the free wifi, but also plush seats, overhead luggage racks, tv monitors, and clear doors inside, making sections of the train. There was even a quiet section! I don’t know if the internal set of doors is to help keep everyone warm when the main doors open, and expose the winter elements (or, conversely, the summer heat), but that would be my guess. Either way, it was very fancy!100_8839Isn’t it amazing? It’s so… civilized. And it makes me sad to think that these things can’t happen here, because there isn’t enough will for it, political, social, economic.  Copenhagen has a much longer history of public transportation and biking, a much more mature, integrated system, and that is something we will not see here. But I’m happy to continue to work towards it!100_8831