Archive for the ‘Commute Adviser’ Category

Bike commuter’s credo: cars are assault rifles

July 28, 2016

As much as I dislike all the traffic these days, Central Expressway was my daily route home.

As much as I dislike all the traffic these days, Central Expressway was my daily route home.

Before I continue with my analysis of bike commuter routes, it’s important to understand the bike commuter’s credo: cars are assault rifles.

Let it dictate how you choose your best route to work. That may sound harsh, but it’s nothing against cars or assault rifles. It’s just that cars can hit you, by accident or on purpose. Either way, the results are going to be dire, just like being shot by an assault rifle.

Wearing a helmet isn’t going to save you all the time, nor is taking the right of way when you clearly have it as a car is bearing down. Never think that a car is going to do the right thing. Assume the driver will do the wrong thing, and be ready.

I’ll tell you how well that served me: In my 45 years of daily bike commuting (except for six months when my job required driving) I never had a bike-car accident. But hundreds of close-calls.

However, I’ve had more than one bike-bike accident, which says something but the meaning is open to interpretation.

Over the years, I became less interested in the shortest/fastest route to work and more interested in taking streets with light traffic. It’s all about playing the odds. Keep that thought in mind.

The more you mix with high-speed traffic, especially large trucks (heavy artillery), the greater your risk. Additionally, study after study has shown that riding next to air-polluting cars is bad for your lungs, not to mention your hearing from cars buzzing by.

Next up I’ll discuss a couple of other routes I took and why they fell to the wayside, including San Tomas Expressway.

Part 1: Finding the best commute route

July 25, 2016

Google Maps recommends bike routes, but they're not the best.

Google Maps recommends bike routes, but they’re not the best.

As I look back on my commute days, I realize that it’s no easy matter to find the best route to work on a bike. It takes experimentation and a careful analysis of a map, preferably one that shows bike lanes and paths.

Although you probably don’t commute the direction I’m going to describe here, it can still be useful information as I delve into the tricks and tips for bike commuting.

Consider Google Maps and its fledgling effort to provide desirable bicycle routes. Their routes are not the best, not even close.

Let’s consider my commute route of years gone by. Google Maps suggests taking Lawrence Expressway. Now that’s hardly what I call a good route. In fact, it’s downright hazardous.

Clearly, Google needs to tweak its algorithm. It should favor roads with less traffic and make those the recommended route. While the Google Maps blue route is the most direct — we all like that — taking a longer route usually means less traffic. It might even take less time.

But back to the Google routes. The blue line, their best recommendation, I have taken home from work, never to work. Lawrence Expressway is choked with cars during commute hours and traffic moves at 50-55 mph.

One of the more unnerving intersections is at El Camino Real where the cyclist has to cross two exit lanes.

Homestead Road, used to reach Lawrence, is equally hazardous, with lots of driveways. It’s a road I always avoid.

The gray route — Los Padres Blvd., Cabrillo Ave. — is much better. Los Padres had a bike lane the entire distance and less traffic. It goes through residential streets, 25 mph. Perfect for bike commuting.

However, there are two schools on this route, which is never a good thing. Parents clog the streets dropping off their children, right when you’re commuting.

The section of Lawrence you’d be riding isn’t as bad as other segments, but it’s still an issue.

Another problem with the Google Maps route is the left turn from Lawrence to Kifer Road. You’d have to cross four lanes to turn left. Good luck with that!

What they should show is a right turn onto the frontage road in front of Costco, riding under Lawrence past the Caltrain station. However, Google Maps can’t account for riding through parking lots of commercial buildings, which I always did when I took this route, so they’re stuck recommending the left turn on Kifer.

In Part 2 I’ll review some more roads I’ve taken to this work address and give their pros and cons.

Why do riders say “CAR BACK”?

July 24, 2016

Loma Mar store construction continues.

Loma Mar store construction continues.

Yesterday the Devil’s Slide Ride rolled by as I climbed Alpine Road, so it was not unexpected that I rode with some of these participants raising money for Parca, an organization supporting people with developmental disabilities.

All well and good. However, the “car back” crowd was out in force. I can’t say what causes this quirky and annoying behavior, but I wish it would stop. It’s entirely unnecessary, even in the unlikely event the person ahead has a hearing problem.

If you disagree and you say “car back” or “car up,” I’d like to hear from you. Give me your reasons for stating the obvious. Just be civil about it.

I decided I didn’t want to be a curmudgeon and make a rude comment, so I just slowed to a crawl and let the rider pass. I then picked up the pace and followed. It worked: no more incessant “car back” chirping.

Loma Mar store creeps toward completion. The exterior looks to be in place, minus the windows. Maybe it will open before year’s end.

Best route to traverse Santa Clara Valley

July 5, 2016
Here's the route traced in red, shown on Google Maps. Click on map for large size.

Here’s the route traced in red, shown on Google Maps. Click on map for large size.

Probably one of the worst rides in Santa Clara Valley is riding across the valley itself. You’ll encounter dozens of lights and stop signs, not to mention plenty of traffic. You can check the route in Google Maps view.

After 25 years trying, I think I’ve come up with the best route. It’s not perfect and it’s not the shortest or fastest, but it avoids most traffic without going more than a half-mile total out of your way.

There are a few tweaks I didn’t show here, but this is close enough. The Hwy 85 bike overpass is problematic, because it can’t be ridden without a dismount, so if you’re willing to put up with a tricky intersection at Fremont and S. Bernardo Avenue, take that route instead.

My advice at this intersection, when there’s traffic, is to go straight instead of turning left and pull over to the right side of Fremont or do a U turn on Bernardo once across Fremont.

Inverness, The Dalles and Fremont through Sunnyvale are far superior to Homestead Road’s heavy traffic and frequent lights.

Slippery paint lines can cause a fall

December 21, 2015

Time for a new helmet after this one served its purpose.

Time for a new helmet after this one served its purpose.

While we all know rain, painted lines and bicycles don’t mix, I found out the hard way on Sunday during a ride.

I’m not the most aware person, as Jobst Brandt once showed me on a ride up Page Mill Road. He said, “Watch out for the black ice.” Two seconds later I was down.

Jobst never let me forget that. So I probably had it coming when I fell on the paint lines on Tantau Avenue in Cupertino next to the fabulous new Apple headquarters under construction.

It was the perfect mix of wetness and bad luck as I moved left to enter a left turn lane at Pruneridge. Both wheels must have been on the bike lane as I looked back.

The bike went out from under me in an instant. Then I got a ride to the same hospital where Jobst once stayed after his fateful accident in 2011.

I won’t say the helmet saved my life, but you won’t see me riding without one. I’ve had too many incidents — broken cranks, slippery roads.

After checking the paint lines, I think they’re old enough to have been put down before better paint-grit combinations came along.

As for the green paint swathes, I think they’re safer when wet because they have grit in them, or they conform better to the pavement. They’re an issue in Australia though.

The slippery white lines were a problem in Portland, Oregon, and had to be re-striped.

Finally, if you’re seriously hurt by a white paint line, there’s always someone willing to represent you in court.

Follow-up: After talking with the eyewitness and carefully reviewing the scene of the accident, here’s what happened. I was riding southbound on Tantau in the bike lane prior to moving left to turn onto Pruneridge. At the location I was observed falling there are patches of green paint designating a bike lane. These have become worn from constant sweeping by a street sweeper assigned to keep dust down where the Apple campus is being built. The combination of light rain, dust and finely polished green paint made this surface an extreme hazard.

I reported the accident to the city of Cupertino via email and letter.

After this incident, I believe the green paint swathes constitute a hazard once they become worn. Not good.

Follow-up 2: I took my wheel and some water to test my theory about the slippery green paint. After testing, I found the issue to most likely be one of a slurry of mud accumulating on a white paint line, not green.

The green paint is a lot like sandpaper in consistency. Although it loses some traction when worn, it didn’t seem any worse than regular pavement.

However, the white lines definitely had less traction when wet, especially with a slurry of mud, which you can see below. A thin layer of mud is deadly for bike wheels. Because this street is in a construction area, there’s a lot of dust being generated. Sweeping helps, but there’s still a layer of fine dust.

I also tested some concrete next to the curb. Surprisingly, even when wet it seemed to have better traction compared to the white paint line. It may be that sweeper does a better job of removing dust from concrete compared to the white paint.

My front wheel went out from under me on a white “paint” section, not green, although I can’t say for sure since I don’t know the precise location.

Wet mud on this white arrow can cause a fall .

Wet mud on this white arrow can cause a fall .

Silicon Valley needs a transportation system like Zurich’s

October 28, 2015

One of the more colorful trams in Zurich.

One of the more colorful trams in Zurich.

Today’s San Jose Mercury News ran an editorial by architect Thang Do that outlined what we need to do to make Silicon Valley a better place to live.

He warns that with all the construction underway, we better do something about our transportation system or we’re headed for permanent gridlock.

He mentions Zurich as a shining example of a city that understands public transportation. Here’s why:

The city has an integrated and comprehensive network of tram, rail, bus, and even riverboats to take you where you want to go in the city, throughout the country for that matter. One ticket gives access to all public transportation, with the exception of intra-city rail.

Imagine stepping out of the Zurich airport with all your luggage and walking fewer than 50 yards to a waiting tram whose platform is flush to the pavement. Just roll your baggage on.

A model of transportation efficiency. Hauptbahnhof station with bike racks.

A model of transportation efficiency. Hauptbahnhof station with bike racks.

Every tram has an LED screen that shows your location and the stops ahead, including connecting trams. Every stop has a shelter with an LED sign indicating the time of arrival for trams, along with machines for purchasing tickets.

Local trains accommodate bicycles and stations have large areas dedicated to bicycle parking. Many streets have bicycle lanes and because there are relatively few cars on the streets, traffic is not an issue.

VTA light rail does have one up on the Swiss trams: VTA provides racks for bikes.

Zurich and Switzerland have thought of everything when it comes to getting around on public transportation. There’s no need to own a car, which is a reality for most people living in the landlocked country. That’s a good thing because living in Zurich is as expensive, if not more so, than living in Silicon Valley.

We can learn from Zurich. The sad truth about Silicon Valley is that the Valley of the Heart’s Delight once had a wonderful light-rail network, which was dismantled piece by piece with the arrival of the automobile.

Light-rail line from the late 1800s exposed on The Alameda in 1984 at Santa Clara University bypass.

Light-rail line from the late 1800s exposed on The Alameda in 1984 at Santa Clara University bypass.

In hindsight, we blew it, but we mustn’t give up hope. We can build a transportation system equal to that of Zurich. All we have to do is, in the words of Patrick Stewart: “Make it so.”

Even the fanciest shopping area, Bahnhofstrasse, has light rail.

Even the fanciest shopping area, Bahnhofstrasse, has light rail.

Intra-city and intra-regional trains whisk you all over the country with ease.

Intra-city and intra-regional trains whisk you all over the country with ease.

Tram interiors are roomy and accommodate luggage.

Tram interiors are roomy and accommodate luggage.

Ticket machines are everywhere and take all manner of payment.

Ticket machines are everywhere and take all manner of payment.

You can even take riverboats in Zurich. They thought of everything.

You can even take riverboats in Zurich. They thought of everything.

Bike lanes on El Camino Real through Menlo Park?

August 31, 2015

Buffered bike lanes are being considered for El Camino Real, Menlo Park.

Buffered bike lanes are being considered for El Camino Real, Menlo Park.

There’s a move afoot to add an experimental bicycle lane and accompanying buffer on El Camino Real through Menlo Park. The experiment may last for six months or a year, yet to be determined.

I don’t have a problem with the experiment, but don’t expect miracles. I used to live in Menlo Park, but I hardly ever rode my bike on El Camino Real through Menlo Park, or to downtown for that matter.

It was traffic-crazy. I had to contend with a million driveways and lots of cars going in and out. The intersections are jammed most of the day. It’s bike unfriendly to say the least.

Adding the bike lane does not remove the hazards of cars entering and exiting driveways or turning right or left, which I consider a greater threat than being hit from behind on a straight section of El Camino Real.

I see the biggest advantage coming from slowing car traffic, and more drivers avoiding that stretch of El Camino Real.

Whatever the outcome, we need to be thinking long-term about accommodating bikes on roads. I’m talking about 50-100 years. It’s going to take that long for things to change.

The big improvement will come once autonomous cars arrive and it’s safe to ride a bike. That combined with electric bikes that make riding easy will change how we get around forever.

Let’s not forget that the Bay Area is unique compared to the rest of the U.S. where they have something called weather. There is no weather to speak of here (heat, cold, snow rain), so local cities have a much more compelling reason for accommodating bikes on roads to ease traffic congestion.

Electric bicycles, mushrooms and solid tires

December 7, 2014

Skyline Boulevard looking at Old La Honda Road.

Skyline Boulevard looking at Old La Honda Road.

Saturday I tried out an electric bicycle at Bicycle Outfitter (BO) and had a chance to discuss its prospects with the staff.

At BO, as with most bike shops, electric bikes are greeted with mixed feelings. I can relate to that. When a rider goes blasting by on an electric bike, I’m none to happy, then wish I had one.

However, electric bikes are already well established in China and are gaining a following in Europe. They have their place for commuting, the market they’re going after.

The bike I rode Saturday is a commuter with a top speed of 20 mph, if you’re just running on battery power and not pedaling. It looks like the typical commuter bike with a long wheel base, solid frame, motor in the rear hub. The battery is removable and sits over the rear wheel.

While the bike had heavy, durable tires, I wouldn’t ever want to have a rear flat. Were I to own one, I’d mount the new Tannus solid tire out of Korea. Solid tires have been around for decades, but this latest version looks promising. (One user’s experience.)

Tannus solid tires eliminate flats. (Tannus photo)

Tannus solid tires eliminate flats. (Tannus photo)

It’s lightweight and has decent rolling resistance, not as good as a pneumatic tire of course, but close enough. From what I’ve read, the only drawback is that it’s a bear to mount on a standard rim. It’s rated for 6,000 miles. That means it will probably last at least several years for a commuter.

So what about the performance rider who still wants go to electric? I’ve found two wheels that hold promise — the FlyKly and the Copenhagen. They’re similar in design and both have something else in common that has many buyers frustrated. The wheels were supposed to be available months ago.

As with any new product, production delays can be expected, and because there’s electronics involved, it gets more complicated. The product has to work flawlessly. If it doesn’t, someone could be injured and lawsuits would quickly shut down the companies.

While I won’t go into the details, I would be torn between which one to buy. The FlyKly appeals to the minimalist in me. It’s unobtrusive and weighs only 6.6 pounds. The drawback is that it only works with a single speed.

The Copenhagen is painted a garish red, weighs 13 pounds, but works with any standard road bike. Just swap wheels and you’re all set. Both wheels are wireless and require an app running on a smartphone, iOS or Android.

Once they come out, I’ll be interested to read the reviews. At about $700, they’re relatively affordable. For someone who commutes longer distances, they could pay for themselves in short order.

Meanwhile, with the recent rains my chanterelle friends have finally returned after a two-year absence. They’ll join me and spaghetti for dinner in the coming days.

Chanterelles are back after a long absence. They like rain.

Chanterelles are back after a long absence. They like rain.

Here’s the recommended “Hedding” to cross Santa Clara Valley

June 20, 2014

Hedding Street offers the best cross-valley route through downtown San Jose.

Hedding Street offers the best cross-valley route through downtown San Jose.

If you’re crossing Santa Clara Valley, it might seem daunting. It’s about 16 miles of suburban sprawl with a stoplight every quarter-mile. Lovely.

In my years of doing the crossing, typically on rides up Mt. Hamilton, I’ve found the best route: Homestead Road, Tantau Avenue, Pruneridge Avenue, Hedding Street, Mabury Road, White Road, McKee Road.

That’s a straight shot with the least amount of traffic, avoiding freeway intersections with exit ramps. It’s the route to take if you’re heading up Mt. Hamilton or visiting Alum Rock Park.

If you read the Roadshow in the Mercury News, you know that some commuters have complained about the Hedding Street restriping in the downtown area. It went from four lanes to two, with a wider, green-stripe bike lane.

I rode there this morning about 7:30 a.m. and again at 12:15 p.m. I didn’t see any traffic. The most cars at a light was nine at First Street and they easily cleared the intersection at the light change.

Granted, I wasn’t there at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday, which is probably the worst time, but I can’t imagine it’s the horror show motorists claim.

If they think traffic in San Jose is bad, they need to get out more. Try Hong Kong or Manila or even Milan at rush hour. San Jose is a ghost town by comparison.

Wall of Shame

January 15, 2014

Sometimes we do silly things we later regret and we’re none the worse off for it. However, other times we do dumb things and pay a price.

I’m recording what I see on my daily commute. I’ll call out cars, bikes and peds.

Mar. 6, 7:15 a.m., San Tomas Expwy northbound before El Camino Real. Cyclist texting while riding no-hands. It was no fun passing him.

Feb. 14, 7:05 a.m., Forbes Ave. and San Tomas Expwy. Cyclist runs red light westbound on Forbes. He takes his time about it.

Feb. 12, 4:45 p.m., Monroe Street near San Tomas Expwy. Bike crossing. Car runs red light. I’ve seen this 4 times now. It’s a confusing place for cars.

Feb. 10, 7:05 a.m. Forbes Ave. and San Tomas Expwy. Cyclist riding south on San Tomas runs red light.

Jan. 30, 7:20 a.m. Walsh Ave. and Bowers Ave., W on Walsh. Cyclist runs red light. Same rider as Jan. 14-15, so I won’t mention again. Free-radical cycling make sense for one person, but falls apart when every commuter tries it. Pavement sensor detects bikes fine here.

Jan. 17, 4:45 p.m., San Tomas Expwy and El Camino Real. The San Tomas Expwy multi-use path between Cabrillo Ave. and El Camino Real is open. I rode it and enjoyed the experience. Southbound on the path, a polite driver yielded so I could take the right-turn crosswalk at El Camino. I would have done the same as a driver. If you don’t have eye contact with the driver, assume he won’t stop.

Jan 16, 7:25 a.m. Benton St. and San Tomas Expwy. Five boys on BMX bikes race across San Tomas westbound on Benton, several taking the pedestrian crosswalk against traffic, no helmets. The ones going with traffic sprint across Benton in front of approaching cars, joining the wrong-way riders continuing to school. I don’t mind the lack of helmets, but who taught them to ride against traffic and dodge in front of cars? I see them daily, so this will be my last mention.

Riding against traffic can be fatal.

Jan. 30, 7:20 a.m., Walsh Ave. and Bowers Ave., W on Walsh. Cyclist runs red light. Same rider as Jan. 14, 15. I won’t mention this one anymore. The pavement sensor detects bikes fine at this intersection. Free-radical cycling can make sense to an individual, but falls apart when every commuter adopts the same philosophy.

Jan. 16, 7:15 a.m. Forbes Ave. and San Tomas Expwy. A youth about age 10 rides his BMX bike west on Forbes across San Tomas running a red light. No lights, no helmet, dark clothes in the pre-dawn light. Did his parents teach that behavior?

Jan. 15, 7:30 a.m. Walsh Ave. and Bowers Ave., W on Walsh. Cyclist runs red light. Same cyclist as Jan. 14. He REALLY knows what he’s doing.

Jan. 14, 7:30 a.m., Walsh Ave. and Bowers Ave., W on Walsh. Cyclist runs red light. Aren’t bikes supposed to stop at red lights? This cyclist had other ideas as he slowly worked his way across the busy intersection. He looks like a highly skilled rider.

Jan. 14, 7:40 a.m., Kifer Rd. and Semiconductor Drive. Riding while on phone. The cyclist gets a call, pulls onto the side walk while riding, wobbles around and takes a call as he rides back into the street. Unbelievable.