Archive for the ‘commuting’ Category

Things cyclists should be allowed to do

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

I used to cycle to work sometimes. Not all the way to work, but to a bus stop 2-3 miles away. It's very good exercise but I stopped doing it after Alexander was born for several reasons:

  • The commute was 40 minutes to an hour that way at best, by car it was 20 minutes at best.
  • I always ended up very sweaty on the bus - not very pleasant for my fellow passengers.
  • Sometimes the bus was standing room only, meaning the time I spent on the bus had to be wasted.
  • The only (not too hilly) route between my house and the bus stop is along a fairly busy but rather narrow road. The speed limit is 25 mph there but cars expect to be able to go at speeds of up to about 45 mph. They get frustrated when they are stuck behind a cyclist who is going at less than 25mph and there isn't room to safely overtake. Sometimes they will overtake when there isn't enough room, putting the cyclist in danger.
  • In Seattle, cyclists are technically supposed to stay as far right in the lane as possible to allow cars to overtake. However, in order to minimize the danger to myself from overtaking cars, I would often ride in the middle of the lane when it wasn't safe to overtake. This was both a clear signal to the cars that they should not attempt to overtake, and to give me a space to dive into on the right in case they tried anyway. One time, a driver got very angry at me for doing this and started shouting at me. I couldn't hear exactly what he said over the sound of his engine but he gave me the impression that he thought roads were for cars and that cyclists need to stay off of them. He eventually overtook me (unsafely) but then I overtook him again while he was waiting at the traffic light (so I hadn't actually delayed him at all). This seemed to make him even madder and he shouted at me even more (but I still couldn't hear him, and was too out of breath to say anything myself). I switched to the sidewalk as the traffic was too close to the curb for me to get past, which made him even madder still. The whole incident put a very bad taste in my mouth and put me off cycling altogether for a while. I never quite felt safe cycling along that road after that - perhaps the same guy would see me late one night and decide to run me off the road. The irony is that because of that I drove more, which caused more traffic and probably made him even later (if he was a regular user of that road).

Cycling has a problem in Seattle (and in many other cities as well, especially in the US) in that it lacks critical mass (hence Critical Mass). Cycling is great - it's good exercise, good for the environment and reduces traffic. But there are so many cars on the road, going so fast and paying so little attention that in many places cycling is very dangerous. With enough cyclists or few enough cars using that road, it would be safe for cyclists but the danger keeps the number of cyclists down and the number of cars up, as my story above illustrates.

In order to promote cycling, we need to make sure the road rules favor cyclists. For example:

  • Cyclists should be able to go to the front of the line at red lights (and stop signs if there is a long queue). In many places this is legal but there is not always room in front of the traffic, and sometimes no room to undertake at the approach to the light. Improved road markings would help here. These exist in some places (not in Seattle, though).
  • Cyclists should not have to come to a complete stop at stop signs. Currently they are supposed to (at least in Seattle) but rarely do. For a cyclist, coming to a complete stop is much more of a problem than it is for a car - not only do you have to build up your momentum again but you can't balance when stopped. Cyclists should just need to slow down enough to ensure that they don't ride out in front of a car or another cyclist coming from a different direction, or a pedestrian trying to cross the street, and only stop if they need to wait for other traffic. Pedestrians do not have to stop at stop signs if there is no traffic - I think cyclists should have that advantage too.
  • Cyclists should be able to ride in the middle of the lane when it is not safe for them to be overtaken, as I used to do.

One of the complaints car drivers seem to have about cyclists is that sometimes they follow pedestrian road rules and sometimes car road rules. This seems to me to be an advantage of the bicycle as a form of transportation - in some ways it is like being in a car and in some ways it is like walking. Cyclists take up much less space than cars and are much less dangerous to pedestrians, so it makes sense that they should be allowed to ride on the sidewalk (pavement) when it is wide enough and when they are going at walking speed (though of course they should give way to pedestrians when doing so). On level ground and downhill they can go fast enough that it makes more sense to use space shared with cars than space shared with pedestrians.

I recently started cycling again on a regular basis - now that I don't have to commute I can do so for exercise, and choose non-dangerous routes. I found it to be a much more pleasant experience without cars honking behind me - there are lots of other cyclists on this route and they often say hello as they whizz past me.

Road rage and body language

Saturday, April 14th, 2007

I think that most cases of road rage could be eliminated if cars could express body language. If it was possible to tell from a long way away that someone is in a hurry or a bad mood, people might stay out of their way. Conversely, if someone made a mistake while driving and their "oops" was clearly visible, people might be more likely to forgive them.

Perhaps future technology will make this possible - a couple of cameras mounted in the dashboard connected to a holographic display on the roof might just do the trick. Though by the time we have that technology hopefully cars will be driving themselves.

Foggy night driving

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

On our way back from Port Townsend the other weekend it was delightfully foggy out. Not so foggy that you can't see the front of the car (I've tried to drive in such conditions, and it's scary) but foggy enough that there were some really cool lighting effects in the stretches where there weren't any other cars. Streetlights, for example, start as a faint glow far in the distance. As you get closer, the blob of light resolves into a conical shape. As you pass through it it is like being on stage under a spotlight - bright underneath but blackness everywhere else. It reminded me of some the surrealism in the old Looney Tunes cartoons. Then a moment later all is black again apart from the stretch of road illuminated by the headlights and the receding/fading cone of light in the rear view mirror.

Overtaken by shadows

Monday, November 28th, 2005

My favorite bit of cycling back from work is freewheeling down the hill on 32nd Ave E. It's quite steep so you can go pretty fast but not so dangerous that you have to use the brakes. If its dark out then there is also an interesting lighting effect - as you pass under the streetlights your shadows seem to sneak up behind you and then zoom past before fading in the glow of the next light. It freaked me out a little when I first noticed it and didn't realize what it was.

Car wash

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2005

I got my car washed recently so it would look reasonably nice for the wedding (my brother was my chauffer for the day). I haven't been inside an automatic car wash for a very long time (I seem to remember going through one with my father as a small child). I hadn't realized how scary it was a driver! You have to put the car in neutral, take your foot off the brake and (if that wasn't scary enough) avoid touching the steering wheel - then the car drives through the contraption on it's own, and you can't see what's going on because the car is covered with soap suds and swirly washing things.

Personal Rapid Transit

Thursday, September 15th, 2005

It would be so cool if they built this. Be sure to watch the video. I can imagine similar systems scaled up to entire cities and making urban cars obsolete.

In related news, my bicycle has a flat tyre which is tremendously annoying (especially as it happened 3 miles from home on a rainy day). Given how much stuff I have to do over the next couple of weeks, I have no idea when I'll get time to have it fixed.

Things seen on the side of the road

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

I was on the bus from Redmond to Seattle last week (thus redeeming myself environmentally, at least for a day) and it was going very slowly because people don't know how to merge out of the bus lanes. I found myself staring out of the window at the hard shoulder in the sort of way that you can't do when you're driving (even very slowly). I'm quite amazed at the collection of junk that can be seen there. Amongst the things I noticed were:
A bolt (which looked like the sort of thing that I would be extremely worried about if it were to fall off of my car at speed)
Two pillows
Several (very tatty looking) books
A shoe
Cardboard boxes
A small plastic alligator

I can't help wondering who the owner of the plastic alligator was and how upset he (or indeed she) was about losing the alligator. Maybe a rival sibling tormented the owner by throwing it out. Maybe the kid just didn't like the toy and decided to do a scientific experiment to see what happened to plastic alligators that get thrown out of the window of a car speeding down the freeway.

I spent most of today writing a long email explaining the workings of a significant chunk of the code I've been working on for the past 2.5 years or so, so that my successor can (hopefully) understand it. Kind of interesting to reflect back on a large project like that.

Yesterday I fixed two things: a mouse which had been dropped one too many times and had some loose connections and the knife magnet which had fallen off of the wall due to my not knowing much about DIY. I always find fixing things very satisfying when the job is well done.

Fans and walks

Saturday, June 11th, 2005

Grrr, the IT group at work forcefully rebooted one of my work machines to install a patch, giving me only half an hour's notice and no opportunity to say "no, later". Trouble is, that machine has a fan problem (okay, a pen lid stuck in a non-essential fan to stop it rotating because it rattles) and whenever it reboots it sits at the BIOS screen saying "Fan failure - press F1 to continue" until I (or someone else) physically goes into my office and presses F1. There doesn't seem to be any way to disable this fan check. Fortunately I'm going out that way anyway this evening but it is still a bother.

I had a very pleasant walk to work and back yesterday through the arboretum (apart from the fact that it rained on me in Redmond). It was nice to leave my car at home for once but the entire journey took 70 minutes each way so I don't think I can afford the time to do that every day. I could shave quite a bit off that by cycling to the bus stop instead of walking but the walk through the woods was the best bit - I ought to try to find time to do that walk every week or two.

Yes, it's another "people in Seattle can't drive" rant - feel free to skip

Thursday, June 9th, 2005

Normally when I drive to work I'm sensible - I keep an eye on the Seattle traffic website and leave work either before the rush hour starts or after it finishes so I don't have to sit in traffic for ages. Today I wasn't. It got to about 4:30 and I didn't have anything else to do so I thought "Ok, I'll set off for home. Yeah I'll be sitting in traffic for a while but my car has air conditioning, I can listen to the radio and just sit and relax. It'll only take maybe twice the 20 minutes it usually does." To cut a long story short I was stuck on 520 for the best part of an hour and it wasn't relaxing because it wasn't just slow it was continuous stopping and starting so I keep concentrating.

If only every driver would just try to accelerate and brake more gently than the driver of the car in front and match their average speed we wouldn't have this problem and traffic would be better all around but no - everyone has to slam on the accelerator as soon as a tiny gap opens up (so that no-one can merge into it) and then slam on the brake at the last possible moment to avoid a crash. Very annoying.

Anyway, next time I am tempted to drive home during the rush hour I hope I remember how annoying it is and don't. Maybe this experience will encourage me to take the bus to work instead.

Photos and no cars

Sunday, June 5th, 2005

It's about time I started posting on this thing again.

Here's a picture of me from sometime around 1982-1983:

(the girl on the right is Alice, a childhood friend).

And here's one of Miss Gennie:

I was looking at a fascinating website the other day - It's all about city design, specifically how to design cities in such a way that cars are not necessary. The six lobe reference design is particularly interesting, as is the design library which contains pictures of lots of interesting elements of (mostly European) cities designed without cars in mind. While I appreciate the convenience of having a car, I think on the whole I would prefer to live somewhere where having one isn't necessary (especially if no-one else there had one either so that the problems of car noise, pollution and getting run over would be eliminated.) When I was living in Cambridge I never felt the need to have a car and always thought how much nicer it would be if more of the streets were pedestrianized.