Gone Fishin'


I'm not actively blogging here anymore. But if you got here because you were searching for something about bikes, you might want to check out my latest project, Vermont Goldsprints. In summer of 2014, I bought a used goldsprints racing setup and have made it a mission to get more bikes in more people's faces by putting on fun races in unexpected places. Come join me!


Bright Bike

Most of my efforts of late have been focused on Vermont Indoor Cycling and other pressing matters, but I'm still alive.

But I have done a complete teardown and rebuild of my winter commuting bike, soon to be deployed:

I painted the frame, fork, and fenders with Hi-Vis and then added reflective tape accents all around.

I picked up a couple of these crazy light kits on Woot that I'm using. I have the wheel lights (color change and red POV display) on my cross bike right now but I'll be moving those over to this bike as well. I have installed the light strands, as you can see here:

I put the battery packs for those in the seat pack. It's easy enough the squeeze the pack in the right places to turn them on and off. So that's that. The new bike lanes on Williston Road have made my commute safer and more enjoyable, with far fewer left-turn conflicts than my previous route.


You Know You're a Cyclist When...

...getting a flat on the morning commute leaves you only with gratitude that:

  1. it happened on a sunny day, 
  2. in the daylight, 
  3. in a place with a nice grassy shoulder to pull off on, and 
  4. that the whole repair took less than five minutes. 

Also, here's a photo of Austen and me fixing a flat on Cape Cod last week. I've been flogging this one all over the internets because it is entered in Clif Bar's "Meet the moment" contest. Feel free to click on the link and share it via the various social networks- if I get enough shares and likes and repins and plusses, I just might be in contention for the grand prize!



Nasty Words

The other day a group of teenage boys called me "f**got" from the window of their passing car while I was on my bike. It was jarring to hear that word so blatantly used. To be honest, it's not a word that makes it into conversations I have with anybody or even conversations I overhear. Most public discourse here in Vermont is nice like that.

Recently, a much beloved commentator on our local NPR affiliate used a derogatory term for people freshly in the US from Mexico as a part of his on-air commentary. I'm sure you know it.

Then, the other day, I overheard a person I know pretty well, and who I know to be a decent and kind and caring person, express herself to another person that she "didn't understand why black people can call each other the "N" word (she used the actual word, loud and clear) but white people cannot use that word." They were talking about the NPR commentator and feeling sympathetic toward him for the criticism he had garnered for his recent gaffe.

I was floored. Floored to hear that word said out loud and with such casual comfort in a public between two nice older white ladies from Vermont. Maybe I've been naive. I wanted to step in and say something, but I couldn't think of what to say fast enough and then the moment had passed. That happens a lot to me and is probably why I'm writing as much as I am.

Now, I have a pretty good sense of humor and a pretty thick skin. I get crap yelled (and thrown) at me from cars all the time when I'm out on my bike. I like comedy shows with a fair amount of profanity and transgressive humor, usually the more the better.  

I've been watching quite a bit of Louis C.K.'s show lately. There's a great scene in the second episode where he's playing poker with a bunch of other comedians and the conversation turns to Louie's use of the word "f**got" in his routine. Naturally, they all want to know what the one gay man in the group thinks. And there, in the middle of this ribald, crazy, show, was the most heartfelt speech about the use of that word I had ever heard:

"You might want to know, that every gay man in America has probably had that word shouted at them while they're being beaten up. Some times many times, sometimes by a lot of people, all at once. So, when you say it, it kind of brings that all back up. So now you know what it means. Use it, by all means, get your laughs, but at least you know what it means." 

Now, there's maybe a bit of hyperbole in there. I sincerely hope not every gay man in America has been beaten up that way, but I bet a lot of them have or know someone who has. The issue remains the same. There are some words in our language that, no matter their use, connote acts of the worst kind of inhumanity and violence. Sometimes, the people who those words are most directed at will use those words, to take ownership of them, to take the sting away. But there is no absolute right to use those words without impunity from judgement or criticism.

When those boys yelled at me, it wasn't just another word in their arsenal, they could not have just as easily used a more nondiscriminatory epithet. The message was clear: "We are using the word "f**got" because it connotes our power as white, heterosexual young men over you. We are using this word to accuse you of being gay as well because we think that it gives us additional power in this situation. We think you either are gay and therefore our use of this word empowers us, or we think we are telling you you are gay even though you are not because being gay is something we think a person should be ashamed of."

Maybe that's a lot of intent to attribute to a group of 16 year old boys in their mom's maroon GMC Envoy on their way home from baseball or football camp or whatever (they were eastbound out of Burlington on Williston road near the end of the day and they had eye black on their faces). But that's the thing about these few, particularly nasty words. You don't have to form the whole intent behind them all at once. You do it slowly, over years of ignorance, insecurity, or feelings of powerlessness. Maybe like the woman I overheard, you cover that insecurity  with a layer of politeness and etiquette. When you tap into those words, though, all that ugly just comes right out.  

After an altercation at a gas station almost two years ago, I observed that:

"I am left with an unsettling impression that the veneer that keeps us from living in a Mad Max, caveman sort of world is exceedingly thin."

Yeah. I'm no survivalist, but there's a lot of anger and hate out there under the surface. It's scary to see somebody's comfort level with accessing such nasty, violent concepts. It's scary to remember how prevalent it is.


Crash Dreams

Summer is so easy and I'm biking to work all the time every day on the new bike lane with the fast traffic. A car, blue with a black replacement bumper sped through the shadows at me as I went left the other day. I didn't see him don't know if he saw me but it made me think. I've been lucky on the bike. I've descended at over 50 in the rain and I've been in traffic lanes changing from bike lane to straight lane to left lane in one smooth motion, with just a glance behind to the blue S.U.V. far enough back for me to merge over left hand extended perpendicular like in the test infographic everybody last saw when they were 15 when the learners permit test was still administered in the Middlebury courthouse and then later when the angry short man in the bowl cut rode with me in my test, castigating me while scoring me just over the limit for a license to operate. So. I've been lucky I thought the other night on TV some drama some kid paralyzed chest down I hear a crunch and I couldn't get up he said. I've been lucky so far but what am I doing out there. I'm careful but it is just the odds eventually that I get hurt bad.

In bed with just a flannel sheet over us so the ceiling fan can get though. In and out of sleep. Like the feeling of falling off the edge of the earth as you lose consciousness and then shock awake. Like that but visual. The first time, a motorcycle crosses the lane and the last thing I see is the tire tread head on. Tire tread head on, and then I'm looking up in the dark at the fan in the full moon and I'm home. The next time it's a hit from behind I never see coming, and I'm awake again, reaching to touch Kate next to me. Hey, you're real, I'm real, I'm here. Hold my head close enough to the pillow and I can hear the blood rushing through my ears.


Who's Interrupting Whom?

This post over on Bike Shop Girl raised my ire a bit. It closed with the following:

"Next time you are out on the road, think about what is going on around you. Wave to that person that stopped for you or went AROUND you. You are interrupting their flow and their day. Just because you are able to be on the road, share the lane or take the lane, doesn’t mean you aren’t creating chaos out there. When we are riding 10 deep of 2 or 3 a breast, who is sitting patiently behind you in their car? Where did we go so wrong that we feel entitled to interrupting someones day because “we ride a bike”?
If your kids were in the middle of the street playing catch or kicking a soccer ball and a car comes down the road do you expect your kids to get out of the way or the car to stop?
I commented:

Sorry, have to disagree with the fundamental idea that I am interrupting traffic when I'm on the road on a bike. I am traffic. Most of the miles I ride are to and from work. By riding those miles instead of driving them, I am providing for my family by keeping our car costs low (we are a one-car household). I'm just another guy, trying to get to and from work safely, day in and day out. My need to get to work every day (or to the store or wherever) is no more or less important than anybody else's. I deserve the same respect as the operator of any other slow-moving vehicle.

The speed limits on our roads are maximums, not birthrights. There are lots of things that limit the "free flow" of traffic at maximum legal speeds at all times. Traffic, intersections, road conditions, weather, and yes, cyclists on the roads all keep us from driving as fast as we possibly could everywhere.

And what about when I do ride for sport? When I go out on the road for something beyond necessity? Am I the only one out there whose presence on the road is "unnecessary?" How many lumbering Winnebagos on the road are there for absolute necessity? How many tractor trailers carrying crappy cruelty-raised commodity beef across our highways are "necessary?" How many 50 miles-each-way single-occupant-vehicle commutes between a job in an urban center and a home out in the rural sprawl are "necessary?"  Those things are obnoxious, those things are disruptive.

Now, I agree. Use the road on a bike, within your rights. (I don't go on a lot of group rides with people I don't know anymore because I can't be part of the 2,3,4, abreast, stoplight-blowing bad behavior). Don't be a jerk, and be grateful when drivers are considerate toward you. I do that on the bike, and in the car. I try to do that in life in general.

I'd love to see good bike infrastructure, but I'm pessimistic about it showing up in my or even my young son's lifetime. I work in town planning, and I'm acutely aware of how expensive infrastructure is and how long and difficult the process to build it can be, even when you have the money. And the truth is, the infrastructure is there. It's our existing road system. On my commute, there needs to be a wider shoulder here, a left turn lane there, maybe. The barriers I face are not the widths of the roads or the lack of bike lanes. It's the scary intersections that were never designed for bikes to navigate, and violent (note, not obnoxious, but violent) drivers who have become desensitized to the humanity on the bicycle next to them.

Instead, communities around me are often focused on big, expensive MUP's that don't connect with each other and are crossed by driveways and side streets every few feet and have no provision for integrating back into the road system when they end. All the MUP's end up doing is upsetting the motorists around me even more, because now it's "why aren't you on the bike path?"


Sadistic Drivers

Not to be all "bikes good, cars evil," but dang:

The study showed that six percent of drivers left their lane in an attempt to run over an animal (rubber, thankfully) near the edge of the road.

Wonder what the findings would be for cyclists. I know I get intentionally "buzzed" by a driver at least once a week.


You Shall Not Pass! (Or why all cars should be mid-century British convertibles)

Here we go again!

Ok, pop quiz:

You are in your car. You are approaching an undersized, single-lane roundabout. You are about to make 1/2 of a revolution around it at which point you will be exiting the roundabout onto a 25mph street with a double yellow line. The roundabout and this exit from it are on a slight incline, making it a blind turn.

There's a cyclist in front of you. he's in the absolute middle of the lane on the roundabout, going about 15mph. There is no way for you to go around him without completely crossing over the double yellow line into the oncoming traffic. You cannot see the oncoming traffic, or if there is any, because it is behind a blind corner /hill.

What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?

Well, if you're the guy in the silver Subaru Legacy behind me on my bike in the Maple Tree Place roundabout this morning, you go ahead and get in the oncoming lane.  You ignore the cyclist making a frantic "stop/slow down" signal (left arm out straight, forearm down, waving frantically at the ground) and you maybe even hear him cry out "YOU HAVE NO SAFE PASS ! NO SAFE PASS! before accelerating around him. Then you make a panic braking/right merging movement so as to avoid a head-on collision with the oncoming maroon pickup truck. 

Hey, I have a better idea:

There is no safe way to pass a cyclist in or while exiting the Maple Tree Place roundabout. It is a single lane roundabout that cannot accommodate two vehicles, no matter how small one of them is. I have tried riding this thing every way possible, from cringing in the broken glass and cinders near the curb to taking the lane assertively (as I did today). Riding far to the right only encourages people to make the unsafe pass. Taking the lane usually deters them.

Not Mr. Silver Subaru.

Once again, I postulate that cars make people stupid. We have ingrained car culture so deeply in our psyches, we have assumed the risks of injury inherent in driving so completely, we don't even think about them any more.

One way to fix that would be to put everybody on bikes. Here's another:

Dad's 1959 Bugeye. 

Questionable brakes. No power steering. No roof. Stick shift. Your butt is about six inches off the pavement. You feel every pebble on the road through the wheel. No radio, no GPS, no cupholders. Put everybody in cars like this, where the risks of driving are so immediately perceptible, and half the driving public would be on the bus the next morning. Those who chose to continue to drive would do so with acute awareness.


Require Cyclists to Have a License to Ride on Public Roads

There. Do I have your attention?

Require cyclists to have a license to ride on public roads.

We hear that, along with the bicycle registration argument, all the time.

After dealing with a couple of clueless drivers this morning. (I'll spare you the details. It gets tedious, but let's just say that inattention, cellphones, close passing, and failure to yield were all on tap this morning), I have a few thoughts.
Like this, but a lady in a minivan. She passed me with about six inches of clearance,
right after we were both stopped at a light where I was in front of her.
And people wonder why I take the lane. 

Now, back to my hopefully attention getting statement above. Let's add to it:

Require cyclists to have a license to ride on public roads, and require a Bicycle Operator's License (with road test!) as a prerequisite to even applying for a license to drive a motor vehicle.

That's better.

Even further, anybody who loses their driver's license should have to re-take both the bicycle and the driver's road test. My point is this. If more drivers had to, even just once in their life, ride a bike on the road, they just might carry a little bit of that understanding behind the wheel with them.

Lest we all experience the transformation from Mr. Walker to Mr. Wheeler:

A final thought. When I lived and worked on Cape Cod, I observed that living next to the water must make people mean and selfish, as evidenced by those waterfront owner's constant bickering with one another and their relentless campaign to obscure and eliminate public access to "their" beaches. I now make a similar observation about cars: Being in a car makes people stupid, cowlike, and desensitized to their environment.


I Need a Sign!

There is a great deal of discussion happening in my area about transportation improvements. The short version of the story is that a long-anticipated "ring road" has been officially pronounced dead, as in it will not be built. A process has begun to examine improvements to existing roads and intersections in the area the ring road would have served as an alternative. 

Even if you believe, like I do, that there is no way you can build your way out of traffic congestion,*  there is safety to be considered. People do dumb things when intersections are over capacity and crashes happen. Congested intersections are harder to navigate for cyclists and pedestrians, too. So I'm not going to rail against any improvements at all, or advocate a gas tax or that we should punish people for choosing to drive by leaving the roads in poor shape. I accept that work needs to be done.

At intersections this often involves the addition of "turn-only" lanes, and as a cyclist, I get worried we'll get left out of the equation, despite the adoption of "Complete Streets" as policy in Vermont.

This morning, I biked on a road where one lane becomes two, with the right lane designated as a "right-turn only" lane:
The graphics department at re-turn LLC is on strike, what are you going to do?  

Your first instinct as a cyclist is to "keep right at all times."  The law generally requires it, with a whole pile of exceptions that most cyclists and even a few motorists understand.**

On this road, "keeping right" is going to put a cyclist on a path to make a turn they do not want to make (unless they want to go to Old Navy!). If you are going to go straight, the best (and legal) option is to stay reasonably to the right in the "straight ahead" lane. It is arguable whether that "straight ahead" lane is a "take the lane" situation or not. I usually try to keep as far to the right in that lane and let people pass, but I wouldn't fault anyone for "taking the lane" there either. 

This morning as I made my way through this piece of street, a frustrated motorist behind me who did not feel he had room to pass me honked his horn. It was a pretty aggressive gesture, given his proximity to me and the duration of the "honk." I looked back and yelled "I"M NOT TURNING!" and continued in my lane as before. The motorist faded away behind me, never passed me. I'm not sure where he was headed but I was glad our time together had passed so quickly. I'm sure he had no idea that not only did I have a right to be in the lane I was in, but I was in the ONLY lane I should have been in as a safe responsible, legal user of the public roadway. I found myself wishing there was a sign explaining my actions. 

Lo and behold:
I'd be looking for sign "R4-4."

Now, that sign does presuppose the existence of a bike lane. Which I'd be totally in support of as well. Here is an example:

This brings me back around to the dead ring road proposal, the study of intersection improvements, and "Complete Streets." We are talking about spending an incredible amount of money to improve streets and intersections to make up for the ring road we are not going to build. As a state, we have adopted a policy that says all users of the road should be considered when we make these improvements. We also know that getting more people on bikes will reduce the burden on our streets and intersections and will lessen congestion.

So, if you want people on bikes, you have got to fix places like the place where I got honked at today.  This kind of "right-only' lane is everywhere, and we might be building more of them. A lane configuration like the one above (without the signs and bike lanes) coupled with motorist misunderstandings about cyclists' rights is the sort of barrier that turns a first-time bike commuter right back into a single-occupant vehicle driver. This stuff is important, not just to me as a cyclist but to me as a user and beneficiary of the entire transportation and to me as a taxpayer. If we are going to spend even more money on roads, let's do it right!***

*Short version again: building better roads causes people to decide to drive more, and the new de-congested roads rapidly become congested again, absent some other factor like higher gas prices.
**Summary of the exceptions here.
** And yes, even if you don't pay gas taxes, you pay for roads out of income and property taxes. Link here.


Strava Thoughts

Some cyclists like Strava, some don't. Cycling seems to attract Luddites and purists in an equal proportion to technophiles and gear geeks, so I guess that's no surprise. I signed up, even threw a widget on the blog here so the dear reader may be underwhelmed by my efforts of cycling heroism ====>

A guy died recently while trying to "win" a downhill Strava segment in California. His family is suing the company.  I personally don't really see the point of the downhill segments, as downhill speed can be as much about willingness to take risks as they are about bike handling. Uphill segments are about physical fitness, unless somebody drives up one, having forgotten to turn their GPS off.

When I first started using Strava, my 305 was still working. I recorded every ride, each and every little commute, and dutifully uploaded it as soon as I could connect the GPS to the computer. Then, the 305 died for the last time and I had no GPS for awhile. I managed to "ungift" an old Forerunner 201 from my iPhone-having Brother-in-Law and I was off to the races again. Except. The 201 is horrible at picking up satellites. It worked OK for a while, (often taking up to 10 minutes to get a fix, resulting in much standing around in driveways and office parking lots, waiting to take off for/leave from work while time was a-wasting), and then it just stopped getting a signal at all.

Then the other day it turned on and everything was fine. Solar Flares? Russians jamming the signal? Who knows?
Old Tech is Old

So I'm back, but having followed my usual pattern with new technology (rapid adoption, fervent use, total abandonment, and eventual, moderate integration) I doubt I'll be recording every commute any more. It just isn't worth the hassle. I ride 13 miles a day, Monday through Friday, same route, usually 15-16 miles per hour. There is one segment on the ride in that I care about, so sometimes I'll record a sprint on that segment just to see if I can move up the leaderboard. Mostly, though, I'll probably use Strava for running and longer bike rides. It's a fun tool, I enjoy being able to share my cycling exploits without always having to verbalize them, and I hope it might even be a tool to help promote Vermont Indoor Cycling some more next winter.

What I like about Strava is that I get a chance to know what my fellow riders are up to and to tell them the same. We don't get to ride together very often, as our schedules rarely line up, and it keeps us in touch. That and sometimes it inspires me to sprint the last hill into Williston Village at stomach-churning, taste-of-pennies-in-the-back-of-your-mouth levels of effort when I would otherwise never do so.


Getting Honked at for Taking the Lane

I have mentioned before that my commute takes me through a small roundabout every day. That roundabout is small and narrow, part of a section of 25mph streets that surround the Maple Tree Place development in Williston. Further, when I travel through it on the way to work, exiting the roundabout takes me up a small hill and around a blind corner on those same 25mph streets. 

There is no safe way for a vehicle to pass a cyclist on the approach to the roundabout, in the roundabout, or on the blind curve exiting it. I have ridden through it a couple of hundred times in the last four years, and I can say from experience that staying too far to the right here only encourages drivers to attempt to squeeze by you with far less than "due care" clearance, as mandated by Vermont State Law. In fact, I had started to ride pretty far to the right recently. Then, a nice lady in a Volvo (with two kids bikes in the back!) squeezed me the other day with an illegal (six inches of clearance just cannot be "due care" as the term is used in VSA 1039(a)) pass that really scared me. Back out into the lane I went:
The Maple Tree Place Roundabout in Williston

This morning, I found myself approaching the roundabout from the west, moderating my speed behind a slow-moving Honda CRV pulling a trailer. I matched his speed with a car length of clearance, centering myself in the lane before, during, and after the roundabout, all the way until the road straightens out and a safe pass by a vehicle is possible again. The guy in the big pickup behind me apparently thought I was in his way, even though he would have had to pass both me and the CRV/trailer to make any headway down the 25mph street (I'd say we were all going 20 already anyway, so he probably would have had to speed, too).  He laid on his horn as we crested the hill. No matter how far over to the right I could have been here, he would have had to go into the oncoming lane  to pass me, which would not ave been safe for him or me. 

So I took the lane. I didn't get over to the right until it was safe to pass. His open window means he probably heard me shout "NO SAFE PASS!" and "IT'S CALLED TAKING THE LANE!" as he went by me. 
A Cyclist Safely and Legally Taking the Lane. 

I probably sounded pretty angry. Sometimes, I feel pretty angry when I'm riding on busy roads. The motoring public, on average, are simply clueless about bikes, about pedestrians, about sharing the road, and about the laws that govern those things. More than half of them are actively using some sort of handheld device. Not talking on the phone mind you, but using the keypad/touchscreen to input some sort of data while driving. Smart phones have created a new phenomenon: drivers talking on the phone while holding it up in front of them. What are they doing, video chat?  I rode by a woman waiting at a stop sign on a side street the other day as she was sitting in the drivers' seat, eating something with a knife and fork. Really? 

So yeah, given that I'm just another guy trying to get to and from work and home safely and efficiently, given that our household's one-car status is not entirely by choice but is also something of an economic necessity (and by extension my riding to work is as well), I think I have a right to be angry when someone's inattention, lack of care, or simple ignorance behind the wheel compromises my safety. If I had a chance, I'd much rather not yell. I'd rather pull up and have a quick and more pointed conversation about the rules of the road, and explain why I was "out in the middle of the road" on that street. Maybe I should just print a bunch of these up and be ready to hand them out. 


Enlightenment in 15 miles

It had been a long day at work.  I had a pounding headache, the sort of one you get from three or four days of early summer allergic coughing, fluorescent lights, and office air. It was time to ride home. Routine. Off with the office clothes, on with the bike clothes. Ready to do battle through the busiest part of Williston, Vermont during the busiest time of day.

Williston is the often maligned suburb of Utopian Burlington. Williston-  the town that caught all the big-box sprawl pressure of the early 1990's and the town whose rapid growth then was foretold by some to spell doom for Burlington's vibrant downtown. I ride through the heart of it every day, past Maple Tree Place, once the proposed site for the largest indoor mall in the state, instead developed after years of legal wrangling into a set of brick buildings with retail and restaurants on their bottom floors and offices above, all surrounding a green with benches and wide sidewalks.  I ride across Route 2a to Marshall Avenue, trying to make the very, very short green light there. The state controls the light timing, and the priority is moving cars up and down 2A, not across it, so I am told. Then down the hill past a host of those dreaded big boxes and off into South Burlington.

In my work as a planner for the town of Williston over the last four years, I have come to know these places intimately, from the invisible lines of ownership to the varied interests, deals, plans, master plans and dreams of those who have been involved in its development. What you see on the ground, the streets, the buildings, the open spaces, etc- all of that is what we planners call the "built environment."  So many different circumstances have gone into making this part of Williston what it is today.

 The "big box" part of Williston is close to a highway exit. It is close to enough people who want to shop there to keep the stores in business. The land there is almost entirely privately owned, meaning that any public control over what happens there must happen via a regulatory system that operates within the bounds of constitutional rights and the limits various laws place upon it. Many of the sites within this part of town were developed after long, drawn out regulatory processes, and sometimes legal battles as well. What you see on the ground there is a result of these processes working themselves out to a final conclusion: buildings and streets and parking lots on the ground.

In my work, I often hear people say something about a new store or building that involves an anonymous, omnipotent "they."

"Why don't "they" put that building somewhere else?"
"Why do "they" need another big-box store in Williston?
"I wish "they" would do something about the traffic."

There is no "they." More accurately, all of us are in some way "they."  All together, through participation in Town Meetings, on Planning Commissions, in the decisions we make about where and how we shop, in the decisions we make about where we are going to live and whether it will be close to or far away from where we work, we create the place we live in. That commercial center in Williston is one such place.

A law professor I once knew referred to being a lawyer as having "special glasses you can never take off" that cause you to see the world in a different way. Being a planner is much the same. On that ride I take every day through the center of Williston, I see not just what is there now, but what I know is coming. I know that our revised zoning bylaw will require new sites to incorporate a number of design elements that will help soften this place and make it more pedestrian friendly. We'll see more urban parks, public art, and wide sidewalks. We'll see more mixed-use buildings and, dearest to my cyclist heart, required bike commuter showers and indoor storage in every new commercial building that gets built in town. It's nice to know that if another big-box applicant shows up, they too will have to find a way to meet these requirements. Some days, that thought alone makes my urban commute home more pleasant.

But today, with my fluorescent headache and grumpy mood, I need a longer ride. I turn right out of my office driveway in historic Williston Village instead of left, and immediately have to queue up in the backed traffic heading out of town. Many of the traffic problems in Williston have nothing to do with the town itself. People want the high pay of Burlington and the pee-off-your-back-porch privacy of Richmond and Underhill and points beyond. So they commute by car, and many of them commute through Williston. Remember those special glasses? They mean that I've looked at the traffic studies, and the numbers bear this out. During the busiest times in Williston, it isn't the things in Williston that generate the backup- it's the rural residential sprawl beyond our borders.

Sprawl is such an ugly word. It gets thrown around, and at, Williston a lot. When you see Williston from Interstate 89, as many people do, you look over numerous subdivisions and condominiums and then down into the big box area I ride through every day. That isn't even half of what the town really is.  Here's another element of those special glasses: There's a map of the town on the wall of my office, about three feet wide by four feet tall. On that map, I can cover that big-box area with the palm of my hand. If I lean in closer, I can cover most of that high-density residential area with my forearm. The rest of the map, three feet wide by four feet tall, is mostly green.

That's where I'm headed today, the green part of the map. I climb the big hill out of the Village, southbound out over the highway. Mount Mansfield comes into view. Before long I'm going down through a little hollow and then huffing up another hill, past a field of dairy cows so close I could hand them up some grass without getting off my bike. Out here, the zoning requires new subdivisions to set aside three quarters of their land as permanently-protected open space. The law also requires new subdivisions to provide public trail easements and dictates that new homes have to be kept out of parts of the land that are important habitat or viewshed areas.

I take a turn onto a dirt road at one of those properties- a hundred acres or so of pasture where the owner once proposed a new lot that would have plunked a house straight into the middle of the field. For that and other reasons, the project stalled. It wasn't pretty. This guy runs his farm solo, is 50 years old, looks like he's 80, and leaves a smell of cow barn so strong that I know when he's been in the corner store before me when I go in to get my lunchtime cup of coffee. I hope in the future we can work with him to design something that will meet his needs and the needs of the town. His land is beautiful, and it's his only asset.

Mud season is long past. The trees are all leafed out and the road, although dirt, is riding like glass. My headache is gone, and as the land around me turns to shady woods, I'm smiling. There is nothing but the sound of the tires and the whoosh of the north wind above me. The dappled sun plays tricks with the few potholes, so I stay loose. This is Williston, too. By acreage, this is what most of Williston looks like. The whole town is the result of 50 years of conversation:

"Grow here, under the palm of my hand."
"Walkable neighborhoods there, under my forearm."
"The rest of this map, let's try to keep our farms and quiet roads and gorgeous views."
"Let's try to keep those cows and working landscapes."
"Let's make sure our farmers have the flexibility to be diverse enough in their enterprise that they can prosper, too."

A framed newspaper clipping hangs in the front of our office. "Attention Shoppers: Williston is not all mall" it proclaims. In fact, most of it isn't just "all mall." Most of the town is a rural working landscape, a place of natural beauty that enjoys a high level of protection, a place three feet wide by four feet tall, where all of those new people who will live under the palm of my hand can jump on their bikes and ride through, feeling the sun on their faces and hearing the song of their tires on this aromatic dirt road.


Garmin Forerunner 305 Won't Stay On

That's the issue I want to talk about today. I like riding with GPS. I like running with GPS. What I don't like is that the Garmin Forerunners with this design (305, 205) have a short life span because of something I would call a major design flaw. I'm not going to go into it with pictures and such, but I've had two of these units with the same problem. They are fine on the cradle, charge, readout, everything, but when you go to use them, they either won't turn on, turn on but won't stay on, or turn on for a while but shut off at some point during your run/ride.

The issue is this- the case has battery contacts on one side and the battery on the other. Over time, little bits of torque on the watch case from taking it off, putting it on, and heaven forbid, occasionally dropping the unit add up to breaking the contacts between the battery and the circuit board. I'd crack my newly defunct unit open and take a picture of it for you, but I'm too annoyed. Garmin: this is a design flaw. The seam on the case (due to the curved design) allows too much flex and puts undue strain on the components inside, shortening the unit's lifespan.

A short trip through Google reveals that I am not alone in having this problem and that Garmin is all over the map from stellar to unresponsive when it comes to providing warranty service on these things. My recommendation to anyone considering buying one of these units is that they only consider buying it from a retailer with a no-questions-asked return policy who will take the unit back if it ever craps out.

Has anybody had any better experiences with other form-factor Garmin units? I'm done with these Forerunners.


Beach Weather

...is all in how you dress for it!


South Burlington Getting a Trader Joe's? Right next to Healthy Living?

If this video is to be believed, that's what might be coming. 27:40 is about where the presenter mentions Trader Joe's.

South Burlington has ample options for good food (Healthy Living right next door to this site, Cheese Traders, etc.) but I'd say Trader Joe's would fit right in with their "everything imaginable dipped in chocolate" aisle and other offerings. I tend to make a trip to the one in Hyannis, Massachusetts whenever Kate and I go down to the Cape. We stock up on soap, "Joe's O's," and the aforementioned chocolate. Given that we already don't buy those things at Healthy Living, I wouldn't see Trader Joe's eating into their business much.


Brewing Journal: Keg-O-Rama

While I have spent the latter half of the winter riding my bike inside and trying to convince others to do so with me, I am still brewing and writing and all of that good stuff:

Kegged batches  #13, 14, and 15. Greenbelt DIPA, Super Alt, and Wee Heavy. Realize now that I never did a journal entry for the Wee Heavy, which I brewed on 2/13. It all looked good. Sample of the DIPA tasted divine, dry hops are going to take it over the top. i was also impressed with the balance of the Super Alt, another big beer. Both the DIPA and the Super Alt got sterilized muslin bags with dry hop pellets in them. An ounce each of Cascade and Crystal in the DIPA, and ounce of “German tradition” in the Super Alt. All three kegs got priming sugar and seals set at 30PSI and will sit in the basement for at least two weeks before chilling and serving.


A Williston Road Complete Street in South Burlington

From Local Motion's Blog. All I can say is "Yes, Yes, a thousand times yes!"

"On a rainy February night,  10 visionary  South Burlington residents gathered at Rick Hubbard’s house to consider a big idea.  They want to turn a four lane section of Williston Road into a three lane ‘complete street’.
Williston Road will be repaved this summer and residents want to have the City try a Complete Street demonstration.  Between Hinesburg Road (Rt 116) and Ace Hardware (past the Airport), the proposed design would take the 4 lane road and turn it into a 3 lane road with two bike lanes.  If the demonstration 3 lane design works (two travel lanes and a center two-way turn lane), the City of South Burlington will be able to create a much safer pedestrian culture along the road as well.
Amazingly, 3 lane reconfigurations can handle nearly as much traffic as their four lane predecessors — with greater safety for all modes.   Essex Junction has had a success with their reconfiguration of Route 15 by the Fairgrounds and Burlington has had its success with Colchester Avenue.  This is South Burlington’s first attempt at such a reconfiguration.
Many of the attendees lived in the Williston Road neighborhood and they want to figure out how to make the road more friendly to those who live nearby.
Are you South Burlington resident?  Get involved!  Attend the Tuesday, February 21st South Burlington City Council meeting at Marcotte Central School.
For more information, contact Rick Hubbard."


Brewing Journal: Batch #14 Super Alt

Batch #14 Super Alt. I have had this kit for way too long, and the viability of the yeast was a question in my mind. I made a 1-Liter 1.040 starter wort and allowed it to work for five days before brewing. I had a pretty good yeast sediment in the flask after that and decided to go for it.

I went with a 5 gallon instead of a six gallon boil this time, but it seemed like it took even longer to get up to temperature. I may try a 4-gallon partial boil with make-up water next time instead. Anyway, I steeped my grains and then boiled the three pounds of Munich malt syrup in five gallons of faucet water with 1.5 ounces of “German Tradition” hops at 60 minutes, 1 ounce Hersbrucker at 30 minutes, .5oz Hersbrucker at 15 minutes. .5 ounces at 5 minutes. There is another ounce of Hersbrucker that will be used to dry-hop.  Also at the 15 minute mark, I added two pounds of DME (Wheat and Pale Malt) and another 3lbs of Munich malt syrup. The chiller worked wonders, chilling to 75 degrees in just under 10 minutes. I added about ahalf gallon of water to get the volume just over five gallons, then pitched the entire liter of starter wort. I observed slight fermentation within a few hours and more vigorous fermentation at the 8 hour mark. Hooray yeast! Starting gravity was 1.06

I’m going to have to move to smaller partial boils until I can get this rig outside. It’s just too much for the stovetop to handle, and I’m not getting a very vigorous boil. I also managed to break the end off of my autosiphon this time when I took it apart for cleaning and will have to do some repair work to make it functional again.


The British Bitter...

...just keeps pouring better and better!

Austen's First Skiing Adventure

Austen did a little skiing with us in the back yard last weekend. We were mostly hampered by the fact that they don't make snow boots small enough for his feet! Austen didn't seem annoyed at all to have these long slippery things underneath him:


The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Goin' Down

Winter bicycle season is truly upon us. It hasn't been a very consistent winter for snow. As the northern and southern systems continue to fight it out for primacy in Vermont the roller coaster of temperatures has resulted in "variable" snow conditions. Wet snow from last week frozen hard, then melted and rained on and frozen hard again this morning means that where the roads and paths are not clear, they are covered in a glaze of sun-pitted ice. The single-digit temperatures this morning didn't offer a lot of reassurance that the roads would get any better any time soon.

At the bottom of the first big downhill of my commute, there is a roundabout/cul-de-sac thing with a path exiting from it. You have to enter the roundabout on a right turn, transition to a left turn to follow it, then make a right turn to exit onto the path. I often overcook that turn as I carry speed from my downhill, ending up on the far left margin of the path as I get the bike back under me and straighten out to continue on my way.

I overcooked it just a wee bit this morning, in fact. It wouldn't have been a big deal except that there was some ice on the path. The bike slid off the path and down the grade next to it, with me in tow (and toe-clipped in, I might add). I felt my elbow hit first, and heard the loud smack as my helmet made contact. The aforementioned sun-pitted ice was like a big cheese grater underneath me.

I got up right away and got on the bike, cursing. I could feel a bruise ripening on my butt and a scrape on my knee as well as the pulse of pain on my elbow. At least my head felt OK. I had been riding "like a bag of wrenches" already, that sort of muddy, cruddy feeling  you get  that is the opposite of cruising down the road in full fitness with a tailwind. Now I was muddy and cruddy and in pain and nervous about falling again. If there is a way to tiptoe on a bike, I did it all the way to the office. In a quiet moment on the road, I noticed the tell tale ting-ting-ting sound of a derailer touching spokes on the rear wheel. Looking down, a yellow flag of fabric, the lining of my winter tights exposed by a big three-corner tear was evident as well.

Surprisingly, the indexing was still working just fine- but I must have bent something down there. A post-ride inspection showed a crack in the road crud and underlying paint on the derailer hanger, confirming my suspicions. I'll have to see if I can bend it back. The tights can be sewed back together. I'm bruised and scraped, but functional.

Still, an experience like this continues to lead me, Mr. Bike Commuter himself, to wonder aloud about the hopes and aspirations of bicycle advocacy here in Vermont. We want to get people on bikes, we want to get people out of their cars. People want to get to and from work, safely, consistently, efficiently. I live six miles from my office, living in and working in two of the most developed cities and towns in the state. And yet, the barriers to consistently getting to and from work car-free are considerable. If I can't bike, I default to the car. There's a bus, but its schedule gets me to work late and would force me to wait about 45 minutes after work to get a ride home. The objective is for Kate and I to continue to live "car-light," the dream would be to live "car-free." But in the depths of winter, I just don't see it, and I sometimes yearn for a car of my own.

I think about taking the average adult in my position, who maybe hasn't ridden a bike since they were 13 and hasn't ridden on the road ever. Winter clothes? the ability to diagnose and fix a bent derailer hanger? The ability to put together a bike suitable for riding in the winter? What about overcoming a lifetime of being taught that "bikes belong on the sidewalk?" What about not wanting to be that weird person at the office who rides their bike to work? What about picking up the kids on the way home? What about getting yelled at by drivers?

I'm prepared to soldier on, and I have the goal of commuting by bike as consistently as I can through the winter. So far, of 12 working days in 2012, I have commuted 10.5 times. That's a pretty good record. For all the pain and inconvenience of this morning, it felt pretty good to be on the bike when I saw one of my fellow cyclists headed the other way and we gave each other a hearty, knowing wave.


Brewing journal: Batch 13: Greenbelt DIPA

Brewed batch #13 Greenbelt Double IPA. First time with the big kettle and the chiller. I started with 6 gallons of spring water in the pot and it took well over an hour on the stove to reach anything even approximating a boil. 2.5 pounds of various steeping grains at 155 for 25 minutes, then the “boil-” 11 pounds of light malt syrup. bittering hops, flavor hops at 15 minutes. I messed up and missed a half ounce that were supposed to go in for aroma at 5 minutes, too excited about the chiller.  I’ll put them in for the dry hop at the end. The chiller worked very well, through in my excitement I forgot to turn off the burner for the first few minutes of chilling. I had the wort down to a temperature of 75 degrees in 15 minutes. I was able to move the chiller around and get a whirlpool going, which made siphoning easier without getting too much hop gunk. Nevertheless, moving chunky wort through the siphon was not ideal and it makes me nervous about infection issues.

I ended up with a little over 5.5 gallons in the fermeter, which is what the kit instructions said I should have. Gravity was 1.075, close to the target of 1.077 called out by the kit. It smelled wonderful. I made a one-quart starter with a 1.040 wort and a smack pack of Wyeast “Greenbelt” and pitched that starter after 30 hours, not really high krausen but with about a half inch of yeast sediment in the starter. I observed some signs of fermentation within an hour and moderate fermentation within 18 hours.  

I’ll put a hole in the kettle soon enough to do a spigot. I may also get a big tea ball so I can dry hop right in the keg. I’m planning on a 5-6 week primary for this beer with no secondary and two weeks in the keg for natural carbonation before the first taste. Realistically I won’t plan on drinking much of it until the beginning of April.

The first outing with the big kettle and full boil was an overall success, but I can tell I need to get this operation outside. The shopping list now includes a weldless bulkhead kit to make draining the kettle easier, an outdoor propane burner with a tank of gas to make the boil faster and more vigorous (and to get things out of the kitchen!) a big tea ball to dry-hop this beer in the keg, and a new piece of tubing for my autosiphon so I won’t stay up nights worrying about infections.



Thank You Mr. Erlenmeyer, Wherever You Are

It's a yeast starter for a batch of IPA I have planned: