Category: San Francisco

Bay Area Bike Share Launching this August

Finally, San Francisco is getting a bike share program which is launching next month. Hooray! You can now go online to purchase your membership.

It’s a pilot program starting with 700 bikes at 70 stations in SF and along the Peninsula- or to be more precise it is actually just in 5 cities (San Francisco, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose). But SF gets half of all of the bikes and half of all of the stations. That comes out to roughly 10 bikes per station. If successful, it’s going to expand to other cities including expanding to more stations and bikes in SF for a total of 1,000 bikes (still too small!) in the future.

Here are some characteristics of the bike they are using that have struck me. I like the Celeste green color (easy to spot and gets motorist’s attention) and it’s refreshing. It has a step-through frame so both sexes and elders can get on the saddle easier. It looks like it may come with 7 speeds which I think is good for SF’s hills. It also comes with front and rear lights which are powered by pedaling, fenders for rain and chain guard to keep your pants clean. All in all, a typical bike-share bike which has been shown to work in other North American cities. Aside from the color, this bike is identical to the ones from Capital bikeshare in DC, Citi-Bikes in NYC, Hubway bikes in Boston, and Divvy bikes in Chicago.

Celeste Green Bay Area Bike Share

Celeste Green Bay Area Bike Share.

The location of the stations are very good, all on flat land, and in high density areas where high tourism and business districts are. So, it looks like it aims to get visitors and workers to use them. It’s a great way to get people that are on the fence about riding a bike to actually ride one and good for short bicycle trips like running errands.

It also serves as a missing link in the public transit system. I am hoping that more people coming into SF to work or play will use the Caltrain/BART and pick one of these bikes to get to their designated spot. It looks like there is one docking station at the Caltrain station and one pretty close by as well, but by going with the assumption that there are 10 bikes per station, there would only be 20 bikes. This is clearly not enough. You may become reliant on bike shares, and one day you are stuck without one. I see thousands of Caltrain riders getting off at 4th and King St. and anyone of them can use them up fairly quickly. It needs at least 40 – 100 bikes at those two locations. As for the commuters coming into the Ferry Building and Transbay Terminal, I think they also deserve more than just one station each.

However, in other parts of the city, I think it will just about fulfill the level of need initially. For example, there are 9 docking pods on Market St. with a few other ones a block or two away. I think the spacing between pods are appropriate too. This area will serve the riders coming out of the BART stations well which are located along Market St. Moreover, there are people that don’t like to lug around a bike and a heavy lock, especially when they have to take them on MUNI buses. These bike shares would nicely fit the bill.

In addition, these bike shares can benefit cyclists who own expensive bikes that they don’t want to risk getting stolen when locking their bikes outside. I usually don’t like taking my bike (even my cheapee one) to the Metreon to watch a movie or to go to the Westfield mall where I won’t see my bike for hours, so this would be beneficial for people like me.

SF stations map

Map of bike-share stations in SF.

Regarding the pricing scale, it is a little expensive if you’re getting the 24 hours or 3 days membership. It comes out to be more expensive than riding MUNI. The unlimited 30 minutes free trips I think it’s kind of a short time span, especially when you only have 35 stations around and not one in every location. It will be a hassle if you want to go more than 2 miles which could take more than 30 minutes. And what if you need to make multiple errands in one trip.

pricing scale

Pricing for annual and short term memberships.

Surely, the overtime fees are pretty expensive at $4 for the second 30 minutes and $7 for each additional 30 minutes. They definitely want you to return the bike. This is not meant for you to rent it for the weekend or a day. In those situations, it’s best to rent from a regular bike rental shop.

overtime pricing

Overtime fees if you don’t return the bike within 30 minutes.

Bike shares usually don’t come with helmets. So it will be up to riders to bring their own, but I don’t expect many to do so based on observations from other American cities that have bike share programs.

It’s going to be nice to see people in regular clothing riding them as opposed to people in spandex and athletic wear. They will be “upright and helmetless.” I think this is going to change the image of cyclists and the convenience that the bike share will provide is going to increase the cycling rate. Yay for bike share!

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I crashed SF train tracks!

After living and biking in San Francisco for a good amount of time, we will undoubtedly hear at some point, “I crashed SF train tracks!” or we will ourselves succumb to the treachery of the tracks.

I casually surveyed 20 folks that I know that ride bikes including Nellie and myself, and about 8 have been victims of accidents on SF’s train tracks. Albeit a small sample size, that’s a 40% rate!

How could this be possible?

Well, if there are 72 miles (116 km) of light rail tracks in a 49 sq. mile (127 sq. km) city and the main artery is like Market Street, a major corridor for bike commuters with rail tracks throughout, it is very likely anyone who rides a bike more than a mile on any given day will have to cross a train track.

These tracks are very treacherous in that the size between them is just enough for a bike tire to fit, not to mention their surface is very slippery. So if a bike tire is not getting caught in them, the tire is gliding on them. Cyclists have to try to cross them perpendicularly, which is not always easy to do and on wet days, they must ride slowly and cautiously to ensure their tires don’t lose traction as they cross them.

Mulitple MUNI light rail tracks on 3rd and 25th St.

Multiple sets of MUNI light rail tracks on 25th at 3rd St.

Here is an example of the kind of tracks we have in SF. The photo above was taken at the corner of 25th St. and 3rd St. in the Central Waterfront neighborhood. Those myriad of rails just makes my heart beat 10 times faster whenever I cross them. What if you have to make a right or left turn there, your turned front wheels could easily become aligned with the angle of the curved tracks.

MUNI light rail track on Market St. near Steuart St.

MUNI light rail track on Market St. near Steuart St.

Then there is this sort of infrastructure where a cyclist has to share the vehicle lane with light rails and vehicles. What do you think are your chances of getting your bike’s front wheel caught in the tracks? Riding between the tracks is like a balancing act. I have seen a few that crashed, especially at Critical Mass (this is usually the route Critical Mass takes when first starting out from their meetup spot). The gaps for light rail tracks are about 1.5 in/38 mm (on the straights) to 2.0 in/51 mm (on the curves) wide, so most tires on bicycles of SF would get caught in them.

i crashed SF sticker_2    i crashed SF tshirt_2

Furthermore, you know it’s a pretty common occurrence in San Francisco when shops sell t-shirts and stickers that come with this phrase/symbol (see images above). (The t-shirt used to belong to Nellie until I started wearing it when I crashed about 6 weeks ago… my right wrist hasn’t completely recovered yet.)

As much as I do not want to encounter train tracks when riding a bike, if I want to live in a city with good public transportation I will have to accept it. However, train tracks that are actually still being used are not as problematic. It is the train tracks that have been abandoned but still left in place that need to be removed. They pose a great deal of hazard to many cyclists for a couple of reasons. They were put down before bike lanes and sometimes even before proper paved streets were put in. Secondly, because they have been abandoned, they are left to die (eroded) creating more dangerous hazards adjacent to the such as eroded asphalt and potholes. I don’t know how many cyclists have crashed on abandoned tracks versus active tracks but both Nellie and I have been victims of the abandoned variety.

A block and a half of abandoned train tracks on Townsend St.

A block and a half of abandoned train tracks on Townsend St.

One of the major routes for bike commuters to get from the central neighborhoods to the Caltrain Station and Embarcadero is Townsend St. Recently, I counted about 13-45 bike commuters every 5 minutes during peak hours on Townsend St. heading in the direction the photo (see above) is taken. You can see that the track is located only a few inches from the bike lane. A group of cyclists arriving together to a red traffic light can force anyone of them onto the rail.

Also, there is not one street lamp on the right hand-side of the sidewalk. It is pretty dim at night at that section. Fortunately, bike commuters that come home at night usually go in opposite direction where there are street lamps and no tracks to worry about.

Erosions of cracked pavement on both sides of the tracks

Erosion of cracked pavement on both sides of the abandoned tracks on Townsend St.

Unfortunately, Nellie took that direction one night riding home. It was about midnight and it was dark along that stretch. She crossed the first track fine to merge into the right turn lane (see photo above) but the eroded pothole next to the track caught her front tire and she fell flat on her face. She was completely dazed, and I didn’t want to take any chances so an ambulance was called and she was driven to the ER. Yep, she got a loose tooth, a few stitches on her upper lip, plenty of road rash, and a bruised forehead.

Just looking at that stretch, it would take an experienced rider with a little luck on his side to cross those double tracks with little room to straighten your bike out again. I think probably it’s best to slow down as much as possible to a walking speed to merge, or to make a sharp right turn at the crosswalk so you go more perpendicularly over them, but you’ve got to watch out for autos behind you in the right turn lane.

A close-up a cracked pavement that developed into a pothole.

A close-up of a cracked pavement that developed into a pothole. My shoe is placed there for scale.

I believe this is one of the potholes which Nellie’s bike tire got caught in that night. As you can see, my shoe size is 10.5 in (267 mm) and can easily fit into that pothole. You can cross the track but that pothole next to it can eat your bike alive.

Another set of abandoned tracks on Illinois St.

Another set of abandoned tracks on Illinois St.

Another part of town that has these abandoned tracks is Illinois St. that runs about 1 mile (1.6 km) long. Yep, that’s a mile in length that you need to keep paying attention to freight trucks, cars, large debris, construction detours, and these nagging tracks that do not need to be there. How inconvenient and dangerous is that? Oh, and Illinois St. is the flatest bike route to go through the eastern neighorhoods. During Bike to Work Day this May, I witnessed two colleagues who were riding down right in front of me on this very same route. Both of them were forced to cross the abandoned tracks due to a construction zone blocking the bike lane and both of them crashed.

A 2.5 inches (63.5 mm) wide gap between metal rails of Illinois St.

A 2.5 inches (63.5 mm) wide gap between rails of Illinois St.

Not even a typical fat tire from a Dutch city bike is going to save you from getting your front wheel jammed into it. If you’re going to get fat tires wider than 60 mm or so, you’re not going to have a good time riding in SF.

This turned track is placed right on the bike lane on Illinois St.

This turned track extends right on the bike lane on Illinois St.

Another abandoned train track that is eroded. This one is near a crosswalk.

This pothole is near a crosswalk on Illinois St. at 16th St. It could be a hazard to both pedestrians and cyclists.

Well, knowing how SF crawls like a turtle when it comes to infrastructure maintenance and installation, here are some tips that I gathered and learned to avoid train track crashes. Please comment if you have other recommendations.

1. Rule of thumb, cross the tracks as perpendicularly as possible.

2. Do not lean on your bike when crossing. I leaned on my bike and that’s how my bike accident happened.

3. Try to sit upright as much as possible when crossing, even if you have low handlebars, so your center of gravity is more balanced and if you crash you are less likely to land on your head. Or better yet, get an upright or step-through bike.

4. If you ride at night often, invest in those super bright headlights so you can see the ground better.

5. Get wide tires that are at least 35 mm. 35 mm becomes wider when you are seated on your bike because it expands with your weight and that is wide enough to not lodge into active train tracks. Just be careful on the curved tracks because those are 51 mm wide.

But what about in the rain? The metal surface of the tracks gets even more slippery when wet. I don’t know except to use the above tips with very extra care and maybe buy some good tires made for rain.

SFMTA, you gotta remove those abandoned train tracks! Just want to say you can be sued.

Fresh Green Paint on the Embarcadero

Looking north on the Embarcadero

Looking north on the Embarcadero near Green St.

On the way to Off the Grid this past Friday, I saw these bright green paint on bike lanes. No, these bike lanes are not separated nor protected. They are just green paint over the original striped lanes but they are an improvement, nonetheless. Maybe private cars, tour buses, and taxis will know not to block it this time… I doubt it though.  I guess it’s okay because the Embarcadero these days is like a parking lot during weekends due to all the traffic so it feels kind of safe to swerve in and out of the blocked bike lane into the vehicle lane.

I believe they were painted along the Embarcadero to get ready for America’s Cup which will begin this July.

Looking South on the Embarcadero near Pier 19

Looking South on the Embarcadero near Pier 19

I noticed that the green bike lanes weren’t completely done so I asked the construction crew manager about how far the green lanes will go. He said that it will start from as far south as Howard St. and end near North Point St. to the north. This CANNOT be right because that doesn’t cover the whole stretch of the original striped lanes from 3rd St. to North Point St. on the Embarcadero. If the purpose of the green painted lanes is to get more people to use bicycles as another form of transportation to get to events like America’s Cup, why are they ending at Howard St. which is 1.4 miles (2.3 km) from the Caltrain Station? Are we getting another disconnected bike route as seen in so many places in SF?

Anyhow, I hope this is temporary until we get a cycle track here. I propose a raised cycle track going northbound without jeopardizing sidewalk space and a southbound buffered cycle track by placing it between parked cars and the sidewalk. This proposal would not take any car space away. Do it!

Recap: 7th Annual Bicycle Music Festival in SF

With climate change knocking at our doors, enjoying a human-pedal-powered concert this past Saturday was the least of our worries for all the things that humans could do to contribute to the warming of the planet. The concert was powered entirely by the sweat and calories of human power instead of fossil fuels or electricity generated by fossil fuels. People took turns pedaling on bicycle power generators which created the juice to power all the amps and speakers.

It was their 7th annual event and it was held at Pioneer East Meadow in Golden Gate Park from 12-5 pm and then 6-9 pm in the Mission District. It was the biggest event of its kind in the world and it was free and open to all ages.

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A full 5 hours music set, all powered 100% by humans pedaling on 20 bicycles! It was fun and engaging because anyone can be part of the stage production by volunteering to pedal. Keep pedaling…if you stop, no more music…

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And this little kid, below, was doing his part.

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Here was the line-up of musicians written on the board (see photo below).

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We were sitting almost 300 ft (91 m) away and the music was still loud and clear. No problem powering the speakers with bicycles.

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Her bike, below, was just too cool. She’s playing a rainbow xylophone on her Centurion Mixte.

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It was announced that there were over 600 bikes locked to the bike racks and in addition, I saw many had their bikes by their side. So I estimated a total of about 700-800 attendees at the festival. All of these people on bicycles (see photo below) waited till the end at around 5pm for the amazing “Live On Bike” ride from Golden Gate Park to the Mission District. The entire festival got packed up and transported on bicycles to another location in the Mission District with the talented Jason Brock (a finalist from X-factor) accompanying us. It was about an hour long at a slow speed for a distance of 4.5 miles (7.2 km). Because there were so many bicyclists, there were 3 loud speakers placed in the front, middle, and at the end of the ride so anywhere you went you could  still hear Jason Brock singing. However, I think they needed more speakers.

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Jason Brock was singing during the entire Live on Bike ride. He sang a couple of tunes from the 80s and improvised some songs which made people laugh. I don’t watch TV shows like X Factor but he was quite talented and hilarious in person, and the fact that he continued singing on the bicycle stage even on rocky streets is pretty good.

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The ride went through Haight Ashbury, onto the Wiggle, then Market St, and through the Castro neighborhood. It was interesting because I felt like we were in a parade within a parade. We were enjoying Jason Brock’s show as his audience but then the people on buses, cars, and sidewalks were enjoying us parading through.

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The tail end of the parade near Mission Dolores Park in the Mission.

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The pedal-powered bicycles were lifted to their next destination using guess what?… bicycle. The green bicycle on the right is a blending machine for making smoothies. I tried their smoothies and they were delicious.

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My buddies and I left for home when we arrived in the Mission. We missed the 3 hour concert, but I hope someone reports on it because I am interested in how it went during the night. We enjoyed the event very much and I am surprised as to why there aren’t more festivals/events using bicycles to generate energy to power their shows.

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Hope you come out next time!

Recap: Midnight Mystery Ride June 2013

My first Midnight Mystery Ride (MMR) was about two years ago and it was probably the most amazing group ride I have ever done. It was SF-esque- mysterious, intimate, and awe-inspiring. I was very lucky to experience it on the night that it was hosted by Mission Bicycle Company (they organize the best ones). MMR is held on the 3rd Saturday of every month at midnight with very little information. The only information you will get are the organizer’s name (that could be anyone) and the location of the meetup on that day. I think this concept is what keeps MMR special and underground. The three times that I have been to MMR, I was taken to places that were off the beaten path and even those that a native would never experience.

I have a friend, Dante, who just got bitten by the bicycle bug and I wanted to show him what the cycling community is like at midnight. Also, I haven’t been to one for quite awhile, so it was a good time for both of us to check it out. We met at Truck and Bar Kitchen on 1900 Folsom St. in the Mission minutes before the clock struck midnight. Complete strangers were introducing themselves to us when we arrived. It was welcoming since I haven’t been to one for almost a year.

MMR meetup spot

In the photo below is the leader, Gary (left) for that night. He planned for a leisurely ride, and that was pretty much a chill ride for conversational cycling.

MMR Gary_leader

We headed NW on Folsom St. and stopped at the corner of Folsom and 2nd St. for our first social gathering.

MMR_first stop

After 20-30 minutes at our first stop, we started heading toward the Embarcadero on Folsom St.

MMR_on our way to 2nd stop

When we arrived at the Embarcadero, it was barricaded off for the 36th SF Marathon taking place the next morning, but the security patrol was nice enough to open it up to let us through. The cool thing was that there was not a single car on that street!

MMR_2nd stop

The second stop was a beautiful view of the Bay Lights on the Bay Bridge. We met a couple from Sacramento who visit SF on a monthly basis but haven’t seen the Bay Lights. That was pretty special to them.

MMR_2nd stop_2

The final stop was on the Ferry Building pier behind a night club I think. It was pitch black so I couldn’t get any good photos. We did get free music coming out of the night club, but it was pretty bad. =)

There were about 24 people on bikes, all very nice and friendly. It was easy to strike up a conversation with complete strangers and because we all have this underlining understanding and interest in this Midnight Mystery journey, it makes it a whole lot more intimate.

This intimate night was how I remember San Francisco three years ago when Nellie and I first moved here. A peaceful and beautiful night wherever you ride. Personally, I think it’s almost sad in order to feel that again, I have to ride in the middle of the night to get this wonderful experience.

Watch our video of that night:

10th Anniversary WNBR SF 2013

group photo

This weekend was filled with many fun bicycling events such as the SF Bike Party on Friday night, the World Naked Bike Ride on Saturday, and Sunday Streets on Sunday.

Being that it was the 10th Anniversary of the World Naked Bike Ride (they had a smaller ride earlier this year) and the weather was pretty nice, I went out to report on the event hoping for a full blown turnout. I was a little disappointed in the turnout but the participants still appeared to have a great time.

As usual, it was held at Justin Herman Plaza in front of the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. Their message was to get off oil dependence and their choice of location on a sunny Saturday was a great place to get any message across. After meeting up and embarking on their ride as a group of nude cyclists, they rolled through Fisherman’s Wharf, the Marina, Lombard Street, North Beach, back along the Embarcadero, over to the Civic Center, the Haight, and past Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach. These are all touristy hotspots for them to be seen by the gaping public, some surprised at the mobile mass exhibitionism.

teamwork bandits bikes not bombs
girls getting prepared start of the ride woman on bike 3
start of the ride 2 3 amigos evolution
woman on bike 2 zebra WNBR!!!

Related post:

World Naked Bike Ride SF March 2013

SF Bike Style – A Sunday Afternoon On The Wiggle

bike to match
Shoes and tires are of the same function, body and frame are of the same form…

socks and shoes
Colorful socks are never old…

turquoise/orange bike
Turquoise and orange go together as well as butter and bread…

military pair
Military style in pair…

kids on xtracyle
Nothing is as fun as riding a bike except when taking the back seat on one…