Sunday, July 17, 2011

#FlightVsBike #FlightVsMetro #BikeVsMetro #SkateVsMetro, A Huge Success!

For those who were not following the live #FlightVsBike hashtag updates yesterday, our little race of bikes against a JetBlue aircraft blew up in a way that far exceeded any of my initial expectations. It was an idea borne out of the Twittersphere, and carried into reality thanks to help from the infamous Roadblock and the racers of Wolfpack, Joe Anthony of Bike Commute News, and a supporting cast of volunteers from L.A.'s bike culture. It drew attention from a lot of blogs and internet news as I had expected, but it also attracted a lot more mainstream media attention than I had anticipated. Thanks in part to the behind the scenes work of my wife Meghan Kavanagh working media contacts and sending out press releases.

The idea from the very beginning was to demonstrate the viability of bikes as a real mode of transportation, poke a little fun at the delay of going through airports, and the unnecessary fear of being told to stay home as though life could not go on without cars with the 405 was shut down. At the last moment I decided to throw in a twist as well. I took a combination of bike and public transit to get to the race start at Chandler Blvd and Cahuenga Blvd, and it got me thinking that we could make it 3 way race and commuter challenge by having a public transit user in the race. L.A.'s public transit system may be behind some of the other mega cities of the world, with needed improvements on the way, but it often does not get enough credit for what it is already able to do. As well as how many people already ride it.

I thought it would be a great opportunity to really highlight all the transportation alternatives with this event, and Metro is offering free fare on many lines for this Carmageddon weekend. The route of North Hollywood and Burbank to Long Beach is ideally suited to both bicycling and transit. There is train service, with heavy rail subway, and light-rail above ground, all the way to Downtown Long Beach. There is also the often overlooked L.A. River, which reaches down into Long Beach and features a bike path with miles and miles of smooth riding and no traffic signals.

(I took the Red Line subway from the NoHo station and transferred to the Blue Line to Long Beach at the DTLA 7th St. Station)
So I set off on foot, with no bike, like most transit commuters. Since Wolfpack made a pledge of a clean by the book race of no rule breaking or running lights, I pledged no jay walking or funny business on my part as well. I loved Roadblock's humorous insistence in interviews that the jet not break any rules either, no rolling stops or cutting off other aircraft on the runway. For the sake of the drama for our live internet followers, I was really glad I decided to jump in with the transit angle, because it became clear there was no contest between Wolfpack and the air travelers Joe Anthony and Ezra Horne. Wolfpack Team A was halfway across Los Angeles while the plane was still sitting on the runway. The #FlightVsBike was becoming more of a #BikeVsMetro race.

(Once I was above ground again I started catching up with Twitter updates and plotting walking route)
Once I was off the Blue Line train and on foot, getting to the final destination of the Long Beach light house near the aquarium, the bikes had a clear advantage. In the end, I got the call that Wolfpack had won just as I was approaching the waterfront.  However at that time the Jet Blue flight had not even touched down, and so even on foot and transit, it was clear I was going to have a decisive second place. The unofficial times from live Twitter updates placed Wolfpack at arriving in 1 hour 34 minutes, me on foot in 1:44. Then there was a surprise arrival, shortly before the plane travelers arrived, a woman on inline skates, Jenni Armstrong (of , who I saw at the start, and had followed the riders. She clocked in at the finish in 2:40. Finally in 2:55, Joe and Ezra arrived, apparently delayed briefly in the final stretch by a taxi driver who misunderstood where they were trying to go, just as might occur in any real transportation scenario.

Wolfpack victory toast after the race.
I see this as a huge win/win for everybody involved, including Jet Blue which was obviously looking for attention with this flight anyways, and it pushed the discussion on transportation in Los Angeles. Like CicLAvia, it is one of the few events I can think of that has garnered almost unanimous positive press for bicycling in LA. Local advocacy blogs like L.A. Streetsblog, that covered the race, ballooned in web traffic beyond anything experienced before. In a surprise morning announcement, the Santa Monica Airlines skateboard company, announced $100 to the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition for every minute the cyclists beat the plane by. Smart money was on Wolfpack for the win, but I don't think they or anyone else, anticipated just how much of an ass kicking it was to become, but hopefully some kind of deal can be worked out.

I''ll be posting more on this later, my experience as the transit racer, and going through some of my photos and video, as I'm sure many others involved will be doing. Joe over at Bike Commute News is hard at work putting together more info, and Ted Rogers of BikingInLA, always a master of linking things, has a compilation of links of some of the media coverage (P.S. the event was also hyped on the Rachel Maddow show as well). Bicycle culture magic maker and photographer Richie Thomassen assembled a team of cinematographers and gear to capture footage of the Wolfpack racers, and I can't wait to see the final cut of what comes out of this, but that may take some time.

So while the political figures of Los Angeles urged staying in our homes, we went out and had a blast traveling all across this great sprawling Metropolis on an absolutely gorgeous day. For us and many others in L.A., the dreaded Carmageddon became a holiday, one that never produced the feared traffic jams, and something I wish we could do again sometime. As the comedian Thomas Lennon put it on Twitter,  "Apparently the 405 operating normally was the thing that was ruining LA. #nicestdayoftheyear". A sentiment that seem shared by a lot of folks, since it was retweeted and commented upon by many. Here's to hoping as we move forward in L.A., we can move past freeway expansion projects like the one expanding the 405 right now (a billion dollars for a few miles of carpool lane), and start having a rational discussion of transportation choices beyond cars.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Happy Carmageddon this weekend! Who will win, bikes or planes?

Bikes are an obvious alternative to sitting in what ever traffic mess ensues this weekend, and L.A.'s growing transit system is rising to the occasion as well with running additional trains and buses and free fares on some lines. Amtrak is also offering reduced fare ($3, $1.50 for kids) to Bob Hope Airport from L.A. Union Station.

For those local, the City of Santa Monica has a number of events and special things going on to encourage staying local. Bike valets will be available at additional locations this weekend, and there will be some local bike tours organized by the Santa Monica Buy Local campaign.

Airplane Window
Then there was this. Making a bit of a mockery of sustainable transportation alternatives this weekend, Jet Blue offered $4 flights from Long Beach to Burbank to get over the hill. Well yesterday morning, Tom Vanderbilt, author of the book Traffic, pondered on Twitter if someone on a bike could make the trip in the same time or faster than someone taking the flight. Knowing the route, which is long, but ideal for cycling with miles and miles of bike path along the L.A. River, I said maybe. Then I thought of the Wolfpack Hustle guys, and the speed of paceline riding, and thought hey this could be a real race.

Wolfpack Team "A" Sails To Victory In First Place
(Justin of Wolfpack Team "A" that took the win at the Wolfpack All City Race)

I looped in Roadblock of Midnight Ridazz and Wolfpack fame, and off this thing started going. It's now a real event, Joe Anthony of Bike Commute News got in touch with Jet Blue and they gave him a ticket to be on the plane side of the race. My wife Meghan Kavanagh, who does a lot of behind the scenes help in the bike scene writing press releases and making media contacts, has helped get this story out to mainstream media outlets. News stories are popping up all over, and I saw USA Today has picked up the story and many more are following.

Over on Bike Commute News, Joe Anthony has written up a great little post with snippets off of the social media sites. It's a great illustration of the power of the internet and social media to facilitate ideas and spontaneous organizing to make things happen. Major props to Roadblock who really took the idea and carried it, insistent this could be a real thing, and Joe for getting Jet Blue on board. I did not anticipate when I opened my proverbial mouth on Twitter that this idea was going to blow up in the way it has.

So who will win this Carmegeddon, bikes or planes? We will find out this Saturday afternoon!

A few more details on the flight times from the press release:
The race will begin at 10:50 am at a home in Burbank, California.
JetBlue has provided a plane ticket for local bicycle blogger Joe
Anthony. Anthony will take the 12:20 pm JetBlue flight from Burbank to
Long Beach. The flight arrives in Long Beach at 1:05 pm. Both the
cyclists and Anthony are expected to arrive at the finish line at the
Long Beach Aquarium approximately 15 to 20 minutes after the plane

Additional details as they emerge, this is all flying by the seat of your pants organizing, will be added over at Bike Commute News

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Keeping Your Bike Secure With The New Bike Racks Going Up All Over Santa Monica, And How To Request New Racks

New Bike Rack On Main St, And Locking Up

For my column on Santa Monica Patch a couple weeks ago I pointed out that new bike racks were being rolled out all over Santa Monica. Some of these new racks are more of the metal bollards that had been popping up in downtown, and some are a new design like the newest racks at the library. From a functionality stand point the new rack design is a big improvement over the metal bollard racks. They offer two points of contact, which makes it easier to balance the bike against the rack, and they have a thick rubberized surface coating that makes it unlikely you'll ding your paint job.

Below is photo of my bike with a fairly secure lock up with one of the new racks. I'm using one mini u-lock and a medium length coil to secure the wheels.  If you loop the coil through the opening on one end, the coil can reach all way around both wheel and up to the lock.

New Bike Rack On Main St, And Locking Up

At least some of the places that are getting these new racks are places I specifically had requested before using the city's GoRequest app. This app can be used for reporting all kinds of non-emergancy issues in the city, and you can attach GPS data and photographs of sites. My most recent column for Patch just got posted today on using smart phones and web apps to interact with local government. The app can be downloaded for the iPhone or Android phones, and can also be accessed through the government website. I noticed the Santa Monica website version of the GoRequest form also features some custom categories not available in the app version that is used by a handful of different municipalities. One of these is specifically for requesting bike racks.

I can attest that the city is really looking at these requests. At the last Santa Monica Bike Action Plan workshop, I chatted with the city's Principal Transportation Engineer, Sam Morrissey, and he even referenced information I know was only shared through details on a GoRequest I sent about bike parking observations near my favorite local restaurant. So I highly encourage cyclists to get on board with using this application to call attention to issues of concern, like bike parking, poor road conditions, lights that do not detect. What ever you think needs to be addressed. We might not get everything we want done right away, but it will raise the profile of our concerns. I know Cynthia and Bryan, fellow members of Spoke, had put in pot hole fix requests in bike lanes, and they were fairly promptly addressed.