Category Archives: RIPTA

On The Street with CarFreePVD

Sometimes I wish I was Bill Cunningham, flitting about the streets of New York snapping pictures of the fashionably dressed with my SLR. Instead, I’m a schlub in a sling, riding the bus through Providence, furtively taking pictures with my iPhone camera. (My 2-year-old iPhone camera. Can you imagine?) And instead of taking pictures of the fashionable, I take pictures of cars and bikes in various stages of parking. Exciting, no? It can be exciting if I pretend that I’m a National Geographic photographer, attempting to capture rare animals in their natural environments:

Shhhh. Be very quiet, we’re approaching a Surly Big Dummy rarely seen in the wild – gently nuzzling a no parking sign. It has locked eyes with a Prius and seems to be in some sort of staring contest in order to determine who is more smug.

Riding the bus can lead to an action shot…

… like with this picture of a Honda Fit parked on the sidewalk across the street from the west entrance to the East Side tunnel (taken from the window of a RIPTA bus). Other pictures are less action-packed:

I’m not sure why the BRU Crew was parked here, but I won’t complain too much because it’s more of a walkway adjacent to a parking lot than an actual sidewalk… not as bad as say… parking on the sidewalk in the middle of a downtown square every day.

I’ve seen this bike several times parked in the student ghetto section of College Hill.

I tried shots from several angles, but I was unable to capture the extreme ungainliness of this bike. It’s just oddly proportioned and those BMX-style handlebars aren’t helping.

Hidden bike parking at Brown. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to park a bike here. Looks like plenty of coverage for someone who wants to steal something (not that bike thieves require much coverage).

Not spotted on the street, but discovered on craigslist, this Track-tacular Orange Masi:

orange fixed – track frame
asking $600 – has new campagnolo bottom bracket – and campagnolo crankset
rims and pedals are not included

Looks like you’ll have to provide your own Aerospoke if you want the same look. It’s probably best that the rims aren’t included since this guy evidently doesn’t know how to close a QR skewer:

Sometimes, my camera is not enough and I have to rely on my network of sources.  Andrew of Troy Bike Rescue spotted this on the streets of Troy, NY.

It seems like the new LOOK pedal system is starting to trickle down to the BMX market.

Tweetdown: @carfreepvd vs. @RIPTA_RI

Many moons ago, I had a negative interaction with a RIPTA bus driver while riding my bike. You can read account #1 and account #2 for the full story. When riding my bike, I am passed by RIPTA buses all the time. I probably share the same space with RIPTA buses a few hundred times in a year, and I very rarely have any sort of negative experience. In fact, I was just praising RIPTA for providing SAG Wagon services to me when I had a pinch-flat. Now that I am injured, RIPTA is my main mode of transportation. I’m really digging the Easter-themed colorway on the April RIPTA pass:

 

the disembodied finger is "disembodied hand 2.0"

I’ll be reporting more on my RIPTA experiences in the next month. In fact, I already kvetched about the lack of signage for the RI Hospital bus stop. And since a blog post wasn’t enough of a complaint, I decided to up my kvetching game with some Web 2.0 action and dropped a wicked tweet-kvetch in RIPTA’s general direction:

Oh SNAP!

To my surprise and delight, @RIPTA_RI responded:

So now I know. Instead of calling the RIPTA customer service line, and following up with an email, the next time I’m harassed on the streets by a RIPTA driver, I’ll just tweet them.

By the way, I’ve greatly increased my tweeting lately. If you aren’t one of the over one dozen people or spam fronts following me on twitter, I suggest you get with the program and follow @carfreepvd !!! Or you could join the almost 100 people following @RIPTA_RI.

Speaking of spam. I expected spam comments when I started this blog, and wordpress does a good job of catching them. But I never expected spam referrals. I’m getting all sorts of .cz addresses showing up as referring to this blog. And it’s totally messing up my stats. I need to know if I’m reaching 20 readers, or 10 readers and 10 spambots. This is very important!

RIPTA is my SAG Wagon

For a definition of SAG Wagon, please refer to the good book of Sheldon Brown, Chapter Sa—So.

A few days before my accident, I had the unfortunate experience of catching a pinch flat from hitting a massive pothole on Canal Street at about 18 MPH. I could feel the hit and thought “oh man, that’s not good.” I looked down at my bike and didn’t see any apparent damage. I could really feel the hit on my front wheel, but when I got to work, my front wheel and tire looked fine, but my rear tire was looking mighty spongy. I took a peek at my bike later in the day to find this:

A completely flat rear tire. I know that I should always have a patch kit, spare tube and pump on me at all times, but I just don’t keep those with my commuter because my ride is so short (I think I’ll changes this practice once I’m back on the saddle). Also, I don’t live in Cambridge where cyclists are lulled into a false sense of security by one of these public bike-repair stations located every three blocks:

(h/t to Jon of Wobbly Music for the link)

Because I no longer live in the Cyclists Republic of Cambridge, I had three options:

A. Walk the bike 1.5 miles home. This could be kind of damaging to the tire and the rim. Also, not particularly fun.

B. Remove the wheel, take it home for repairs and bring it back the next day. This would have required walking a few miles while carrying a wheel, looking like I stole it.

C. Put the whole thing on the Bus and ride home. This would cost $2.00 and save me some trouble and embarrassment.

I chose option C. Although I have been disparaging of RIPTA in the past, I’m glad that they have bike carriers on the front of all of their full-size buses. It certainly came in useful that day.

I’m a Winner!

and by that, I mean whiner. Case in point:

One semi-regular feature of this blog is the “honk report” wherein I whine about the latest annoyance I endured when I motorist honked at me for no good reason. It had been happening at a rate of approximately one per week, but now I’ve gone over a month without anyone honking at me.  This lack of honking is making me progressively suspicious.  Am I riding in a different way? I keep thinking that a honk could happen at any moment and I want to be ready so I don’t freak out and go all nutty on the offending motorist. Screaming road rage from a driver inside of a more or less soundproof car is one thing, but screaming road rage from a cyclist tends to draw stares. So, I’ve been preparing myself with special zen exercises and yogic breathing in case anyone should honk at me. I’ll turn, glance and ride on. (turn, glance, ride on. turn, glance, ride on) The zen seems to be working because I was almost squeezed by a bus yesterday morning and it didn’t really bother me. Well, it bothered me, but I didn’t freak out. This happened on Canal Street, which is a three-lane wide one-way street (plenty of room for the bus to take another lane). In the grand scheme of the number of cars that pass me, it’s pretty rare that a car passes too close. When it does happen, I don’t really have much recourse. However, when a bus driver passes too close….

They have an easily identifiable number and a company I can call. After passing me, the bus also ran a red light. I loped along at my usual pace, knowing that the bus would end up at Kennedy Plaza (where I snapped these pictures.) For some reason, the driver seemed in less of a hurry once he’d arrived at the station.

Since I was in a fairly sanguine state, I considered engaging the driver in a discussion of the finer points of Rhode Island law. But I decided to keep my sanguinity to myself and enjoy a stress-free day at work. Instead of risking turning into a fuming jerk in Kennedy Plaza, I called Peter Pan Bus Lines and filed a complaint against the driver. That worked so well with RIPTA, right? (Update on my complaint with RIPTA: nothing).

My mood was lifted when I got to work to see that the bike rack was nearly full!

Six bikes in the rack (one is out of the picture frame, and I’m not counting the pennyfarthing at the far end – that one is merely decorative). How exciting to see! Then I realized that two of the bikes have been sitting there for months. Still, four bikes in the racks! Was there a meeting of the ex-Portlander’s club of Rhode Island? Maybe another Teach For America interview session? Nope, just a visit from the community blood bank. Nothing brings out the do-gooders like a blood drive. But what’s that peaking out between the Cannondale Cyclocross bike and the old Raleigh 10-speed (which has been sitting there for 5 months)?

It’s a floor pump! I know that cyclocross is a demanding sport, but does commuting on a cyclocross bike require constant monitoring of your tire pressure? Or perhaps this cyclocross commuter is a wandering good samaritan, pumping up under-inflated tires across the country, an anti-pinch-flat Johnny Appleseed.

The indignity of bike parking: Subway

Hola Amigos, I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at you, but I’ve had a busy dance card in the evenings recently, and that’s my prime blogging time.

Occasionally, I like to use a mode of transportation other than my bike. Most often, that mode is walking. The other day, I was walking through Kennedy Plaza where I saw this:

Three bikes carefully lined up and comfortably parked on their kickstands but completely unlocked. Meanwhile, 3 hitching posts are lined up and waiting for a bike to keep them company. I’ll lock my bike if I’m leaving it for 2 minutes in front of a police station, so I was surprised to see these three just happily waiting for their owners to return from Subway.

In a previous post, a commenter described the awful conditions of Allens Avenue – a route I’d never taken. What else could I do, but try it out. And here is what I found:

Contrast is a little bad on that one. How about a close-up?

I don't even want to know what that is

I do love it when the bike lane symbol itself is covered by all of the junk in the street. Eventually, the lane gets a little more clear. Coincidentally, this happens as the houses get bigger and more expensive. Imagine that. One thing I did enjoy about this road was how smooth the pavement was. I initially loved the new pavement. Until I got to all of the railroad crossings. Allens crosses about 5 derelict sets of rails. On either side outside of the street, they’ve even been pulled up. I guess it’s too expensive to remove them from the street.  The worst part is that they are set at a 70 – 80 degree angle – in my estimation. (I didn’t bring my protractor with me because I was on my road bike. I use an artisinal all-steel protractor that weighs about 100 grams and I can’t have that much weight slowing me down.) This requires one to do a little weave maneuver in order to approach the rails at an angle that won’t catch your wheel. Noah, over at KC Bike Commuting has to deal with a crossing like this every day. It was bad enough on a Saturday morning with almost no traffic. I can’t imagine what it would be like to ride during a morning rush hour.

The bike lane goes all the way to Pawtuxet Village, where there’s a nice little harbor. There’s also this:

You can’t quite see it here, but that Prius is parked directly beneath a no parking sign. On the left edge of the photo you can see someone biking on the sidewalk, adjacent to the bike lane. I’ll give him a pass though, because I believe he was biking with a few children, and I really don’t mind when kids ride on the sidewalk. It’s probably less safe than riding on the street (after a certain age), but there’s really not much I can do about it. I must love being annoyed, because I sure take a lot of pictures of things that annoy me.

Speaking of things that annoy me, I was honked at yesterday, which means I should file a honk report. But I’m kind of getting tired of the whole exercise. I was following the lead of Andy from Carbon Trace on this. Whereas he logs the honks in order to show how rare it is, it seems like I get honked at much more often (about once per week), and I feel like filing the honk report just forces me to focus on the negative. So, no more honk report for a while, it’s bad for my road rage.

Speaking of road rage….

From The Guardian

This recent article in The Guardian describes the author’s interaction with a mini cab driver and subsequent complaint to the driver’s company. Since individual drivers have no accountability for their actions, cyclists have to take all of their road rage out on drivers of oficial vehicles. It’s been about two months since a RIPTA driver told me to get out of the road. I still have not received any report from RIPTA on what they’ve done. I emailed them again on Thursday – no response. Do I need to send it by snail mail?

Wow, this post is just full of things that annoy me. Let’s keep the ball rolling! I encounterd an unnecessarily curteous motorist at a four-way stop the other day. They got to the intersection well ahead of me, so I stopped to let them go through. Instead they tried to wave me ahead of them. Of course, they were behind glass and there’s lots of glare making it difficult to see. I’m not sure why Rhode Islanders haven’t adopted the custom of flashing their headlights in order to indicate “waving on.” It’s far easier to see, and less ambiguous than waving one’s hand behind glass. Instead of going in front of the other motorist, I put my foot down to indicate that they should take their right of way. My guess is that some motorists do this because they are used to cyclists just blowing through stop signs – something I see all the time around campus.  So I guess I can’t really blame them. As they passed by, I gave them a smile and a wave to thank them because right now, I’m all about being positive. POSITIVE!

POS – I – TIVE!!!!

Looks like it’s time to go for a ride!

Dear RIPTA, I demand satisfaction.

Yesterday, I exchanged words with a RIPTA driver (see the post for details). I wouldn’t describe the words as “heated,” but they were getting warm. I certainly didn’t demand satisfaction from the driver. Instead, I noted the number of the bus he was driving and vowed to call RIPTA the next day.

I thought for a while about what exactly to say when I called RIPTA, how exactly to frame the problem. I can’t really say that the driver ran me off the road, although he did pass me on the right. Basically, it comes down to the driver being rude and arrogant and generally being a bully. I called the general RIPTA number shortly before 1:00 PM today.

After navigating a little bit of phone tree, I reached a person who answered the phone, “RIPTA information.” This was said in the most bored affect imaginable. Just think of Patty & Selma Bouvier working at the DMV and shouting “Next!” [that's right, I've already made two Simpsons references in the same post.]

I said, “Hello, I need to talk to someone about some rude and inappropriate comments directed at me by a bus driver.”

-ring ring- I didn’t get, “just a minute, I’ll transfer your call,” or “please hold.” The operator just shuttled me off to some other line.

On this line I got a voicemail with the usual drill, “Thank you for calling RIPTA customer service, all available representatives [yadda yadda], leave a message.” I repeated the above message, adding that I would like to discuss it with a supervisor.

While I was waiting for a call-back, I sent a message using the feedback form on the RIPTA website.

About 30 minutes later, I got a call from RIPTA. Not a bad turn-around time, pretty impressive.

The woman I talked to was polite, if a little world-weary. I relayed the story, pretty much as I told it on yesterday’s blog post. She took down the details, with particular attention to which bus might be the culprit. I’m still not certain if it was #0102 or #0120. But it was definitely the #99 route and I know exactly what time it happened. The RIPTA rep mentioned that she will go to the Director of Transportation with my complaint and it could take up to 5 days to get me an update.  I told her that I was not interested in the driver “getting in trouble” as such, I just felt it was important for drivers to understand that cyclists have the right to use the road. I let her know that I would talk to her next week about the incident.

Later in the afternoon, the rep sent me an email in response to my message on the feedback form:

“I spoke with you today, [carfreepvd] and I put your complaint in and it will go to the Director of Transportation so proper action can be taken.  Thank you.”

I responded with:


I appreciate your quick response. I just want to re-iterate: I’m not interested in the driver getting in trouble as such, I just think it’s important that drivers know that cyclists have a right to use the roads as well. Also, when a driver yells at a cyclist from a large bus, to the cyclist it feels like a threat, regardless of the intent of the driver.

Thank you for keeping me updated.

Sincerely,

[carfreepvd]

I’ve used my name and my personal email address in all of my communication with RIPTA, but on this blog I like to keep a patina of anonymity. I did not tell RIPTA that I would be writing about this on a blog. Anyone have any thoughts on the ethics of that? I’m not writing for a news organization where journalistic ethics would require that I identify myself as a journalist. To me, it sounds pretentious to say, “I’ll be writing about this in my blog” [the implied message being, "so be prepared to feel the wrath of my dozen of readers, sucka!"] I’d be willing to entertain arguments for disclosing my blogging to RIPTA. Personally, I think it’s more interesting to see what they say to someone when they don’t know that they are being blogged about.

Let’s see where we are in a month.

hmmm… no pictures to post that are relevant but I hate the idea of a blog post without pictures…. Oh yeah, here’s a still from an awesome animation from commuteorlando about how to avoid the dreaded “left cross.”

For real, you should check out the animation, it's pretty cool.

I’ll close this post with this, from commute orlando, “The left cross is not your fault, but it is in your interest to prevent it.”

Honk Report: Washington St. & North Main

A RIPTA Bus driver honked at me today as I was biking home at around 7PM. I’ll get to the play-by-play details in a moment. First, let’s all do a google image search for “RIPTA BUS.”  For me, the second result in the image search was this:

RIPTA Bus

The photo is from a post 2 years ago on the Providence Bicycle Coalition blog. (Their monthly meeting was this past Monday, and I missed it yet again – sorry guys.) Drawing conclusions from google search is an example of some grade-A lazy journalism. But I’m not a journalist, I’m a blogger, so… that’s kind of like being a lazy journalist. Anyhow, this image is kind of interesting, in light of today’s “event.”

I work downtown, very close to Kennedy Plaza which is the main bus hub for Rhode Island. I bike near buses every day, in fact, just throwing out a number here, I’d say I’m passed by (or pass) 2-5 buses every day that I’m on my bike. Including weekend rides and such, I must have close to a thousand encounters with buses in a year of cycling in Rhode Island. The vast majority of these encounters are without incident. However, not today.

When you bike the same route every day, you figure out how the lights are timed, and what lanes work the best. As I exit Kennedy Plaza and head east on Washington, I stay in the right hand lane of the two lanes. I ride in the right-hand wheel track of this lane. This way, when I’m stopped at the light, drivers wanting to turn right can pass me on the right and drivers wanting to go straight can pass me on my left. This is what I did on my way home from work tonight.

After crossing Memorial Blvd., Washington becomes 3 lanes wide. I continued straight in the middle lane, as illustrated below.

Like the little bike icon? I should probably make a better one.

I’m in the middle lane of a three lane street. That’s right I’m riding my bike in the middle of the street! Am I crazy? No. Do I have some sort of death wish? No. Am I a rude, arrogant cyclist bent on obstructing traffic by hogging the middle lane? No. (Do I have a persecution complex? Maybe). This is the safest way for me to ride on this block because I’m about to turn left at the next intersection, Washington & North Main. The light at Washington & Main is always red by the time I approach it, so I am not slowing anyone down by riding in the middle of the street. At Washington & N. Main, the left hand lane is left turn only, the middle lane is left or straight and the right lane is straight only. I ride in the middle lane of Washington because it allows me to turn left and then immediately be in the right hand lane in order to allow drivers to pass me again. As illustrated below.

Executing a left turn.

Hmm, what’s that looming behind me? It’s a RIPTA Bus. Today, I waited for the green light, signaled a left turn, and as I went into the intersection, the bus driver honked at me and I could hear him yell out his open window. He started to pass me on the right (um, illegal, right?) and I asked, “What did you say?” He responded, “Get out of the road!”

Ah, “get out of the road.” Few phrases uttered by a passing motorist inspire as much hatred as that one. You, dear reader, do not need to be reminded of the fact that I have the right to be in the road, so I’ll leave out the full list of justifications for it.

I’ve learned from my previous road rage incidents that it’s best to keep my cool. I responded, “I can be in the road.” The bus driver, “You were in the middle of the road!” Me: “I was turning left!” Bus Driver: “You were in my way.” He then continued on, passing me on the right.

Here’s a bad illustration of where the conversation took place (upper right):

Look how close that bus is to my bike!

If you regularly drive a car, it’s likely that you come close to a collision dozens of times a year. However, you are wrapped in a glass and steel cage the design of which has been refined over the years to provide you with a high degree of safety. If someone honks at you and yells, you are protected by soundproofing that diminishes the volume, and a radio that drowns out the noise. On a bike, you’re completely exposed. Let’s just say that getting honked at or almost getting hit while cycling feels a lot more personal.

Cyclists can go on and on about our close calls with stupid motorists who almost kill us. The thing is, we’re pretty much powerless to do anything about it. In an urban setting, we can usually catch up to an offender at the next light. But then what can we do? Ding their fenders with our U-lock? That may appeal to our inner Batman, but it’s just not a good idea. Yell and swear at them? That’s just more aggravation for the cyclist. Politely tell them the errors they made and how it almost cost us a head injury? Some motorists may respond to that, but we’re just as likely to get the finger as we are to get, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was that close.”

There’s one important difference between the car driver who yells at me and a bus driver who harasses me while I’m operating my vehicle in a safe and legal way: the bus driver has a an easily identifiable number printed above his head and several other places on the bus. He also has an employer I can call to complain. Will this get me anywhere? I don’t know. If the complaint actually makes its way to the driver, it will probably just make him hate cyclists more, but who cares, it needs to be done. I’ll give RIPTA a call tomorrow and we’ll see where this goes.

Postscript 1: I was able to catch up to the bus about 1/2 mile down the road (traveling by bus isn’t nearly as fast in an urban environment as traveling by bike). I gave him a happy wave. I used all five fingers.

Postscript 2 (warning, boring legal stuff): Rhode Island cycling law is kind of weird about left turns, check this out from Section 31-19-15: “A person riding a bicycle intending to turn left shall, unless he or she complies with the provisions of § 31-16-2, approach the turn in a position as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway. The turn shall be made at a position as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway along which the bicyclist intends to proceed after turning.

(b) If the turn is made at a location where traffic movement is controlled by a police officer or by a traffic-control signal, the bicyclist may not proceed after crossing the intersecting roadway until a signal to proceed is given to traffic moving in the appropriate direction on the roadway along which the bicyclist intends to proceed. At all other locations, after turning and before crossing the roadway he or she is leaving, the bicyclist must yield the right-of-way to all traffic approaching on that roadway.”

I think they mean something like the box turn in this illustration:

From the commuteorlando blog (maybe)

I can see how a novice cyclist may want to do something like this at a big intersection as depicted, but this adds an additional traffic light cycle to you time, plus it just puts you right in front of a line of cars that didn’t expect a bike to roll over and into the front of “their” lane. But it’s the law right? Well, how about that part that says, “…unless he or she complies with the provisions of § 31-16-2…” What does that mean? Here’s what it says with regard to turning from a one-way to a one-way, “…the driver of a vehicle intending to turn left at an intersection shall approach the intersection in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of the vehicle, and, after entering the intersection, the left turn shall be made so as to leave the intersection, as nearly as practicable, in the left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction upon the roadway being entered.” Well, if I’d followed that, I would have been in the far left lane and then I would have needed to make my way back to the right after executing the turn. If everyone followed that part of the law at an intersection like this, then no one would be able to turn left from the middle lane which is marked “left turn or straight.” The law doesn’t even mention a three lane situation like the one in question.

When I get old, it’s pretty obvious that I’m going to be the guy who writes angry letters to the government. Oh well, I’ll need something to keep me busy.