And another thing for pedestrians in Michigan…

This sign appeared recently along my bike commuting route on the South side of Franklin, Michigan on Franklin Road.

How about 3' sidewalks? Can we talk?

How about 3' sidewalks? Can we talk?

“No sidewalks” is apparently part of the city charter. I think it’s time for “the City that Time Forgot” to forget their outdated charter and start over.

Update 9/19/09:  They  indeed voted “No”. Maybe it’s a “historic preservation” thing. Certainly not a pedestrian preservation thing. No matter, I still ride in the street where there are sidewalks. Too many pedestrians!

Council approves grants for trail link, but more is needed!

Council approves grants for trail link – The Oakland Press News

The article link above describes Pontiac, Michigan’s approval to complete the city’s section of the 16-mile Clinton River rail trail. It’s about time!

For about a year, I have been commuting to work up to three days a week by bicycle. My route is just over 19 miles one way over a somewhat convoluted route, a small portion of which utilizes the Clinton River Trail. Part of my route skirts Telegraph Road in Pontiac where it crosses the Clinton River at Sylvan Lake.

A rendering of the proposed pedestrian bridge over Telegraph Road in Pontiac.

A rendering of the proposed pedestrian bridge over Telegraph Road in Pontiac. (Oakland Press)

Because of the automobile-centric mindset of Southeastern Michigan, infrastructure for pedestrian and bicycle traffic is spotty. I had first developed my commuting route nine years ago, when I had moved within 15 miles of work. My wife, Carolyn, was frightened for my life, because I had to ride mostly on the roads with car traffic. I was less afraid, partly from my past experience with riding in traffic, partly from bravado.

To tell the truth, I was a little scared on certain stretches where there was little or no shoulder (one section was on a hill with a blind curve, as well). I was more concerned about drivers not giving me enough clearance, or swinging too far into the oncoming lane, endangering their own lives. Most drivers were safe and courteous (although I’m sure many cursed the crazy guy on the bicycle impeding their progress).

Guardrail Portage along Telegraph Road

Guardrail Portage along Telegraph Road, at Sylvan Lake

The other dicey section is along Telegraph Road, just north of the site of the proposed bridge. There is no sidewalk there, but plenty of pedestrian traffic, judging by the dirt path worn in the grass. This path leads to a short two-track (the site of the future bridge) which, in turn, leads to the Clinton River rail trail (and the rest of my commute).
The bridge is an indication that attitudes are changing in this region. Last fall, sidewalks were constructed along a scarier stretch of my route. The problem with sidewalks around here is they will suddenly end, or switch sides of the street.

I applaud the efforts of the municipalities on my route to expand their sidewalks and multi-use paths. These paths are good for residents because they provide a means to walk safely through the neighborhood, or between subdivisions. What is more necessary is a means to get to shopping and services currently only accessible by car. Suburban Detroit is a mix of towns and townships. The towns (Rochester, Farmington, Birmingham, and so on) are more likely to have curbs and sidewalks. Residents can, if they choose, walk or ride a bicycle to the business district.

Typical Suburban Detroit Street

Typical Suburban Detroit Street

The townships are more rural in character, and are more collections of subdivisions with no sidewalks, and dirt shoulders or ditches along the streets. Motorized and non-motorized traffic share the streets.

The new pathways are a start. Rail-trail expansion is better, and in many cases provides safe routes from city to city. Restricting pedestrian and bicycle traffic to trails, however, does little to increase public awareness. A higher percentage of funds must be put into roadway infrastructure improvements with pedestrians in mind, not just automobiles. This means shareable lane widths, paved shoulders, and increased education, in addition to sidewalks. I ride on the same roads as cars most of the time, because that is the most direct and unobstructed way form point A to point B. Drivers are also more likely to see me if I am in their direct view (And I do my best to make myself visible). Older sidewalks are often very uneven, and often change slope abruptly at driveways. Drivers are less likely to look for sidewalk traffic as they approach an intersection.

I am not a perfect cyclist, nor am I a perfect driver. I curse the tunnel-vision afflicted driver who blocks the crosswalk as I approach, but find myself doing the exact same thing the next day. If I am the only living soul at an intersection, I will ride through it. I choose whether or not to ride up on an available sidewalk depending on the volume of car traffic. Two cars waiting at a stoplight? I wait behind them. 25 cars backed up at a stoplight? Heavy rush hour and no shoulder to speak of? I take the sidewalk if available.

In this case, I choose the sidewalk.

In this case, I choose the sidewalk.

Are the drivers jealous or mad that I pass them? Maybe. I don’t care. I like to think they are happy I am not impeding their progress (once they start moving again). Maybe they will consider the benefits of biking to work. I will do my best to protect my space and not intentionally aggravate drivers.

For more bicycle advocacy, visit, League of American Bicyclists, or just google “bicycle advocacy.”

Fall? Already?

Fall in the DENSO wetlands

Fall in the DENSO wetlands

Maybe as I’m getting older, I romanticize the past too much. It seems there was always summer-like weather through September, then a transitional period of milder weather until Halloween, after which I could expect the first snow by Thanksgiving. The snow would last until maybe late March, then April would bring increasingly warmer weather. Certainly by June, it was shorts and t-shirts all the time.

What happened? On my last bike ride into work, it was a measly 36°F (2.2°C). Seemed like it should have been at least 50°F, my pants/shorts threshold (at least for riding). I guess I dressed appropriately, since I only severely chilled my toes. I believe I am prepared for colder mornings, and I have “vowed” to ride at least one day a week until there is accumulated snow. Some more commited cyclists will ride even with snow on he ground, but for me, I have a long commute (almost 20 miles) which takes me 1.5 hours on a good day. Snow would really slow me down. And I don’t always have a shoulder to ride, and what shoulders there are may not get plowed. Certainly, the new pathways being constructed right now will not be plowed. I might go faster on cross-country skis. Hmm…

Metro Detroit, as I have noted before, is not a cycling haven. There are cyclists and bicycles riders (I do differentiate between the two), but they are not prevalent enough for drivers to be comfortable with them. While I have had a few troglodites yell something from their passing car, I haven’t had a Slurpee® thrown at me since 1991. I have been featured in my company’s newsletter (their first electronic version) in an article devoted to “green” practices. Apparently I have “pledged” to ride to work three days a week. I did mention that is something I am going to work up to, it can only happen with the help of my children, who will have to get ready for school in a timely fashion on two of those days. Not a good chance, right now. If my wife gets laid off from her job, I am free to commute whenever. The proverbial double-edged sword. Home-life stress gets traded for financial stress.

For now, I will continue my Friday pursuit, until the snows, and then work out indoors until the ice has melted (usually by May).

One Month Bike Commuting Anniversary

Yesterday marked the one month anniversary of my return to bike commuting, encompassing five whole commutes (home to work) and one partial (dentist office to work). I am approximately 10 pounds lighter than when I started, and some of my pants are feeling a little looser in the waist (I think the only fat on my body is in my midsection, anyway, so there is where I’m going to lose it). I have not been hit by a vehicle, pedestrian, tree limb, or insect during any ride. Not that there haven’t been a couple of distracted drivers not quite paying attention to the guy in the bright yellow jacket and lit up like a Christmas tree, but most have given me adequate clearance.

Yesterday, Carolyn made a point to mention news of two bicyclists who were killed by hit-and-run drivers last Friday. I understand her concern for me, as I ride among the cars during morning and evening commutes, but I insist that I can take care of myself on the road, that I am acutely, painfully aware of all the cars that approach from whatever direction. The woman killed in Royal Oak and dragged 100 feet was riding down a 6-lane main thoroughfare at 1:30 AM. Was she dressed visibly? Did she have lights? What the hell was she riding on Woodward for in the first place? There are sidewalks there, and probably few pedestrians (not being the bar district). Was the other person killed riding safely? Wearing a helmet? My guess is that these people were riding without regard for cars and without regard for their own safety, like most kids I see. I have seen people riding in the wrong lane against the flow of traffic. I see many without helmets. I see some wearing headphones. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I maintain that I am perfectly safe as long as I follow the traffic laws (as I am required to as a vehicle on the road), keep visible and predictable, and be prepared for drivers to do the wrong thing.

I urge my two girls to weat their helmets (and shoes) whenever they go out riding, even around the block. I am sometimes successful. What was I expecting? I never wore a helmet when I was their age (I’m not sure they even made children’s helmets thirty years ago). I’m sure I rode barefooted, and I don’t remember getting a light until I was a teenager, although they existed (and were required by most municipalities for night riding). I’m older and certainly wiser now, and I don’t really care who thinks I’m a geek as I pedal past with an LED headlamp and a blinking red taillight mounted to my helmet. If they think I’m a geek for wearing fluorescent orange shirts and shorts with reflective trim, then they must have seen me, right? Mission accomplished.

Yep, I’m a bike geek. Just add that to my geek repertoire, alongside engineer, trombone player, photographer, graphic artist, and computer nerd. There’s more where that come from.

All I wanna do is bicycle

Resting at DENSO during my trial commute from home

Resting at DENSO during my trial commute from home

So I started limited bicycle commuting two weeks ago. This is nothing new to me; I commuted two or three days a week several years ago, but since having children (okay, Carolyn had the children, I was a bystander) and moving five miles farther from work (from 14 to 19), I gave up on it.

To be honest, I pretty much gave up on any physical activity beyond mowing the lawn and carrying children up the stairs. And down the stairs. And to the car. And back to their own bed at 1:00 in the morning.

Tell it to me straight, Doc

For many years I have enjoyed good health, with nothing much more serious than sinusitis, stomach flu, and astigmatism. The results of my last two physicals revealed, however, I was starting to fall off the wagon, as far as my triglycerides and cholesterol were concerned. I lay the blame squarely on poor diet and lack of regular exercise. Not to say my diet was all that great before my wife and I had children, but at least I kept up a regular workout routine of weight training and cycling to counter the effects of Oreos® and pizza. At my worst, I was almost 30 pounds heavier than I was just before I got married, when I was about ten pounds lighter than I should have been. My doctor also believes the mysterious knee pain I have experienced over the last few years is due to weakened leg muscles not supporting the joint. I had stopped exercising a few years before even that started, so no wonder.

It’s a Gas

Whatever the cause may be: market forces, speculators, or greedy oil companies, gasoline prices are going to stay high for good. This is my completely unresearched and fatalist opinion, but it ties for second as a motivating factor in my decision to bike commute. My ’03 Odyssey doesn’t get stellar mileage, but it’s better than my wife’s ’97 Cherokee. I can save a couple of gallons of unleaded each time I ride to work, with the added benefit of not polluting the atmosphere. For my round trip of 38 miles, using a conservative mileage estimate, I save two gallons of gas and prevent almost 42 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. If I achieve my goal of three days per week (98 miles round trip total) that’s about 5 1/2 gallons of gas and almost 108 pounds of CO2. Save money and save the environment- such a deal!

But, saving gas has also cost me money, through the purchase of bike stuff. Amortized across eight years, the cost is reasonable (at least to me- Carolyn has a different perspective). I own two bikes, the youngest of which is about fifteen years old, and by this time the only original equipment left on either are the frames and forks. And, clothing doesn’t last forever, so I have to replace my biking wardrobe. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for the sake of the environment and the local economy.

The Road Less Traveled

Pedestrian path construction on Long Lake Road

I wish I could find one.  At least I don’t have to ride along Telegraph Road for very long, but I wish there were a real sidewalk. I am encouraged by the ongoing construction of sidewalks along my route through West Bloomfield. I will selectively use a “pedestrian walkway” depending upon the likelyhood of encountering a walker, runner, dog or car. Simply put, a driver pays less attention to what’s coming down the sidewalk than what’s coming down the street at an intersection or end of a driveway. A driver would never pull into an intersection without looking, but will routinely stop across a sidewalk. In some cases I am safer riding in the road where drivers are more likely to see me and, hopefully, give me ample clearance. I think most of the sidewalks in the townships I ride through are considered multi-use and open to non motorized travelers. In the actual towns with the more traditional narrow sidewalks, I stick to the street.

Where am I going with all this?

Carolyn fears for my life when I do my commute, and I fully understand, but I have much more riding experience than she, and I am comfortable alongside cars. I would prefer an open road where I did not have to hug the white stripe, but I take what I can get. My commute is long, and I don’t recommend it to just anyone. A ten mile commute would be perfect; it’s a good workout in a more reasonable amount of time. I have no intention of moving, however, at least not while I am still working for my current employer. I am using this bike commute to challenge myself back into shape with the added benefits of saving gasoline and reducing pollution. Maybe others will try commuting, if they see what I can accomplish- then maybe more atention will be paid to accommodating more cyclists and pedestrians in this region. It has to start somewhere.

Find tips, advice, and encouragement at Commute By Bike, Bike Commuters,  and 6 Myths About Commuting by Bicycle