My travel schedule has been nutty of late, so even fewer posts than usual. But here’s one: about my trip last week to Columbus, Ohio, a city I visited for the first time.
I was impressed with Columbus. What I’d pictured as a rust belt city was in fact a thriving town that seems to be rapidly reinventing itself. The “Short North” neighborhood between downtown and Ohio State University campus is a rapidly-gentrifying area full of bars and restaurants, most of which look like they’ve just opened in the last five years (not unlike Market Street in Ballard, in that respect). There’s all sorts of construction along the river, with a newly built esplanade along the downtown bank. And to top it off, Columbus has some of my favorite transportation options: Uber, Car2Go, and a bike share system – “COGo,” which I used to see all that I could around town.
I’ve lauded bike share here before, and I try to use it whenever I come across a new system. Because of the vagaries of getting between Seattle and Columbus, I had more time than I usually do when traveling on business this time. Instead of using the bike share to make a single trip or two to meet people, I was able to use it for an afternoon to play tourist. And it’s the best way, hands-down, to see a town. It helps, too, that Columbus is very flat, and has wide, empty sidewalks (the streets are highly suboptimal for riding, I learned). It may be a different story when the weather gets oppressive, but on a 62 degree day it was darn near ideal.
The flatness also encourages a lot of single-speed and fixed gear riding; I saw these bikes everywhere.
Purple single speed in the Short North, near one of the arches from which Columbus draws its “Arch City” nickname.
Back from a quick two-day trip to Chicago. I’d read about Mayor Rahm’s speedy buildout of bike infrastructure, but it’s impressive to see in person. Protected cycle tracks, dedicated bike lights – and even after a late winter storm had left the city covered in snow, the bike lanes were cleared and plowed (not piled with drifts from the car lanes, as I had expected).
And I always forgot how freakishly flat Chicago is. It would be silly to commute in the Windy City on anything other than single speed.
On a trip last week to Washington, D.C for my brother’s wedding (congrats, Tommy and Monica – it was about time!), I decidedly to try out DC’s bike share system. Seattle is apparently going to get such a system next year, so I was curious to see how it works out.
My first concern going in was the weather. After all, DC in August has in the past driven me to take a cab to go 5 blocks (and I love walking nearly as much as I love riding a bike). Fortunately, it was mid-80’s and – crucially – relatively low humidity.
The system itself is easy to use and ubiquitous, with 150 stations around town. The idea is to be able to ride around from station to station; short rides are encouraged via a system that only charges for rides exceeding 30 minutes. Locals pay an annual fee for access; for tourists a day pass goes for $7.
I grabbed a bike at Union Station and meandered through town to Dupont Circle. Getting the bike is as simple as inserting a credit card, getting a code and unlocking a bike. The bikes are sturdy step-through 3-speeds, easy to maneuver on wide tires. The gearing felt a little low – being used to riding single-speed in hilly Seattle, even the top gear on a bike share ride felt too light. But it probably helped slow me down to enjoy the sights.
The biggest revelation was how DC has plowed forward with bike share despite abysmal bike infrastructure. Outside of a slightly-terrifying two-way bike lane running right down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue (often occupied by pedestrians and emergency vehicles), any nod to bikes is exceedingly hard to find. Indeed, most everyone just chooses to ride on DC’s wide sidewalks. It gives me hope that Seattle’s system will work as well – and maybe even accelerate the process of making downtown more bike-friendly.
All told, I loved Capital Bikeshare as a way to easily get around town and see the sights. I’ll do a three-day pass the next time I’m in town.
Unless that trip is in July . . .
A few months back, I wrote about taking my bike to Portland on AmTrak. Now Tubulocity has an in-depth look at traveling with a bike on AmTrak competitor BoltBus. I’m not sure I’d take a bus over AmTrak to save a few bucks, even a bus as nice as these appear to be. I’ve got too many memories of bad Greyhound and Trailways trips back in the 80’s. But the fact that Boltbus has 6 departures a day down to Portland will no doubt get me onboard at some point.
Anyway, check out Tubulocity’s review and decide for yourself whether a Boltbus trip down I-5 is in your future.
Took the train down to Portland for a quick day trip last Friday. I travel to Oregon about 6-8 times a year, usually with the whole family in tow for a trip to the beach or the mountains. So a little Amtrak down to P-town is a helluva nice break from the monotony that is the Seattle-Portland drive on I-5.
Anyway, this time I took my bike.
It worked out great. Amtrak charges a reasonable $5 each way to stow a bike (in the baggage car), and I was even able to get an extra 45 minutes of riding through downtown and the Pearl District in while waiting for the return train after my meeting. Plus, I lucked into one of those ever-so-rare sunny January days here in the NW!
Train + bike to Portland? Highly recommended.
I took the family down to the Oregon Coast for the last few days, where we had some beach time, explored Astoria and Fort Stevens and hosted a big Easter get-together for extended family. I knew the house we were renting had bikes, but I also knew that they would be unpredictable. But because of the coast’s spotty weather and the fact that I wouldn’t have much time for anything resembling a lengthy ride, I left my own bikes behind and took a chance on the rental house bikes.
Oh yeah. You really can’t appreciate the rust from this photo, but at least the crankset and brakes still kinda worked. There was no adjusting the seat, which was rusted solidly in place. I ended up riding every day, in all kinds of weather (but mostly the rainy kind). I doubt I got more than 15 total miles in, including the 6 I rode here in Seattle the morning we left.
My 30 days of biking got off to an inauspicious start. Returning on April 1 from a trip to San Francisco (where it was 80 degrees!), I got home to soggy and cold Seattle after 8 pm. That, plus the fact that was was hungry, tired, wearing a suit and wanting to catch up with my family stacked the deck against getting out for any sort of ride.
Luckily, 30 Days of Biking is just about consistency, not distance . . . so my opening ride was a quick ride around the block (OK, 2 blocks) in the rainy darkness. And despite the sub-5 minute duration, it felt great to get out and ride after all the airplane time I’ve had in the last week. I’ll get a longer – but probably equally rainy – ride in today.
Spent an evening in Northern Colorado at the end of last week, and what should I spot when walking to dinner in downtown Greeley, CO but this classic little fixed gear setup:
I made a quick trip to the Bay Area with some college buddies over the weekend to watch Oregon eke out a win over Cal. The weather was absolutely perfect in the city on Sunday, so we walked all over town. It seemed like every other bike I saw was fixed gear, many without brakes. I guess that makes a little more sense in San Francisco than Seattle, because as long as you avoid Nob and Russian Hill the city offers a surprisingly flat ride. Still – maybe it’s advancing age, but I’d feel a whole lot better with a pair of brakes.
Confession time: I drank from a water bottle while riding BART. I realize it’s important to model compliance with subway rules at all times, to avoid glares and nasty looks from non-water bottle drinkers. And maybe with enough good behavior they’ll eventually let us drink from water bottles on the platform or something. But I was thirsty.
Took the train to Portland this morning, had a meeting, browsed at Bike Gallery (sadly not finding the pedal straps I’m looking for) then took the 2:50 train back. I’d wanted to take my bike with me, but Amtrak was apparently sold out of bike space on the way back. Anyway, fate and rain conspired against me – having some need to look presentable for my meeting, I wouldn’t have been able to ride anyway.
But even a few hours in Portland are enough to bring home how far Seattle has to go. Bike boxes at the front of intersections, beautiful and strange bikes being ridden everywhere, hell, even bike-themed cafes and coffeeshop signs (elephants on bicycles? Why not?!?) – Portland has embraced bike culture in a big way. I know from reading Bike Portland that it’s not all gravy; there’s still a lot of anti-bike bile, a battle for both acceptance and infrastructure dollars. But it’s not hard to look at downtown Portland and imagine real bike boulevards, dedicated zones, racks of bikes in front of every business and school.
Meanwhile, we’ve got miles and miles of sharrows . . .