Monday, July 28, 2014

Bare As You Dare: WNBR-STL

Last Saturday was the World Naked Bike Ride-St. Louis, and I participated! This blog post is totally SFW, but the links may not be. Click through at your own risk.

The ride was a blast. I had so much fun. My friend Jules and I connected with friends Melissa, Matthew, Mary, and Steven, and we met up with friends Harold, Karen, and their son Eli, after the race, too. Beyond that, I saw just two or three people I recognized at the event, which suggests to me that:
(1) this was one of those times when St. Louis was being all "big city" instead of "small town" (it vacillates wildly between the two) and
(2) more of my friends should ride bicycles. ;)

For Jules and me, "bare as you dare" = "not any barer than we'd otherwise be in public", so we opted for bikinis for the ride, and I wore a dress over my bikini to dinner and shorts over the bikini bottoms for the after-party. The WNBR stands for a number of great things:
  • Awareness and promotion of decreasing dependency on oil-guzzling transport ("burn carbohydrates, not hydrocarbons")
  • Increasing cyclist awareness and visibility
    ("now that you see me, pay attention to me when I ride with clothes on")
  • Positive body image reinforcement
    ("every body is beautiful")
I decided to play up the environmental aspects of riding, since those, together with increasing my fitness through easy and fun (not gym-specific) activity are my favorite reasons for riding, and "tattooed" burn carbs not hydrocarbons on my arm and leg in permanent marker (I'm much better at writing on my leg than my arm - the arm bit was pretty comically awful). 

By far, the highlight was the ride - over 1,500 (est.) cyclists from all economic and social backgrounds coming together. I love that bikes are a great leveler when it comes to other dividing lines to make a big and unified "us" group. When "we" take off our clothes and ride together, the effect is certainly amplified! I enjoyed all twelve miles - the camraderie and support from bystanders (and the hilarity of the occasional oh heeeellllll no) and was very happy to be at least partially-dressed, as not only did almost everyone have a cell phone, but almost all seemed to be set to video capture, judging by the way the bystanders were holding their gadgets. I was also perfectly happy to realize I was missing from all of the photos posted by the RFT (nsfw) Post-Dispatch (nsfw) and KSDK (mostly sfw). Ha! 

I also loved the creativity exhibited by the riders (in their various states of undress or dress). Our group really enjoyed City in a Jar Jess's "Starry Night" body paint (#64 of the RFT photos), and I was really inspired by a 1920s-flavor outfit featuring a pale peach slip that I might incorporate into a future costume. My rule is that if I am photographed, I have to be cool with my employer seeing it, so I'll never be very bare. Not that there is any shortage of folks who were willing to bare it all, though.

The afterparty was kind of a let-down for me, honestly, but I'm glad they have it. We just milled about for a bit, and then rode back to our dinner/parking spot in the Hill. Mostly, it was a celebration of gawkers and people who really like to be naked and/or drunk, but lost much of the context of the ride, and so lost the appeal for me. The only real downside, though, was that my rear light wasn't as charged as I'd believed, and died during the ride. In the future, I'll make sure the lights are fully charged the night before and leave them off for the ride - the sun didn't set until after our return, and in the middle of the pack, I had no need for lights to see or be seen during the group ride. Also, pack back-up lights.

Photo credit: My Hubs. S is drawing fabulous lightning bolts on M's arm.
Photo credit: Karen K.

In future bikey news, the Moonlight Ramble-STL is coming up on August 9, 2014. Unlike the Naked Bike Ride, where you can just show up, the MR requires preregistration and the deadline is this Friday, August 1, 2014. So sign up soon! I can't wait. It's a lot later (Midnight start) which might do me in, but I so enjoyed the big-bike-group dynamic on Saturday, that I'm looking forward to it. I may just sleep through church that Sunday...

If you prefer daytime riding, here are some upcoming group rides  in August hosted through B*Works and Trailnet:

Saturday, August 2, 2014 9:30am - B*Works Automobile Row Tour. From the event link: This tour visits several of the buildings from “Automobile Row” as well as other sites  of historic importance, including both the sole survivor of St. Louis’ first “private place” and perhaps the most overlooked literary landmark in the entire country. Free. Just show up!

Saturday, August 16, 2014, 10:30am - Trailnet I Love STL Bicrobrews Microbrewery Tour. From the event link: Several urban microbreweries are featured on this tour. Learn what it takes to craft a great brwe from some of St. Louis' finest microbreweries. Tastings and tours will be provided at many of the stops. Must be 21 to drink. $8 if you preregister online; $10 day of tour.

Saturday, August 23, 2014, 9:00am - Trailnet Old Frenchtown Bicycle Tour. From the event link: This ride explores two of St. Louis' most fascinating and historic neighborhoods, LaSalle Park and Soulard. Home to some of the Midwest's most interesting architecture, both of these 19th century neighborhoods retian the imprint of the various ethnic and religious groups that have lived and worked there. Both are also case studies in the effects of highway construction on the traditional city as well as models of late 20th century historic preservation and urban redevlopment. Preregister online or in person; $5 for adults and $3 for kids. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014, 9:30am - B*Works Old North St. Louis Tour. From the event link: Known for years almost exclusively as the “Crown Candy Kitchen neighborhood,” Old North St. Louis has experienced a remarkable renaissance in the past decade. This tour begins and ends at Crown but explores the entirety of a neighborhood that began its existence as an independent city with an unusual and  visionary urban plan. Free. Just show up! 

Personally? I am most interested in the Microbrewery and Frenchtown tour - I lived in Soulard for a bit while I was in law school and before the Hubs and I bought in the county. I was thrilled the WNBR tour cut through my old neighborhood, and went right by our old apartment near Broadway (7th) and Geyer. I would love to participate in the Old North Tour, too, but I'm not sure that will jive with some scheduling things for me. I love CCK, though, and would love to go!

These city tours are such a fantastic way to see parts of St. Louis you didn't know much about or maybe were reluctant to travel through alone or in an automobile. In particular, the Calvary Cemetery Tour (and its complementary second half, which will be hosted through B*Works in October) offered the great opportunity to ride to the cemetery through neighborhoods north of the CWE, which I haven't spent any time in during my 13 years in St. Louis. I so enjoyed the architecture and the positive interactions with the people who live there on our routes to and from the Calvary Tour. Cycling really erases so many of our differences and brings us together. It's another reason I love my bicycle.

If you have been thinking of joining us on one of these rides, I hope you'll jump right in (to reference the local music scene) at one of the August events. 

Cheers, and happy riding!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Calvary Cemetery Tour and Imaginary Infrastructure (If I Were King of the Forest....)

I have been meaning to post here since so very shortly after my last post! As I seem to mention often these days, I always think summer will be a time to slow down and appreciate simpler things and longer days. In my case? I tend to cram them chock full and wonder why I'm so exhausted! Melissa mentioned in her blog this week that the disruption to routine is really difficult for her, and I am inclined to agree. While I tend to be pretty fully-scheduled during the "school year" (I still think of my life in semesters, even though I haven't attended school in nearly a decade), I know exactly where the spaces are, and I can fill them or guard them as I need to. In summer, everything is so dang inviting, and it's far too easy to say yes! I want to do that! and here I sit at 9:30 on a Tuesday morning in early July and it's all catching up with me. I fell into bed last night, and despite sleeping nearly eight hours both nights, I feel as though I've been beat about the head and neck with an exhaustion stick. Eep. A good warning to slow down, for sure, if only I can heed it!

So, what have I been doing since June 20th? 

Calvary Bike Ride, June 21, 2014, St. Louis. Here's a little photo tour of a ride through Calvary Cemetery, one of the oldest and most beautiful cemeteries in the area. Many, many famous (locally famous and nationally famous alike) people are buried here, many associated with the Civil War, slavery and emancipation, the founding of St. Louis, and many of the industries that helped the city grow back when rivers were the nation's highways.

Beyond that, I haven't been riding a lot. It seems when the weather has been ideal (like preceding the July 4th weekend, when it was actually in the 70s for highs? Unbelievable), my schedule has been crammed. And when the weather in summer in St. Louis isn't ideal? I can barely handle being in an air-conditioned car. Yesterday, it was stormy and the high peaked around 97 or so, with humidity so thick the air was like soup. Erm, I sweat just existing when the weather is like that. 

I'm also figuring out quickly that I prefer to ride with traffic, but I don't like to ride very far by myself when I'm being traffic. I think there is added safety and visibility in numbers, and the ride is more fun when you have someone to share the experience with. This is a stark contrast to the joy I have riding Grant's Trail alone, where I don't have to worry as much about interacting with motorists (most intersections are signaled nor next-to-defunct and the trail is off-limits to cars). I haven't been riding to work much - I simply exert too much effort trying to keep up with motorists and it utterly ruins the experience for me. When I have the option to mosey, I ride happily. When I'm pushing myself, I end up hot and sweaty and stressed, and it undoes the benefits. A lot of this is truly about finding my limits, and for me, some type of well-designed infrastructure, a better network of multi-use paths, or at least designated bike highways would make travel between home and work much more pleasant. These, together with better education for all road users, would help to get to the shared-road, pleasant culture that we all want. 

From an ideal infrastructure standpoint, I don't know how to make things perfect any more than the next guy, but here are some things I'd do if I were in charge. And had an unlimited budget.

  • 1" of sidewalk per traffic lane. 3" buffer/curb per traffic lane (between sidewalk and traffic lane). (A 2-lane road would have a 2' sidewalk on each side with 3" of curb and 3" of grass or plants on each side; a 4-lane road would have a 4' sidewalk on each side with 9" of grass and 3" of curb between sidewalk and street.) 
  • No bike lanes between parked cars and traffic lanes; use a properly-placed sharrow
  • Residential street speed limits not to exceed 20mph, residential "arterials" (2-3 lanes) not to exceed 25mph.
  • Residential "arterials" to offer 5.5' bike lane, not overlapping gutter, no parked cars, along outside of traffic lanes with a 6" painted buffer. Lanes to end (force merge) at intersections.
  • Major arterials (4+ lanes) to have 6' bike lane with 6" buffer zone (paint only) on either side, between lanes of traffic, to allow faster traffic to flow around bicycles. A turning bicycle would have to merge with the appropriate traffic lane in order to complete the turn, but would be able to stay in the designated lane to continue straight. Within the bike lanes, slower bicycle traffic would stay on the right, just like in normal traffic conditions. 
As an example, let's consider a bike commute from downtown Kirkwood (Kirkwood Road and Adams Road) to downtown Clayton (the courthouse) using a direct route when it makes sense (a "car" or "arterial" route) and the scenic route when it makes sense (multi-use paths, for example, through a neighborhood or park). The total route is about 8 miles each way and takes us North on Kirkwood/Lindbergh to Clayton, where we would head East on Clayton Road before going left across the mall into the Francis Place neighborhood to cut under the highway and connect with Shaw Park to get to downtown Clayton. Under my plan above, the cyclist would have a dedicated place on the road (around which heavier and faster vehicles may travel) until merging into the right turn lane at Clayton Road.There, the cyclist would have similar infrastructure until they merged into the left-turn pocket at Francis Place. Francis Place is 2-lane traffic with on-street parking, so the cyclist would ride down the middle of the lane until reaching the bike path that cuts under Highway 170, which connects to the bike paths in Shaw Park. Take that to Parkside Drive on the NW edge of the park, which is again 2-lanes with on-street parking and you'd have the same rules (ride in the middle of the travel lane) until reaching Forsyth, which is 2-4 lanes with on-street parking. So here, we'd again find a middle bike lane to allow cars to pass us in multi-use lanes and to turn when we're going straight. When we get to the side of the courthouse we want (East or West), we'd signal to merge into the right multi-use travel lane and make our turn, etc. 

I'd do this. I don't mind the travel differential so much when I have a place to allow my speed to be comfortable and allow faster folks to go around me. You'd certainly have to watch out for cars changing lanes, but for those merging left, you're on the driver's side and pretty visible, and for those merging right, they are already looking for traffic on their right to avoid. You'd never have to worry about getting doored, and I think access to/from the bike lane would be pretty easy, since you'd almost certainly be coming at it from a signaled intersection, or a road that is slow enough that traffic is easily avoided. It might take some getting used to to get passed on the right by faster traffic, which is the only real issue I'd have with this sort of plan. But the increased visibility and access to all multi-use traffic lanes is appealing and offsets that downside. 

What do you think? If you ride with kids, would you be comfortable in a dedicated lane between two travel lanes of faster-moving traffic? What if you're older, or ride a recumbent? Would you prefer this to a door-zone travel lane, or no designated lane at all? I suspect the answers will vary widely. My only rules for comments: please do not disparage those with a different viewpoint from you. Whether the idea of riding in and as traffic appeals or repulses, your feelings are valid here and should be respected and respectful of those who disagree with you.