Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Chicago = Transportation Awesomeness

Now that I'm settled back in the 904, I have to tell you that Chi-town and Renegade was pretty amazing. After a super long drive up there with all my pottery and art show gear stuffed into my hatchback, I was super excited to ditch the car for a few days and ride around town on my friend's loaner bike. My friend Val has no car and has never had a driver's license; she walks to work and most other places and uses a bike, train, or bus to get to places farther than a few blocks. She spent a few years in Jacksonville, and getting around by way of public transportation here is not easy. I was glad to get to see Chicago with Val, and was even more excited to experience a city where it's possible to get around with all different kinds of transportation!

My first day in town, we just bummed around on bikes with no real game plan. We stuck to Lincoln Square, Lakeview/Boystown area, and Wicker Park.  I got to stop in a couple of bike shops I'd been wanting to visit, and hit up a couple of cute shops and awesome eateries.  The biking situation was pretty similar to what I am used to in Jacksonville, but many times more effective-- an abundance of bike lanes, and a pretty lake-front segregated path that is miles long. Traffic jams of cyclists(!) occurred at stop signs and red lights. I saw so many normal people on all kinds of bikes, going to work, running errands, or trekking to school, and they mostly used bikes with fenders and paniers or baskets. I know, I must sound a little country, talking about how excited I was to see dove bars and bike baskets everywhere. Even though the practical bikes are becoming a more normal sight in Jacksonville, it's still far from the norm. The sheer amount of cyclists riding around was the biggest and most inspiring difference between Chi-town and River City, and I must admit that it kind of blew my mind. I didn't get any great photos of cycling traffic jams in action, but I did get some shots at the Lakefront Trail, close to the "beach."
Koula, with the pretty city skyline!
Val, and the bikes!
The Lakefront Trail, as seen from my handlebars. It was busy in the middle of the day!
My second day in town, we decided to trek over to the Garfield Park Conservatory. We ditched the bikes in lieu of the L- Train, as the west side of town was pretty far from my friend's apartment in Lakeview. Also, the conservatory was literally steps away from the L station, so riding the train just made sense.
Bring your bike on the train!
Notice that sticker on the side of the train? You're allowed to bring bikes on the L-train; bikes are restricted to two per car during peak hours. It seems a little awkward to carry a full-sized bike on the train cars, but totally do-able and a great solution if a bike is one's main mode of transportation. Jacksonville has a Skyway system that runs around different parts of the urban core, and it seems that taking bikes on the train cars could be easily integrated into our rail system.

The conservatory was quite beautiful and I'm not sure I saw the whole thing, even though we were there for a few hours. I was glad to see it instead of alot of touristy places, for sure. The Desert House, with all kinds of succulents and cacti, was my favorite area, as well as the outdoor City Garden area. Taking the Green Line was stress-free, and very easy. Chicago makes it relatively easy and intuitive to take the train, bike, and walk to various parts of town, and I loved the freedom from my car for a few days.
Outdoor City Garden, Garfield Park Conservatory
Desert House, Garfield Park Conservatory

Chicago wasn't perfect, and I certainly won't ditch my sunny digs here for that "wintery mix" bullshit.  We rode bikes on a road with no bike infrastructure at all, and encountered some poorly planned bike lanes next to parked cars, lanes that disappeared in intersections so cyclists had to fend for themselves for a few hundred feet. It is quite evident however, that the city is responding in a positive fashion to so much of the public riding bikes, and Chicago is taking steps to make things better for cyclists.  It was great to visit a city where even the mayor is proactive about installing protected bike lanes; it seems like cyclists have a voice there, and it's apparent that the bicycling community is being heard. Such an inspiration!  I think the biggest take-away I got from Chicago is that having multiple choices of transportation available is a goal that my city should strive for, and it's certainly something I will fight for. Jacksonville has so much to offer, in so many (far away) places, and if we could add more safe bike paths as well as improve upon our public transportation system, we'd be one world-class city indeed!

Friday, September 7, 2012

I'm Not Drunk! I Swear!

Since I've gone car free the first question I get from both strangers and those that have known me for years (and are aware that I don't drink) is, "You got a DUI?" The gereral automoible driving public can simply not comprehend why anyone would choose to willingly give up driving a car for riding a bicycle. In their very narrowly visioned car-centric minds, I must have been forced to ride a bike for some reason purely of my own fault. 

More bizarre than the DUI question is how often I find myself explaining my riding habits to random strangers that I've encountered at my destination. That following exchange is usually proceeded by me interacting or conversing with someone that drove by me earlier while I was enroute to that particular destination. They always seem so surprised that I'm so coherent and able to carry on a conversation and when I question them as to what made them think I was inebriated in some way they usually reply with, "When I saw you riding your bike earlier, you were all over the bike lane." I then have to explain what they viewed as weaving "all over", was actually me avoiding copious amounts of potential road hazards to both my bike and myself. I politely explain how all road debris is either blown or washed to the sides of the road where the bike lanes are. I tell them how that at 45-70 MPH it's impossible for them to see all the shards of glass, gouges in the road, trash, small automobile parts, rocks and other various items that lands in the bike lanes of Jacksonville. I tell them how cyclists are now and have always been treated as 3rd class citizens by the City's Dept. of Public Works and FDOT when it comes to building or maintaining bicycle infrastructure. I explain how my calls and other fellow cyclists' calls to Public Works, asking for street sweeping have gone completely ignored while the bike lanes of our daily travels continue to fill with debris that is not only a hazard to our bike tires, but also to our health should we hit it unknowingly. I usually break out my phone at some point of the conversation and show them the collection of images I've taken that exemplify the issue, and I'll happily share a few of those images with you, dear reader. Click on the images view full size.

If you know of a bike lane that needs cleaning, please contact the COJ, Dept. of Public Works. If enough of us contact them they might actually start responding to some of our requests.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

BikeJax Visits Chicago!

Hello dear readers, it's Koula here. I'm visiting Chicago this week to participate in Renegade Craft Fair on September 8th and 9th.

As I write this post, my friend is tuning up her spare bike for me to ride while I'm in town. I've heard about many recent improvements Chicago has made to their bicycling facilities, and I'm excited to have the opportunity to test them out and bring some of these ideas back to Jacksonville.

If you're in the area, come visit me and my work at Renegade at booth 238. I'll be showing some bike-themed, as well as non-bike-related pottery stuffs. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Belt'd Tires

We at Bike Jax love bikes and bike parts. We also like the reuse of those parts that can be made into something artistic and or functional.

Enter 2nd Lap Belts. These guys just started setting up on Saturdays at the Riverside Arts Market selling a line of dog leashes,  dog collars and of course belts. All the belts are cut to size on site so everyone has the choice of any belt in stock. They also sell through their etsy page.

Show them your Bike Valet Voucher get 10% off any purchase.