In an effort to generate more blog posts, I have decided to give more insight into some of the things I like to do to keep my life fresh. Most will only write about big, honking adventures (like I have been!) that they go on, but our lives exist outside of these adventures, and sometimes the mundane can be more exciting or interesting. I’ll be honest, this blog post is a mashup of commuting in Philly, using a Slate, and bicycling ranting.
I know there are many out there who cycle practically everyday, rain or shine, sleet or snow to work. However, I am not one of those people. I’m just a guy, who likes to ride his bike as often as possible, but also has to balance a whole lot of other things. With that preface, I’ll give a brief overview of my first commute to work from where I live.
I live in the eastern part of Philadelphia, and commute to my work located within the University City area. The entire trek is about 5 miles through mostly flat terrain, with half of that commute through busy, bustling intersections, and the second part along the beautiful and infamous Schuylkill river trail. To be fair, I’ve ridden this trail many, many times on training rides and runs in all kinds of weather, conditions, and seasons so I was rather familiar with the comfort that comes with an “off-road” paved trail. Less familiar, was navigating the mean city streets during morning and evening rush hours, through about 20 or so busy intersections.
My weapon of choice for this ride? Well, I really only have two bicycles (quality vs quantity). My main race and training bike, a Specialized Allez 105, which, while fast, I felt wouldn’t stand up as well to pot holes. Additionally, I didn’t want to put excessive miles on my main racing bike that weren’t necessary. My second bike, a 2016 Cannondale Slate 105, was a logical choice. I’ll be honest, when I bought this bike, a lot of my decision was about how cool it was and less about what exactly I’d use it for. However, I can say that apart from being a really comfortable bike that is all around solid, it has also served it’s intended purpose pretty well. Around the greater Philadelphia area, there is a vast network of trails that can be seen here, and the network is slowly expanding and getting better every year. These trails are an almost 50/50 mix of crushed gravel and pavement, which makes the Slate an excellent bike for this area. Couple the lefty Oliver fork with a set of WTB resolute tires (650 x 42), and you have a great all around machine that can handle the rough gravel, potted streets, and smooth asphalt.
In choosing my route, I specifically sought out routes that had some sort of bike lane. This would give me some (even if insignificant) sort of buffer between me and cars. To be avoided were undesignated streets and “bicycle friendly” streets, which merely serve to make you feel a lot safer than you actually are with those little bicycle men painted on the street. More times than I can count I have seen bikers given mere inches between a passing car and parked cars in one lane roads. Regardless of your perception of bicyclists, it should be realized that at the end of the day, we are all just trying to get home or to work. And you know what will get you to work or home slower than following a safe distance behind a bicyclist, adding a few minutes to your commute? Hitting a cyclist, and having to go through that entire ordeal, taking more time than any of us have in our lives.
One of the main bicycle arteries north of broad street is along Spring garden street, which has a bicycle lane for its entire length from east to west and is much calmer than some larger streets. This was the chosen route through the city to link my neighborhood to the art museum and Schuylkill river trail. Once to the trail, it was easy peasy to get to my work.
Since I started riding this route several months ago, I have ridden to work dozens of times. Although it can be some white knuckle riding, in general there have been very few serious incidents; though near misses occur practically every bike ride. In Philadelphia, bicycle infrastructure is still in its infancy, with new bike lanes and sharrows being added at a snails pace. This is compounded by a car-centric city that is bureaucratically heavy, believing that the installation of better bike lanes would equate to more traffic and less parking (see Darrel Clarke and Jannie Blackwell). I’m not asking for Amsterdam-level restructuring, but even basic bicycling infrastructure would be a great compromise. There is a catch-22 where less people ride bicycles because their is not enough infrastructure, so to break this we just need to build the lanes and let them come!
Given the recent rise in bicycle related traffic fatalities and incidents in the city, it remains at the hands of city officials to decide what the best course of action is. While there are some amazing bike trails that connect many parts of the city, large gaps in critical areas remain present, especially cross-city trails (i.e. bike lanes) and areas that cross through underserved areas. Although there exists a few dedicated bicycle-only lanes, a recent fatality highlights the need for more awareness and safe guards to protect cyclists. With the promise by the Kenney administration to add more protected bike lanes, it remains to be seen how the times will change in the next few years. Until then, we will just all have to be a little more careful, and keep our heads and helmets up. Thanks for reading, until next time!