Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Word Spoken Here

The sound is very distinctive, but not easy to describe. It is percussive, like a drum beat, but not as “sharp.”

Too high to be a big drum, too dull to be a little one, a quick, visceral “thump” or dull “pop.”

I would sort of expect it to be metallic, to have a “boing” to it, but it doesn’t.

It is, blog pals, the sound of a spoke snapping.

And the word spoken then won’t be printed in this blog.

Broke my spoke on the way home last night—about 2/3 of the way through my commute. I had been pumping along, pushing my bike, in a chocolate-fueled frenzy to see my grandkids as quickly as possible.

But, rather abruptly I slowed my pace a lot and dawdled. I did not want a rear wheel suddenly giving way, at least not at full speed.

Well, I made it home, and the bike is in the shop. Could I replace a spoke myself? I suppose, but I prefer to let the pros handle this one so I’m sure it’s placed correctly and the wheel trued.

Well, it was so windy today that maybe breaking a spoke Wednesday was not a huge tragedy. And I should get the bike back and return to commuting the way it’s intended—on two wheels under my own power—soon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Additional Thought ...

My sister Toni posted this for me on Facebook, it's was posted by a friend of hers, Marc Zappa. What is it? Mt. Rushmore from the Canadian point of view.

As all my CR Biker posts do (just to prevent blog traffic to this site), my "butt" post from the weekend showed up on my Facebook page as a "note."

I've never understood why WordPress has such a logical connection to Facebook--why that site automatically posts an attractive link to a blog post, but not the whole post--while Blogger seems to have designed it's Facebook connection to depress blog traffic. Then again, why is there only one "blog of note" each day on Blogger while an attractive menu of 11 new blogs is suggested every day by WordPress?


Anyway, it was a wet and wild ride this morning with fog clinging to my glasses as I peered through the mist hoping to avoid being smashed by a car. Luck (and light traffic on the back streets I commute on) and my battery-powered lights were with me.

When I got here, I saw that my butt post had appeared on Facebook, where it drew a few comments. Funniest was the picture, posted by my sister Toni, shown above. Warmed my fog-chilled heart.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Spot, I Do Confess It!

A rose. Hope you weren't expecting a picture of my rear cheek area. Perish the thought. Butt spots are the thorns on the biking rose, but bicycling is still worth it.

There is was, on my butt Friday.

“You look like you’ve got something on the seat or your pants,” Audrey said.

Indeed, I did. I had biked to MMU that morning and returned that night with a spot on my back side. I had sadly darkened my Dockers. Buttered my buns. Painted my pants. Spilt on my slacks.

You get the idea.

I had a little black butt mark, which must have come from my bike. I have a cable I use to lock the bike, and due to how and where I lock it, it comes into contact with my bike chain. At the urgings of the folks who run the shop where I purchased the bike and have it serviced, I’m doing much better about lubricating the chain of my bike this year—which means some lubricant gets on the lock cable.

And from there to my fingers. And, sometimes, apparently, to the seat of the bike from my fingers. Thence, to my posterior.

Well, roses are pretty, and have thorns, too.

A bit of butt oil now and then won’t be enough to keep me off two wheels—I enjoy the commute much more than driving, and I’m sure it’s better for me, too, to bike and burn some calories. Even at the risk, now and then, of a blemished behind.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

White Lines on F Avenue

F Avenue at Old Marion Road, looking north where white shows bike-sensitive parts of magnetic traffic detector.

White lines have appeared on F Avenue near Old Marion Road, a good sign for a biker.

The white paint is placed on the street to show where the magnetic traffic sensor has been adjusted in an attempt to “see” the iron in a bike crank.

For this cranky old biker, it’s been working like a charm. I have not been able to photograph these lines, which have been there for a while, because, unlike the corner of F and Collins where there is a long delay between landing in the white zone and the light changing, the light changes quickly at F and Old Marion. I had to stop at a freshly turned red light this morning, so I had (barely) time to take this image, looking north on F from the west side of the road, before the light changed.

Well, I am glad that yet another light can “read” a bike. I am a bit unsure how a biker who doesn’t know the “secret code” would figure out that he or she must stop just so to trigger the light—but then again, I’ve seen cars in the past that don’t seem to be aware of the magnetic sensors and that manage to stop just so to ensure the light will never change.

The ride in and home today were cool. The one home was largely against a chill north breeze against a mostly cloudy fall sky. I used my lights at 5, which I don’t often do.

Still, it was a pleasant ride. If I were not so swamped at work, I might have taken the extra time and added the extra miles to use the Cedar River trail. Someday soon!

Monday, September 19, 2011

One Wet Monday Morning

Image: Drops of rain on a new railing at Mount Mercy University, near Our Lady of Sorrows Grotto.

I was in the Beetle this morning, due to damp pavement, and I do sort of regret it. It’s turned into a beautiful fall afternoon, one where bikers should be on bikes.

Oh well. Rain may come, but it should be a mostly dry week, which will help.

Anyway, before Sunday’s rain, I had a nice ride to and from campus on Saturday. Weekend commuting is nice because traffic is light, although I’ve had to find an alternative to F Avenue, which has entailed riding along Old Marion Road.

Well, I’m sure the sewer line, or whatever, will be replaced soon and F will open up. I’m looking forward to fall and winter biking!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kudos to Mr. Brown, Mr. A and City of CR

Images show the adjusted magnetic detector, then a view from where I was this morning. Granted, the GM sedan in front of me triggered the light this morning, but I know from other days that my bike can bring on the green at this corner.

I don’t know “Mr. A,” so I won’t use his name. Perhaps he wouldn’t object, but I don’t know.

Anyway, I’ve complained before on this blog about the nature of traffic control in Cedar Rapids—how some intersections, especially F and Collins Road, are necessary for bike traffic, but designed strictly for auto use.

Well, rather than moan on his blog, our hero Mr. A e-mailed a well-articulated note to the city government. Here is part of that e-mail:

“I've been riding my bicycle to work and find that the best route crosses Collins Road at F-Ave NE. However, this traffic light appears to be activated ONLY by cars.

“Further compounding the issue is that when one side of F-Ave cycles green, the other side won't turn green unless a car is there as well. This often results in my ‘tailgating’ the green light on the opposite side or turning me into a pedestrian ‘dodging’ traffic holes - neither of which is safe.

“What can either of us do to make crossing Collins road safer and easier when not in a car?”

Well. Last week, as I wrote previously, I heard from another biker that a city crew had been working on the traffic sensor as Collins and F. I assume the other biker wasn’t our hero Mr. A, because he had to chat with the city crew to find out what was going on, but after the encounter, I e-mailed the city an inquiry to find out if, indeed, the rumor that the sensor had been adjusted was true.

Enter Cal Brown, a “Traffic Signal Tech II,” who e-mailed me back, and who included a nicely crafted response to questions I had posed, as well as copies of previous e-mails related to the traffic sensor.

Long story short—yes, the rumor is true. The city has adjusted the far right, far forward magnetic traffic sensors at the corner of F and Collins, headed both north and south, so that they are more sensitive and likely to pick up a bicycle.

It’s not necessarily a cure-all. Composite bikes, make of carbon-based materials, might not have a lot of iron in them and might not change the magnetic field—but then again, they do have nice steel cogs, so they might. I am lucky enough ride a heavier metal bike, and recent experimentation suggests that the sensor indeed detects my bicycle.

Well, blog fans, let’s pause here and say “thank you” to both Mr. A, and Cal Brown, for quickly making this key intersection safer for bikers.

I also raised the issue of the intersection of F and Old Marion Road, and it sounds as if Cal will look into it as soon as he can. Again, thanks. I’m glad the city of Cedar Rapids is so responsive to citizen needs. Kudos.

My one minor asterisk is that the far right lane, headed south on F at Collins, is signed as a “right turn only” lane. Not to quibble, but wouldn’t the far forward detector in the next-to-right lane, where a bike that is going South and not turning right on Collins (and heaven help any crazy biker who is turning right on Collins) would normally stop be the one to set to detect bikes?

Still, I’m happy. The street “sees” me. And I have a pretty well-written summary of what was done at the intersection, and how it works, courtesy of Cal Brown. His text is numbered because he is replying to my three questions, so, first, an excerpt from my e-mail that lists my questions, then the text of Mr. Brown’s answer with “Mr. A’s” name redacted:

My questions in excerpt from e-mail:

I’ve complained in my blog before about traffic controls in the city being strictly designed for cars, and I would like to compliment the city if indeed it has changed the F and Collins traffic light triggers, and if it’s planning to put these at other intersections. I have several questions, which I assume you probably can’t answer but might be able to tell me who could:

1) Is this rumor indeed true, that is, have the traffic controls been changed at F and Collins in the way described—far forward, far right squares in the pavement designed to detect bikes?

2) If “yes,” are there other intersections where the city has changed traffic controls to aid biking? I ask because if a road detector has been adjusted to “read” bikes, a biker would need to know that because you’d still have to stop in the right spot to trigger the device, and I’m curious where else these bike detectors, if they exist, might be.

3) Again, if I’m not wrong about the whole premise—that street traffic controls have been changed to detect bikes—can someone briefly explain how car and/or bike pavement detection devices work in the first place? Are they magnetic or weight triggered? Do you merely have to cross one to trigger it or do you have to come to rest on it for a period of time—is it triggered if you’re next to the visible cut in the pavement or do you have to be on the rectangle?

Now, Cal Brown, Traffic Signal Tech II, answers (material in parentheses is my commentary, not Mr. Brown’s words):

"Mr. Sheller

"Gina Weaver (city employee I had e-mailed) forwarded your email regarding bicycle detection to me for clarification. Last month I responded to a question from a cyclist regarding the vehicle detectors at F Ave & Collins Rd NE. I have copied both the original request and my response at the bottom of this message. I hope that helps clarify what the cyclist you encountered was talking about. Now I will answer your specific questions.

"1. I attempted to adjust the sensitivity of the individual loop detectors in response to a specific request for that intersection. As I informed (original name removed, Mr. A) below, I “tweaked” the sensitivity in hopes that it would pick up what little metal may be on his bicycle. He later informed us that it did indeed work.

"2. We have not made a special effort to accommodate bicycles except when a specific request such as this has come in. (I expect bikers to be able to “share the road” on quiet streets anyway, without any special efforts—but some intersections like this require special care, which the city seems very willing to provide.) We do attempt to make the vehicle detectors as sensitive as we can in order to pick up any vehicle from bicycles up to high bed trucks. I am, however, forwarding this email on to Ron Griffith – Senior Traffic Engineer. He is involved quite a bit with efforts to make our streets more bicycle friendly so he may know about future plans that I am not.

"3. Now a brief tutorial of traffic signal vehicle detection. We use primarily 3 types of vehicle detection in Cedar Rapids, video cameras (NOT red light cameras), inductive loops, and wireless detection.

"a. Cameras--These are tubular camera units mounted on the traffic signal pole across the street from an approach.

"b. Inductive loops— This method has been used for several years and most of our intersections use these. A slot is sawed into the street and several turns of wire are laid in the slot creating a loop of wire in the pavement. This creates a magnetic field in the street at that point and any metal passing through that field causes a change in the magnetic field. That change is sensed by a detection unit in the control cabinet and a “call” is placed in the controller.

"c. Wireless sensors—this is a new type of technology we are working with and have been using successfully for a couple of years now. A 4” diameter hole is drilled in the pavement and a plastic “puck” is placed in the hole. This puck acts like an inductive loop where a change in the magnetic field is sensed and a call placed into the controller.

"Weight does not trigger the call, the change in the magnetic field does. When we increase the sensitivity of a detector unit, it means that a smaller change is required to send a call to the traffic controller. It’s not as simple as just “cranking up” the sensitivity to maximum so we can pick up everyone. We have to prevent “false calls” from traffic going the other direction or other undesirable things that may affect the magnetic field of the loop. The corners are considered the most sensitive part of an inductive loop because there is more magnetic field to disrupt. In most cases the vehicle needs to stay on the detector so the call is constantly sent into the controller unit.

"I hope this provides the information you were looking for. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance."


Traffic Signal Tech II

City of Cedar Rapids Traffic Engineering

1201 6th St SW

Cedar Rapids, IA

Well, blog fans, there you have it. Look for a little white paint at the corner of a detection rectangle on F Avenue and rest your metal there.

Hooray for democracy is action, courtesy of Mr. A and Mr. Brown. Bravo! Now if I can find a Mr. Brown who works at FEMA …

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Spring in My Step

I’m not sure about the whole “bike detectors” at F and Collins—I plan to e-mail the city on the question of whether they actually changed the devices so that they can detect bikes—but experience suggests they might have. It certainly seemed like I (on my bike!) triggered the light Friday, which is a good thing.

Not that the commute was universally good.

As I stated in my “goose” post, I got a flat Thursday. I fixed it and ride Friday, but somehow in removing and replacing the front wheel, I messed up the front brake, and was riding for 10 miles with my front brake constantly engaged.

Not fun. But, note the photo. There is a tiny spring on each side of the break, meant to pull the shoes away from the wheel evenly. I had accidentally released one of those springs, and I think the problem is fixed. Did not have a chance to ride today to find out, but I should tomorrow.

Well, cool. No flat tire, brakes that work and lights that answer the call of a biker. The city and my life are both getting more bike friendly.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Goose is Cooked

I was on my way to work this morning, when another biker told me some exciting news. He stated that the city has installed bike sensors on the right hand lanes of F Avenue where it meets Collins Road, which means if I’m at the right place in the correct lane, the light can be triggered by my bike, and I don’t have to waste a lot of time waiting for cars.

Well, he told me that when we were already on F, so I didn’t get a chance this morning to seek, see, photograph or try the mythical bike sensors, but I was pretty jazzed on the way to work, thinking that I would take a picture of them and have an image and topic for my next post.

Alas. Best laid plans of mice, men and bikers and all that.

Meanwhile nearing the end of my morning commute, I was on Eastern Avenue headed towards Regis Middle School. I usually turn down a side street, 27th, I think, but as I neared that final corner, fate decided to take a hand.

I looked up and saw a large crowd of geese on the lawn of Regis. Rather than turn, I proceeded on Eastern to the corner of whatever street Regis (and MMU) is on, and took out my trusty Kodak. I counted more than 60 geese and took a few photos, but when I put the camera away and got ready to finish my morning ride., I made the sad discovery.

Something at the corner must have been sharp enough to puncture tire and tube. I had a flat.

Sigh. No afternoon commute, no verification of the bike sensors, no happy post about a key intersection finally becoming bike friendly.

Well, if they’re there, the sensors will still be there tomorrow. After Audrey gave me a ride this evening, it took me 15 minutes to change my tube. Knock on wood that the new one is still full of air in the morning (I’ve now and then had a new one prove to be holey, too), and I’ll check out the bike pavement sensors then.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Biking on a Labor Day Weekend

Well, bike friends, I present a “before” and “after” view of my office. Biking to work on a Sunday felt a bit worth it based on these results.

As I am sure you can tell, the mess in my office had gotten away from me. The newspaper office at MMU moved this summer, and we did a new start-of-year project, and between the two, it felt like school started in a mad scramble. And there was just a lot of extra stuff shoved temporarily into my space.

Well, I usually have to work a fair amount during Labor Day weekend anyway—that’s just when it falls during the academic calendar (and, I’m sure, a reflection of an old journalist’s need for a deadline to gain motivation). At least on this working Sunday, it was a glorious day to ride to my office.

I snapped a few early fall flower photos first, but then headed out this morning. It was almost noon by the time I hit the road, but was crisply cool. It was one of my first bike commutes of the year in denim jeans—and I wasn’t overheated at all.

After 5 hours or so of work, it was still nicely light for my commute home. The day was windy, with a breeze from the west and north, so the commute home meant battling a headwind, but the day was so sunny and cool that it was a pleasant battle.

My one regret is that I didn’t have time for a longer bike ride. But that’s Labor Day weekend for you. I drove two days this week due to rain in the forecast (as it turned out, I could have biked Friday), but next week’s forecast is both sunny and cool.

Perfect for a two-wheeled commuter!