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Bike Commuter Journal: Bike Commuting to REI

17 May

Aaron is an REI Princeton Employee and he bike commutes very often. One of his colleagues told us that he “bikes more often than anyone I know, in all kinds of weather.” So we decided to ask Aaron to tell what his secret is and he kindly agreed to. From tips on how to be prepared and ride safely, to his nature encounters and racing with a blue heron, he has a lot to say. Here is Aaron’s bike commuting story:

Aaron is pictured here first on the right

  1. Tell us a little about yourself

My biking revival started one day after work staring at a Chick-Fil-A sign at the mall for the MS Coast the Coast Bike Ride. Being active with the MS Walks since I was in 5th grade, I thought it would be a cool way to get more involved. I hadn’t touched my bike since the day I got my driver’s license. After working your standard 9 to 5 job for a couple years I gained an astounding amount of weight to my dismay. I was able to finish the MS Coast to Coast 50 mile bike ride on my old Huffy Mountain Bike with high spirits despite its 40lbs of steel and poor shifting. I felt like I was a kid again and it renewed my love for biking. I was motivated to get a real road bike, complete multiple triathlons, and three cross country bike trips!

  1. How long have you been bike commuting?

I started bike commuting when I began working for the REI in East Hanover back in 2011. It was 23 miles one way so making the journey for every shift was time consuming so I would bike as time permitted.  With the opening of the REI in Princeton/Lawrenceville in 2015, I was now able to take the East Coast Greenway / Delaware & Raritan Canal Path from home to store but it was a longer but safer 30 mile commute. I made the move to Ewing over a year ago which shortened my bike commute to a mere 13 miles!

  1. Why did you choose to bike commute?

Before moving, my car commute was about an hour. After the move, I would still have an hour commute but I could swap out my car for my bike!  I was no longer stuck in route 1 traffic and trading it out for more canal paths and backcountry road time.

  1. How often do you bike commute?

I bike commute every chance I get. Rain, snow, cold, I feel like a mailman. I have only missed a handful of opportunities to bike into work in the past year and a half.

  1. What is one item that you can’t leave home without?

My bike! Besides my helmet, I cannot leave home without my lights. I bike with a minimum of two blinking red lights to shine my presence on the road, even in the daytime. Grabbing the attention of drivers is the name of the game and having them give you the room you need to ride safely lets me know it’s working!

  1. Do you have any tips for people who want to start bike commuting?

For first time riders, I suggest checking in with a local bike shop with popular bike routes in the area. This gives a rough outline for which roads are good for traveling and has a good bike presence as to not surprise motorists. Bike shops usually have good local maps marking which roads as well as the Greater Mercer TMA website (link) which grades roads by its safety factors. Google maps has a biking option but it should not be used as your primary route creating method. I have had Google lead me on roundabouts that were hiking trails, closed trails, and even busy roads. Next, drive the route (if not a pedestrian and bike path only route) to see if you are comfortable with the roads and neighborhoods. Find a free day to test bike the route to give you a sense of how long you would need to get to work on time then factor in extra time for packing your bags, the unexpected flat tire, and getting dressed for work. Bring a friend and make a day of it!

If your ride is long, just find a “Park and Ride” train station. You can also shorten your commute by finding safe public parking along the route or at a friend’s house and bike in from there. Driving to work with your bike so you bike home and back to work the next day can help split up the mileage as well. If all else fails, call a loved one for a pick up!

  1. What do you like most about bike commuting?

The scenery is one of the best things about bike commuting. There are many things to see on a bike commute doing it year round, from the flowers of spring to the frozen rivers in winter. The scenery changes almost on a daily basis to keep things interesting. The exercise I get from it also a big bonus so I don’t have to hit the gym after work all the time!

  1. How long is your commute?

My bike commute is 13.1 miles long. I jokingly tell my co-workers that I’ll run to work one day since I run half marathons as well.

  1. Do you have any advice or tips for people who are thinking about starting to bike to work?

Helmet, Helmet, Helmet! I grew up in a time where it wasn’t a requirement and wearing one is not the cool thing to wear. When I began riding again, I was encouraged by people to wear one and I’m glad I listened. During a group ride, I was able to test the usefulness of my helmet in a pile up. I flipped my bike and landed on my helmet which cracked in half leaving me virtually unharmed. I have also witnessed 2 friends whose life was saved as well. Working at REI, I have seen numerous other people come into the store with similar stories as mine even on what seemed like a “safe” canal ride. Riding with traffic and as far to the right as safely possible is also a requirement. Making your moves smooth and predictable around road hazards allow drivers to predict your direction easier, and looking at parked cars for occupants to prevent getting “doored”.

Saddlebags are a lifesaver as they take the weight off your back and don’t leave you sweaty. They also keep the added weight lower for minimal ride adjustment when properly secured. They also provide the extra room I need for rainy weather gear for that unexpected shower or cold front!

  1. Do you have any funny bike commuting stories?

I once helped 3 turtles cross the canal path on the same day. I was afraid I was going to be late for work helping these little guys and gals out! I had a good discussion with a family about turtles and how we should leave them in the wild and not make them into a pet. Blue Herons are a canal path local and find them all over the place. I once “chased” one down the path for over 2 miles as he would fly down every hundred yards, rest, and fly again! He was definitely going at least 15mph as I wasn’t able to catch up with him.

Thank you Aaron!

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Life in Transit: Take the Bus to Princeton

3 Feb

This week’s post comes from a guest blogger, Tineke Thio, who also serves on Princeton’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, and it also appears on their blog – thanks!

Some are un-apologetical fair-weather riders. Some don’t leave home without their bikes unless a brutal polar vortex has parked itself over New Jersey.

Wherever your limit lies, for those days that you have places to go, but don’t want to or can’t get there on your bike, try the bus. Sure, NJ Transit buses go through Princeton – but here I want to tell you about Princeton’s local buses.
blog

FreeB
The FreeB is Princeton’s jitney; its cute logo, the blue “B” surrounded by a constellation of orange dots, is displayed on the bus stops and on the bus itself (named “Marvin”, after former Princeton Borough Mayor Marvin Reed).

It comes in two versions, commuter and daytime; the latter runs between 9.40am and 4.30pm. The two versions have different routes: for instance, only the commuter FreeB goes to Princeton Station, and only the daytime FreeB passes by the Municipal Building on Witherspoon Street. If you click on the links in this sentence, that downloads the PDF files of the map and schedule for the Commuter FreeB, and the Daytime FreeB. (In case you’re wondering: Yes, Princeton is working on getting the FreeB schedules on Google Maps).

Note: even though the schedules say you can flag down and board the FreeB between stops “where it’s safe to do so”, in practice you’re best off boarding at a designated stop. Bus drivers are highly risk averse – and that’s how we like them!

The FreeB is equiped for wheelchair access.

Best of all, it’s free!

Tiger Transit
As you can see from the maps, the FreeB services mostly the town side of Nassau Street. For travel on the University side, there’s Tiger Transit, Princeton University’s bus service which is also free and open to the public. Their buses are fully accessible, and have bike racks.

Tiger Transit coverage is of course densest around Princeton University, but its routes cover an area extending to the new Merwick Stanworth apartments, the Forrestal Center / Plasma Physics Lab, and Canal Pointe Boulevard.

Moreover, Tiger Transit buses have trackers, so you can see where they are at any time on this TigerTracker map.

Try the bus, it’s fun!

And tell your friends about it.

 

We would like to thank her for sharing her thoughts!

If you have a transit story that you would like to share, please let us know.

Bicyclists Outnumber Drivers In Copenhagen

2 Dec

When we think bicycle friendly city, we think Copenhagen.   And these days Copenhagen is getting a lot of attention and envy because it just reached a milestone; the number of bicyclists surpassed the number of drivers.

You can’t help but wonder how did it get here?

It turns out Copenhagen started as a city of bicycles, and then people embraced car ownership in the 1920’s. In a simple twist, bicyclists were seen as slightly annoying to motorists and the number of traffic accidents involving bicyclist and motorists increased.

Copenhagen was headed in the same direction as many other cities, congestion, traffic accidents, and pollution. People riding bicycles kept being pushed to the side of the road or off the road and they took the streets; they wanted to be able to ride their bikes safely again. Copenhageners protested and asked for a change in street design, putting bikes first and cars second and asking for safe bicycle infrastructure.

There was, as you might expect, some back and forth about design, cost, and how to pay for the new bicycle infrastructure.

In the end, city planning gave space to bicycle lanes, bicycles experienced a comeback, and it is now once again seen as a symbol of health, freedom, and the symbol to clean and lively cities. Most people in Copenhagen, even kindergarteners and a large number of politicians, bike year round.

I guess the answer is good planning, starting young and keep the wheels spinning until it becomes such a big part of your life that you are no longer willing to tolerate pollution and traffic accidents anymore and would rather leave the car behind.

Sources:
https://cleantechnica.com/2016/11/28/people-bicycling-driving-copenhagen-now/
http://denmark.dk/en/green-living/bicycle-culture/how-denmark-become-a-cycling-nation
http://denmark.dk/en/green-living/bicycle-culture/copenhagen-bike-city-for-more-than-a-century
http://www.copenhagenize.com/2012/02/danish-bicycle-infrastructure-history.html
http://www.copenhagenize.com/
http://www.citylab.com/commute/2012/04/why-streets-copenhagen-and-amsterdam-look-so-different-ours/1849/

Winter Safety Tips

4 Dec

December 22st is the first day of winter and although we have enjoyed a long stretch of mild weather, the cold and snow will be here soon. We have some winter driving tips and some winter biking tips to help keep you safe this winter.

Photo credit: flickr.com/Don.Harder

Photo credit: flickr.com/Don.Harder

Biking

  1. Layer up but do not overdress – look for clothing that is designed to keep you warm without being too bulky and make you sweat. Many stores sell active wear clothes that are both fashionable and functional. Cover your head, your extremities and your ears, and wear clear glasses to protect your eyes.
  2. Wear something bright and equip your bike with good lights (flashing lights have a great battery life but the high powered ones can blind the motorists behind you), it will keep you safe during low visibility conditions.
  3. Equip your bike with wide tires (studded winter tires are best for icy conditions) and shoes with threaded sole so you won’t slip when you break or stop at a light and you have to put your foot down.
  4. If possible, pick streets that will minimize your contact with cars.
  5. Think safety first! – Use your judgment in snowy, slippery and/or low visibility conditions, actively manage risk through strategies to avoid travel, minimize contact with other traffic and/or make yourself as visible as possible through proper lane positioning.

winter-633965_19201

Driving

If possible, try to avoid driving in bad weather conditions. Don’t go out until the snow plows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work, and allow yourself extra time to reach your destination. If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your car is prepared, and that you know how to handle road conditions.

Driving safely on icy roads

  1. Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
  2. Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
  3. Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
  4. Keep your lights and windshield clean.
  5. Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  6. Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
  7. Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
  8. Don’t pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
  9. Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If your rear wheels skid…

  1. Take your foot off the accelerator.
  2. Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.
  3. If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
  4. If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  5. If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If your front wheels skid…

  1. Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.
  2. As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

If you get stuck…

  1. Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
  2. Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
  3. Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
  4. Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
  5. Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
  6. Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner’s manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

Sources: National Safety Council, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Washington State Government Information & Services

 

 

Bike to Work Week 2015 Findings, Concerns, and Suggestions for Improvement

26 Jun

As we promised last week, here are some of the findings from this year’s Bike to Work Week event.

We asked our riders where do they usually ride and interesting to find out that while fitness and recreation seems to be the most popular reason for biking, commuting to work was the second most popular reason. Here is the breakdown:

58.71% of the total participants listed Commuting to Work, 72% percent of the total participants also listed Fitness and Recreation, 48% percent of the participants also listed Social Activities among other rides, and 43% also listed Errands and Shopping.

We asked our Bike to Work  registrants about their concerns and suggestions for what type of improvements are needed:

What most influences your decision to ride your bicycle for any given trip?

Most influence

What is your primary concern when deciding to ride your bike?

Primary concern

 

We also asked our Bike to Work registrants if there was a specific improvement they would like to see. Some of the specific concerns are listed below:

Alexander Road could be made safer for bicyclists.
Alexander Road is terrifying! Even this morning a vehicle tried to run me off the road!  Not to mention the dangerous pot holes.  Also the light at Alexander/Bear Brooke/Vaughn remains dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians as motorists continue to turn right on red and make left turns into folks in the crosswalk! 
More bike lanes/sharrows or signage to make drivers pay attention to cyclists.
Pass a 3-foot law for cars passing bikes that doesn’t penalize drivers for crossing the center line.
Make Rt. 206 bike friendly between Trenton and Princeton.
Improved sight-lines on Scudders Mill – Rt 1 overpass from the multi-use path especially the N bound U-turn lane.
Upgrade towpath or bike lane connections through Ewing and Trenton.
Widen Lower Harrison St Princeton between Lake Carnegie and Rt 1.
Some kind of bicycle accommodation along Route 27Employer entrance gates should be made bike friendly.
Safer intersection at Ingleside and Washington-Crossing Pennington Road (traffic light).
Improved road conditions!  Even where there are specific bike lanes the road conditions are poor due to potholes debris in bike lane etc.
In Plainsboro addition of a bike/ped path on the Schalks Crossing bridge over the railroad tracks separated from traffic by a concrete barrier. The bridge would need to be widened.  A nearby example in Plainsboro of a “good” bridge is the Scudders Mill bridge over the railroad tracks.
Improvement of CR518 between Hopewell Borough and Montgomery Township.
Finish the paths to nowhere.
Bike lanes on Alexander Road.
Safe way to cross Route 1.
Showers at work!!!
Just one?! Shower at work.  Bike lanes on urban arterials. 

As we can see there is more work to do to make our communities more bike-friendly and for bike commuters to feel safe.  Clearly marked bike lanes, signage and feeling safe are the biggest concerns cited by our riders.

Even so, people enjoy riding their bikes and find a way to get on their bike. These are just a few of the comments that riders have shared after completing their Bike to Work Week rides:

Great challenge.  I need to do it more often!

Great to be able to bike to the train station. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

It was great to see so many people biking.

My family bikes everywhere work school grocery shopping for fun… Thanks for organizing this program to raise awareness for bicycling!

I ride to work each day of the year even in snow.  If too icy I walk the bike.  It is the only way to go! 

I saw a number of new commuters out this week hope to see them after this week as well.

I usually live in Sweden and always bike to work every part of the year. So I do the same here. I wouldn’t feel good otherwise.

And finally an exciting encounter with nature, but that didn’t stop this rider from enjoying the ride and the great weather

I got goosed by a goose! A momma goose hissed and honked at me when I rode a bunch of big and little geese. Then she flapped her wings and flew right into my bike helmet. After that a tree was blocking the path. But the weather was perfect all week and the flowers were beginning to bloom and the air smelled like new flowers.

As always, let us know what you think, contact us  if you have a story you would like to share, or if you have anything to add to these findings.

 

Winter Biking Tips

5 Dec

December 21st is the first day of winter but we’ve already seen snow and it already feels a lot like winter.

We’ve had some tips on how to prepare your car for winter and winter driving tips, now how about some winter biking tips for those of you who will be braving the elements this winter?!?

  1. Layer up but do not overdress – look for clothing that is designed to keep you warm without being too bulky and make you sweat. Many stores sell active wear clothes that are both fashionable and functional. Cover your head, your extremities and your ears, and wear clear glasses to protect your eyes.
  2. Wear something bright and equip your bike with good lights (flashing lights have a great battery life but the high powered ones can blind the motorists behind you), it will keep you safe during low visibility conditions.
  3. Equip your bike with wide tires (studded winter tires are best for icy conditions) and shoes with threaded sole so you won’t slip when you break or stop at a light and you have to put your foot down.
  4. If possible, pick streets that will minimize your contact with cars.
  5. Think safety first! – Use your judgment in snowy, slippery and/or low visibility conditions, actively manage risk through strategies to avoid travel, minimize contact with other traffic and/or make yourself as visible as possible through proper lane positioning

attAs part of our Be Safe Be Seen campaign we giveaway reflective bands, reflective vests, and reflective decals for your helmet.  If you are a bike commuter and would like to get these items, please contact us.

Here is a great Infographic from www.bikearlington.com with more winter biking tips.

WinterBikeArlington