Transportation conversations


As long as we’re complaining about drivers…

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Here’s something you never really want to see:

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That would be a van coming from the wrong direction on a one-way street. It was about a block away when I first saw it heading toward me, so no collision was imminent, but even so, it was a little unnerving. I just kept slowing down and hoping for the best.

When the van reached the end of the block, it turned onto a cross street without stopping. (There was of course no stop sign facing it, because why would the city put a stop sign facing the wrong way?)

As a resident of a neighborhood with a lot of one-way streets, I see this all the time. If I’m on foot, I’ll often try to alert the driver. I’ve even been known to wave and yell if someone is about to head face first into oncoming traffic, and I’ve had a fair amount of success thwarting doom.

Because I was in the car this time, none of that would have worked. I considered flashing my lights, but that’s tricky to do with daytime running lights, and it’s not always noticeable.

If you have a strategy for or a story about wrong-way drivers, please share below. And keep an eye out for them in your travels today — after all, it’s Friday the 13th.

‘Who’s more annoying?’ — scenic highway version

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

So, here’s a peeve of mine — the unnecessarily bunched-up pack of cars on a scenic rural road:

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For a while, I was stuck between the first car and the second car. Car 2 was, as they say, crawling up my butt, apparently in the hope that doing so would somehow make Car 1 go faster. I was in a leisurely mode after a full day of work in Winona, so I opted to pull over and let Cars 2 and 3 get past me. That way, Car 2 could pointlessly but directly crawl up the butt of Car 1, and I could keep a safe following distance.

So, today’s quiz show topic is “Who’s More Annoying?” The contestants:

Car 1: A law-abiding citizen, this driver went at or below the speed limit for many miles on a curvy road with few or no spots to pass. Never engaged in risky behavior, never pulled over to allow faster vehicles to get past.

Car 2: Unwilling to accept his fate stuck behind Car 1, he apparently had no ability to learn, as the butt-crawling never worked, yet he persisted.

Car 3: A large vehicle with the longest stopping distance, it had nothing to gain by riding closely behind Car 2.

And, of course, all the bunching up didn’t get anyone to his/her destination faster — at the stoplight in Prescott, leisurely Roadguy ended up right behind the white truck.

Share your thoughts, ventilations and judgments below.

Transportation apparel: Shirts that make you go ‘Hmmm’

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

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Two Roadguy colleagues who are sometimes known as the Hounds from Hell purchased this garment for $5 last week on Rice Street in St. Paul.

The Great Commuter Challenge: I’m a loser, baby

Monday, May 12th, 2008

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Roadguy, R.T. Rybak, Toni Carter, and Lea Schuster of TLC are drawn toward the morning sunlight in Merriam Park. (A better photo is here.)

A BIT MORE CHALLENGING THAN IMAGINED

The broken gas pump was not a good omen.

This morning’s Great Commuter Challenge was sponsored by transit and biking advocates, and as the only contestant driving a carbon-spewing car, I didn’t expect them to make it easy for me. But sabotage a gas station?

No, no, of course they didn’t do that. But pulling up to a pump with no nozzle was just one of the reasons I lost to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who rode a bicycle, and Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter, who took a bus and light rail.

The not-exactly-scientific-but-entertaining race was organized by Transit for Livable Communities, with help from public agencies including Metro Transit and the Minneapolis bicycle program. My prescribed route from St. Paul’s Merriam Park to the Minneapolis Central Library downtown required me to put a gallon of gas in my car, buy a newspaper at the Lake Street light-rail station and pick up some tickets at the Bedlam Theatre box office in the Cedar-Riverside area.

All three contestants had more or less the same 6-mile route (a map is here). Carter was absolved of the fuel stop, but Rybak was instructed to grab a snack along the way.

We were under orders to obey all traffic laws, including speed limits. As my mother said, “Well, what kind of commute is that?” But after Rybak’s driver’s-license dust-up last week, we all wanted to be model citizens.

IN FIRST PLACE, FOR A BIT

After I found a functioning gas pump, I cruised past the mayor as he was finishing up his espresso chocolate chip scone, and I had excellent luck hitting green lights all along E. Lake Street.

Things started to go downhill at the Lake/Hiawatha intersection.

CommuterChallengeSign.jpgMy attempt to walk across Lake Street to buy a Wall Street Journal took two tries, after the first push of the pedestrian button didn’t produce a walk signal. A few minutes later, I waited through two cycles of a stoplight when the arms came down at the freight train crossing.

An impatient SUV in front of me eventually blew through the red arrow, but I had a judge/monitor in the front seat next to me: Nick Mason, a member of the city’s bicycle advisory panel.

I started to have a sinking feeling — I’d already seen Carter hustling from the bus to the train station and watched Rybak zoom onto the bike trail that runs along the light-rail line.

I was pleased to find a parking spot about a block away from the Bedlam Theatre. Not bad — but not as good as the wide-open lot right next door. I must confess to some jaywalking — or rather jayrunning — at this point, with poor Nick jayrunning behind me.

Carter’s tickets were brought to her when her train stopped at the light-rail station next to Bedlam, saving her six to eight minutes over visiting the box office and waiting for the next train. Bedlam offers a $2-per-ticket discount to patrons who arrive by transit or self-power.

THE FINISH LINE

We’d all left Merriam Park at 7:40 a.m. Rybak arrived at the library at 8:11, Carter four minutes later, and yours truly five minutes after Carter.

Considering the somewhat stacked deck (in the real world, I could’ve bought a Wall Street Journal at the gas station and hopped on the freeway), my showing wasn’t too bad, and besides, the broader point was to call attention to the benefits and viability of alternative transportation. Carter spoke of how nice it was to be able to actually read her newspaper and chat with others on the bus and train, while Rybak, a triathlon-competing 52-year-old, is more fit and vibrant than your average teenager.

I got my heart rate up, too, but mostly while waiting for stoplights.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Roadguy couldn’t operate his video camera (or any other) while driving, but a couple dozen pix, taken by intrepid Nick, are here on Nick’s Flickr site, and the Rake has more here. Also, alert reader Matty was there shooting video, which should be available at some point soon. Oh, and here are the books I had to return to the library:

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Bikes on the road: a TV report and ‘optional’ stop signs

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

BikeSignSmall.jpgRoadguy doesn’t watch much TV while he’s at work, but numerous alert readers (as well as colleague J.D.) have been discussing the Channel 5 story titled “Bicyclists Breaking the Law?” I’ve finally checked it out and have an observation to share.

In the video, crash stats purportedly from 2005 appear on the screen as the reporter shows what “our investigation discovered.” Moments after watching this, I did a similar investigation right here at my desk:

1) I rotated in my office chair
2) I opened my top left file drawer
3) I pulled out a copy of the state’s “Crash Facts 2006” report, distributed last summer
4) I looked in the table of contents
5) I turned to page 90
6) I “discovered” the statistics

(The figures actually appear to be from 2006, not 2005, unless the numbers didn’t change from one year to the next.)

Say what you will about the aerobic benefits of biking — sweeps month is all about being breathless.

As long as we’re on the topic of the bike-car conundrum again, here’s something to chew on: Idaho’s optional stop signs for bicyclists. An excerpt from that state’s statutes:

A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection.

So, a stop is not always required. Should Minnesota look into this, or would it make things worse between cars and bikes? Share your thoughts below.

Central Corridor: North or south?

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Roadguy had the privilege of attending yet another Central Corridor meeting yesterday; the story I wrote is here. After listening to additional hours of debate over how to route the light-rail line through campus, I now seek your opinion: Washington Avenue at grade, or northern alignment through Dinkytown? For a PowerPoint of “outstanding issues” with the northern alignment, click here; I’ll add other links as the day goes on. And somewhere around here is a map showing both routes….

Semi-relatedly, many thanks to alert reader 406er, who sent in the photo below. It shows rail tracks trying to re-emerge on University Avenue along the Minneapolis/St. Paul border — how’s that for a metaphor?

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