A year later I'm still using a bike to get around town -- here are a few thoughts about how that's worked out

bike shadow on sidewalk

By Greg

About this time last year I shared how I ended up becoming a person who uses a bike as one of my primary ways of of getting around town.

A year later I am still that person. (Even the Times Union says I'm a cyclist.)

And here are a few thoughts about how that's worked out...

It becomes a totally normal thing

bike helmet on bike
This continues to be my only piece of specialized bike apparel.

Back when I switched to being a bike-as-transportation person, I usually got a little bit excited to be able to ride my bike somewhere. It was different. It was fun.

Now it's just... normal. There are a lot of things I still like about it -- it makes me feel good, it's better for the environment, it's relatively cheap, and it's just more interesting than driving around in a car. But it's become an everyday thing and I don't really think too much about it. And I no longer get many of the "hey, you biked here" comments from people who know me.

That's OK. In fact, it might even be good. The Netherlands is one of the everyday-cycling capitals of the world and apparently people there have a totally yeah-whatever attitude about riding a bike around town. It's not remarkable in any way to them.

I'm not at that point. I think it's actually kind of hard to get to that point in the United States (more on that in a second). But I'm pretty firmly in the camp of people who just happen to ride a bike.

Bike + bus

Lark Library CDTA bus stop 2018-07-03   2

As I mentioned last year, one of the reasons for using my bike this way is that I'm part of a one-car household -- and happily so. We prefer only having one car and living in the city of Albany makes that relatively easy.

So, for me, bike riding hasn't necessarily been a substitute for driving. I was already taking the bus a fair amount, and I've found that bike riding has taken the place of most of my bus trips during warmer weather. (If I'm driving, it's usually because taking the bus or riding my bike isn't going to be practical.)

A lot of that is flexibility -- I can leave when I want on my bike and it often doesn't take me a whole lot longer to get where I'm going. This is sometimes true of car trips in the city, too, because of traffic and stop lights.

Also: If given the choice of the two roughly equal options -- a bus ride or a bike ride -- I'm probably going to pick the bike because of the exercise, flexibility, and fun. And I say that as someone who generally enjoys riding the bus. (Riding the bus can be nice. It's true. Try it.)

Maybe because of the bike/bus substitution, I've found the two modes also work together relatively well. There have been many times this year when I've ridden my bike somewhere and then racked my bike on the front of a bus and taken it the rest of the way (or vice versa) -- because I didn't want to ride up the giant hill from downtown Albany, or because I hate riding through rush hour traffic, or I was just tired and wanted to zone out.

So in some sense buses and bikes help extend each other.

One quick recent example: I was in downtown Albany during the after-work rush hour and was dreading both going up the hill and riding among all those cars. So I hopped on the #12 -- which runs something like every eight minutes during rush hour -- and took the bus up the hill and west. Then I hopped off and rode about a mile home. Easy.

Of course, winter will be here soon. Last year I rode my bike into early December. But after that it was bus-no-bike for the next few months.

The design of roads matters a lot

Madison_Ave_road_diet_phase2_2018-06-25__4.jpg
Madison Ave in Albany

Because a lot of people ask: Yeah, there have been times over the past year when I haven't felt safe riding my bike around here. And that's one of the reasons I think we're still a way off from the Dutch yeah-whatever-I-rode-a-bike attitude.

Sure, that's partly because of drivers. Some people are just unsafe or inconsiderate. Though in my experience, drivers in the city of Albany don't tend to be that bad with regard to bikes.

Rather, I think the real problem is the design of roads, which are largely set up for cars at the expense of pretty much everyone who's not in a car. (I'm far from the first person to arrive at this conclusion.) I often feel this way on foot, too.

Places such as Albany and Troy and even Guilderland have been making progress lately on this front. The Madison Ave Road Diet is an upgrade for cyclists and walkers, and I've happily pedaled along the bike lanes on Clinton Ave many times.

But there's a lot of room for improvement, both in terms of reach and degree. The city of Albany could really use more bike lane corridors, especially north-south. (North/South Lake, maybe?) And while simple bike lanes are better than nothing, they'd be even better if they were separated or protected bike lanes.

The biggest reason is safety. Just about a month ago I almost got hit by a car while riding in the bike lane on Madison Ave because the driver didn't see me (or didn't look) and veered into the bike lane before making a right turn. I jammed on my brakes and stumbled off my bike. (Also: There might have been some yelling.) If the lane was protected it would have been harder for the driver to do that.

Yep, it's a bigger task to build protected bike lanes because they take more money, space, and planning. I think they're worth it, though -- and not just because of the immediate safety reason.

protected bike lane Vancouver
A protected cycle track in Vancouver.

This past summer I got to spend some time in Vancouver, which has a bunch of protected and/or separated bike lanes. Riding along them felt great. You still have to pay attention, but it's not the constant hypervigilance of riding in traffic with cars.

And, yow, do people use these lanes and paths -- Vancouver is the first place I've ever been in a bike traffic jam. So many people ride bikes there that a festival included multiple valet bike parking lots.

I can hear what you're thinking and you're right, Albany is not Vancouver. But the experience reinforced for me the value of good bike infrastructure. It's both safer and feels safer for people. And because of that sense of safety more people feel like a bike is an option for them.

Anytime this topic comes up here, both at AOA or a meeting, someone inevitably says something along the lines of, "Why would we go to all the trouble of building this bike infrastructure when no one rides bikes?"

Well, for one, people are riding bikes here. I see all sorts of people riding bikes all the time in all sorts of neighborhoods.

And, two, there's research that indicates if you build it, people will bike it. Capacity leads to demand. Or as urban planner Jeff Speck commented in his new book: "Observing that few people bike in a place without a good bike network is like saying that you don't need a bridge because nobody is swimming the river."

If that doesn't click for you, how about this: The next time you're stuck as traffic on New Scotland Ave or Madison Ave or Henry Johnson Boulevard in the post-work rush, imagine how much less congested it might be if a bunch of people in that corridor were instead on bikes in bike lanes.

Surfaces

Pot holes are jarring. True if you're driving a car. Especially true on a bike.

If car people and bike people want to gather on some sort of common ground, getting together and advocating for better pavement is a place to start.

There are many ways to be better on the road

Madison Ave road diet at Lake

Speaking of the bike/car divide: One of the ways the conversation about this kind of stuff frequently derails is that people end up yelling at each other over who's to blame. Reckless drivers, arrgh! Those entitled cyclists, rarr! I think that particular thread is tedious and unhelpful. What matters is improving the situation, not yelling about who's wrong.

Here's the thing: You can be a jerk no matter what mode of transportation you're using. In a car you can speed or double park or roll through stop signs or not honor crosswalks. (I see these things all the time.) On a bike you can ride the wrong way on the wrong side of the street or blow through intersections against the light. (Yep, I see that a lot, too.) And on foot you can do things like hop out into traffic from between two parked cars. (Again, yep.) Everyone can do better. And we can all pay some attention to how the design of those streets influences our behavior.

The big difference among all those situations is that a car is a multi-ton machine that can, with ease, literally end someone's life if you're not paying attention. And there have gotta be ways we can all work together so that happens a lot less often.

Joy

One thing I don't want to ignore in all this is that there's something inherently joyful about riding a bike, even after it becomes a regular, everyday thing.

I love riding home in the evening through neighborhoods, catching the smell of dinners cooking. I love seeing people I know, waving as I ride by. I love gliding along the stretch of State Street near Washington Park, taking in the gorgeous architecture. And I love the way my shadow rides off in front of me as I pass under a street lamp in the evening.

It can be a fantastic way of moving through a city.

Greg Dahlmann is one of the co-founders of All Over Albany.

Earlier

+ How I ended up riding a bike as one of my primary ways of getting around town -- and how that's gone

+ Mapping out the future for an alternative transportation network in the Capital District

CDTA advertises on AOA.

Comments

Hallelujah.

Well said Greg.

I ride every day to work, and also after work for exercise. I love the concept of being a person who happens to ride a bike. There's a level of bike riding, with the high performance gear and sleek clothing, that makes riding seem like its not for everyone. I try to avoid markers like that, and always wear regular clothing/shoes/backpack with dumpy-looking bike. One concession is bike gloves.

Love this, thanks for taking the time to share your bike experience with us.

Great article. I think you are on to something with the protected bike lanes.
I recently moved back to the area from Manhattan. I remember One Friday out of the month, bike advocates would ride around Union Square and honk bike horns, and rattle bells to highlight the fact of sharing the road.
I recently starting bilking around Albany as my main mode of transport.
Is there an advocacy group, or organization that meets regularly to try and chart a more bike-friendly Capital District? Maybe even CDPHP would coordinate barriers with their bike-sharing service? Just some thoughts, I guess organizing a group would be the next step. If its already not in place. Thanks again, nice article.

Love this! Glad it's been going so well for you.
I'm wistful while reading - For 14 years my commute was 5 miles straight on Central Ave, from near the mall to midtown - I was never once brave enough to bike commute Central Ave during rush hour (or any hour - even the Colonie Police on bikes ride on the sidewalk).
While my new work site is across the city, I still live where any bike trip starts at Central Ave, unless I take my bike for a ride in the car...I'm chicken!

Hear, hear! I also would like to add how grateful I am for the bike path from the Port of Albany to Voorheesville. And I, too,encourage everyone to take the bus. Albany bus drivers are the kindest, most humane people in the Capital District.

As an avid biker and CDTA bus rider, incorporating the two modes of transportation into your journeys is truly effective, convenient and enjoyable. The CDTA is great for those extra long bike rides or indeed for when you're heading west from Downtown Albany and could use a boost up its huge hill. If you happen to bike out of Albany and puncture a tire or what have you, put your bike on their bike rack and the CDTA can take you and your bike back to your neighborhood safely or close to a bike shop where they can make the appropriate repairs.

There are a number of reasons why Canadian and European cities consistently top the charts in quality of life measurements. Effective and efficient public transportation, comprehensive bicycle infrastructure, sustainability, and innovative urban planning/design are some of the essentials that such cities get right. It is reassuring that progress is being made in Albany on the bike infrastructure and walkability of the city because the benefits far outweigh any cons! The environmental and health benefits are some of the biggest advantages you get out of biking.

Now, imagine if biking and green transportation existed in the culture of the city throughout all of its neighborhoods? Imagine if simple things like bike stands existed all throughout the city instead of the more visible places? Imagine if there was a better and safer way for bikers to bike from the outer-residential parts of Albany (SUNY Albany campus area, Dunes, Buckingham Lake, etc.) into Downtown? Imagine if Central Avenue had a proper bike lane? You'd be surprised to know how outdated many parts of Albany can be when it comes to these essentials. For example, if you wanted to bike to Westgate Plaza to do some errands, there's not a single bike stand around for you to lock up your bike, you have to resort to locking your bike up to the shopping cart garage.

Great observations in this article. Let's continue to move forward!

@John, check out https://albanybicyclecoalition.com/

I like the idea of protected lanes, but they would have to come with a commitment to properly maintain them. A protected lane that has garbage, rocks, people standing around in it, etc is not worth having. Regular cyclists will get tired of the obstacles and ride in the street, where they will face death threats for getting out of their protected lane.

Interesting conversation. I'm an avid rider - mostly long rides through the Catskills on the weekend but I do my fair share around Albany.

However, lest we forget - there are a myriad reasons why Dutch society feels more equal than America. (i.e. how do we view transportation modes akin to other hierarchies based on race or class?) I am not a believer that bike infrastructure in itself would change the way people interact with each other. Not in this America.

John-and anyone else who wants safer biking in the capital district. The Albany Bicycle Coalition is a cycling advocacy group that meets monthly in Albany. Check us out at https://albanybicyclecoalition.com/ Our meetings always welcome guests and (hopefully) new members.

Well done! Thank you!

Good for you Greg. I didn't start bike commuting until I was nearly 50. I'm still at it 10 years later. I wish I started earlier. I enjoy my commutes more and I have been putting that money I would have been paying into a second car into my retirement. I plan to retire earlier and healthier. As far as cycling in Albany is concerned it won't get better unless citizens push for it. Tell the mayor and your city, county and state legislators we need more bike lanes & multiuse paths, safer-protected bike lanes and the three-foot law.

When moving to Albany, I was excited about biking everywhere. However, after several months commuting to work by bike and running errands I gave up and went back to relying on the bus and walking. I never felt safe and had too many near misses for my liking, especially when I had my kid on the bike with me. I think the most surprising shock for me was that I often thought it was suburban drivers who would be the most hostile to my daring to ride a bike on the road, but it was actually a lot of city residents who gave me a lot grief. One guy backing out of his drive way nearly hit me and refused to believe he had an responsibility in needing to scout the road for bikers (or pedestrians for that matter) yelling at me to "use the special yellow bus if I can't drive." That was when I tucked my bike away for occasional weekend use.

I'm hoping the trends towards safer streets that appreciate all modes of use and the increase number of folks using bikes around the city will get me back in the biking game. However, I love using the bus, and the complimentary freedom of walking, and believe in supporting the CDTA system which has made excellent strides in efficiency and reliability (especially compared to similar sized and big city peers). If you don't use it, you'll loose it is my mindset, and think its a great asset that needs are support to keep progressing (especially in light of competition from ride hailing services).

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

What's All Over Albany?

All Over Albany is for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. In other words, it's for you. It's kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who can help you find out what's up. Oh, and our friends call us AOA.

Search

Recently on All Over Albany

A bunch of photos from this year's Santa Speedo Sprint on Lark Street

People wearing all sorts of holiday-themed attire -- festive speedos, pajamas, costumes, formal wear -- dashed down Lark Street Saturday for charity as part of... (more)

Farther off, down the block

Our conversation with Erik Schlimmer this week about his book of Albany street name histories set us off looking through the Albany Public Library's online... (more)

Touring the decked halls, virtually

Check it: There are 3D virtual tours of holiday greens show Hart-Cluett House in Troy and the holiday-decorated Ten Broeck Mansion in Albany. The... (more)

Not-so-wild salmon, and other supermarket fish stories as detailed by the state Attorney General

More than one-in-four fish samples from supermarket chains around the state that were collected in a state Attorney General's office investigation tested as a variety... (more)

Heavy Metal: Cast Iron Stoves from the Capital Region at the Albany Institute

As you'd expect, the collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art has its fair share of art. But it also has all sorts... (more)

Recent Comments

I just learned about the Woman's Club of Albany yesterday, during the Holiday House tour. It's a really large space that is chock full of character, and they rent it out for parties of the type Maureen is interested in.

A large, interesting party space in Albany?

...has 6 comments, most recently from sara l hotopp

Today's moment of winter

...has 1 comment, most recently from John O'Grady

Gawking at the @HudsonPark residential conversion in Albany

...has 9 comments, most recently from Peter

Family business

...has 1 comment, most recently from ethan

First Day Hikes

...has 1 comment, most recently from bb