Finally some human locomotion! In the words of the recent Quaker Oats ad campaign: go humans go! This week we are in the saddle pedaling our way wherever we need to go. Unfortunately for me, today that meant to Evergreen. You see, riding is just fine for me as long as it happens around downtown. But, as I think I’ve mentioned before, downtown is downtown. To get out of it, you have to go up. Up steep hills. To get to campus I needed to climb the Westside hill. I have barely ridden a bike at all since my pretty Giant road bike was stolen more than six months ago. Which is to say, I’m relatively out of shape and intimidated by the steep hills. I curse the Netherlands and Denmark for their flatness! (These two countries are often cited as the most biker-friendly.) 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have access to my girlfriend’s city bike. It’s a Nishiki that is probably about thirty years old. It’s very pretty in that retro-bicyclist style, but the gear shifter is broken so you have to hold it in place with your fingers to avoid staying in the most difficult of its three gears. 

I rode up the Fifth Avenue bridge without much difficulty but by the time I made it to the bottom of Harrison I needed to catch my breath. I needed a second break halfway up Harrison hill. Finally I was up the hill and it was fairly smooth sailing the rest of the way to campus. 

Unfortunately the Nishiki is a little bit too small for me so I was never able to fully extend my legs to get the proper power and comfort. For anyone who plans to commute by bicycle: your commute will be a hell of a lot easier if your bike fits! 

The seven mile ride to campus took me about forty minutes. What surprised me was the trip back home, without having to climb insane hills, was almost exactly the same length. 

There are two ways I can think of beating the hills to get out of downtown. The first comes from a friend’s father. His view is that bicycling up a steep hill will only hurt the first twenty-five times. After that you’ll be used to it and you won’t notice. I guess that’s the human solution. The second solution is the technological fix as devised by the Norwegians:

 

If we only had a couple of these lifts, I think many, many more people would ride into and out of downtown Olympia. For a casual bicyclist, these lifts would effectively flatten the hills. The first place I would install a lift would be going up the hill to the Westside on Fourth Ave, just beyond the first roundabout. After that I would put one up somewhere on the Eastside hill, then up to the county courthouse. After all, the goal is to make sustainable transportation attractive and accessible for everyone, right? 

The current technological fix is to strap your bike on the front of an Intercity Transit bus and get off at the top of the hill. I did not try this angle today as I was determined to only ride my bicycle. In the past I have focused on trying to get up the hill only with the buses that go to the college which almost always have their bike racks full. Because I haven’t been able to rely on these routes I have given up on the system. Perhaps if I expanded my options to include all the buses going up Harrison, it would work better. Maybe Intercity Transit could even set up a waiting station at the bottom of the bridge to formalize a strategy of getting bicyclists up the hill. 

Another bicycling issue that has been bugging me has been the layout of bike lanes. Thurston County has four classes of bike routes. I would like to focus on the Class II Bike Lane a “4-5 foot, paved and striped lane marked specifically for bicycles.” These are the bike lanes that you see along side some of the wider roads. I would that instead of having the bicycles next to the cars, they have them next to the pedestrians, hopefully blocked by parked cars. It should look like this:

I grew up riding in traffic and sometimes I worry that I get too confident for my own safety. I wouldn’t have to worry about my safety so much if there was more of a buffer between bicyclists and car drivers.

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