Archive for the ‘City Hall’ Category

Fallen Poll Soldier

January 20th, 2010

I got a battlefield promotion yesterday, as the Boston elections trainers had said often happens. Our warden left right after the polls opened, not breathing well and shirt cascading with sweat. So the number two, the lieutenant, the clerk took over.

Many who know me say I can be intimidating. I snicker at that. True, I am big and I do look folk right in the eye, but I am fairly shy and was raised with Southern politeness. I am prone to let others bluster rather than mark my territory or shout anyone down.

Asked a few time before whether I was interested in a wardenship, I said I was comfortable as an inspector (the bulk of poll workers are inspectors or inspector/interpreters)  or clerk. I would just as soon have avoided the extra warden responsibilities and interactions.

It turns out what I was avoiding wasn’t so bad and might be a bit easier than the clerk duties. The primary things I had evaded played off my shyness:

  • Troubleshooting potential voters who don’t appear in the voter list (that book inspectors use to check addresses and names), are on the list as inactive or requiring ID, or otherwise exceptions.
  • Locating voters in the city database and directing them to the proper polling location or getting them plugged back in if they have been deleted.
  • Toning down the irate who swear (often incorrectly) they had voted at that place recently, had returned the annual voter census, or otherwise entitled, damn it, to vote then and there.

The Savage Breast

Not surprisingly, my upbringing has me well suited for the latter duty. My mother ran Red Cross chapters, which are similar to polling places in a key aspect. Many volunteers are like potential voters in feeling a strong entitlement to be there and do their thing. Anything that disrupts  the seamless operation is an insult. I watched her deal with the difficult and pleasant alike and learned how to do it on my own in volunteer organizations as well as  my work.

It comes in handy as a warden. A calm and gracious explanation of the problems and resolutions turns the voter/warden contact from adversarial to cooperative. No one left unhappy yesterday, even those whom I worked with to fill out the two-page provisional ballots and affirmation of residence forms.

There were others whom I told could not vote that day. Elections had deleted one for not voting for five years and not returning the confirmation letter saying he wanted to remain on the voter list. Others had moved three or more times in the previous two years, some form as far as Mansfield, and had not registered in Boston or not registered in time. Each sat and filled in a new voter-reg card and left content. Our work is done here, Tonto.

With the tales of City Hall shortcomings common chatter at places like the men’s locker room at the WR YMCA, I was repeatedly pleased at the competence and thoroughness of the Elections staff and their database. Using ID such as a driver’s license on my end, the saints downtown located every voter with cues such as date of birth. That was true even for the nomadic sorts with multiple tent locations over short periods.

Sometimes the phone call lead to a redirection to a previous polling spot. Others meant that reg card for future elections.

Sort of Voting

The most strained and strangest process makes sense and may be necessary but is convoluted. Provisional ballots let questionable voters prepare a ballot and sort of cast it. If Elections and the warden cannot be positive that someone really qualify by residence and registration, they fill out several forms — swearing they are who they say and live where they say. Then, they mark their ballot, put it in a sealed envelope. The warden has assigned it a unique number, marked on the form that goes to Elections, on the envelope, and on the take-away form the voter gets, as well as recording the voter’s information on a list. That night or soon after, Elections staff evaluates each ballot in light of the available data to decide whether to count the vote. The voter gets a number to call on the take-away form that coupled with the ward and precinct and unique number can let Elections say whether the vote counted.

Whew. I admire those who cared enough about the process and their role in it to go through their work in preparing their provisional vote.

At the end of the polling day, the clerk and warden diverge again. Closing duties  for the clerk include filling out the detailed clerk’s book that she or he has updated all day. That has detailed tabulations of ballots as well as checklists and records of virtually every anomaly.

Closing Time

The warden ends up as the key master.  In Boston, the main voting machine in a precinct is the AccuVote terminal. The same company makes this and the AccuMARK assistive ballot preparing equipment that we use. Locked throughout the day, it tracks and stores every ballot inserted and is the linchpin of the clerical part of our ballot integrity.

Warden duties at the end of voting include:

  • Retrieving the AccuVote key from the police officer on duty
  • Opening the side compartment where any unscanned ballots feed (reinsert those and hand count them if they fail again)
  • Unlocking the front panel, insert the bar-coded sheet that stops the machine while simultaneously pushing two YES/NO buttons, and generate three copies of ballot summaries.
  • Having  poll workers and the officer sign the summaries, and posting one on the wall for public viewing next to the one with zero totals for ballots and each candidate from the morning, one in the clerk’s book, and one taped to the machine.
  • Removing the actual machine (about the size of an attache case) and placing it with its cord in a case for the officer to take to Elections.
  • Opening the stand for the machine to remove any write-in ballots from one compartment for hand recording and the mass of ballots from the other compartment. Those can be quickly examined for any write-ins that the scanner did not catch or the voter did not smear the write-in oval, and shuffled into marked envelopes for the officer to take to Elections.

Off the oddments  — spoiled ballots, provisional ballots and forms, voter reg cards, absentee ballot envelope and such also go into a large pouch that the officer delivers to Elections along with the machine, the clerk’s book and the keys to both voting and ballot marking machines.

For folk who see each other twice a year or less, there is an impressive efficiency at closing. There are many obvious exceptions like problems on the voter list throughout the day that the electorate notices. The setup and closing happen where the officer and custodian are the only witnesses.

I confess that I too have been known to carp about Registry and City Hall inefficiencies. Perhaps it is my closeness to the elections process and roll as a minor official in Boston’s voting army, but I have no complaints about how they handle and prepare for massive one-day pushes.

The undone business from yesterday has little to do with the election. All of us on our team want to know how our stricken warden fared. His cell went to voice immediately in numerous tries and he didn’t call those whose numbers he took. That’s an issue not in the training manual.

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Call Me Squeaky

November 25th, 2009

Ribbon RackAt the West Roxbury YMCA today, one of the desk staff sought me to say excitedly that a Ribbon Rack® was on the way. He said the Y had applied to the city for a bike rack in the parking lot and had heard back that there’s one coming in the spring when the weather warms enough to make it practical to install.

I am, after all, the jerk (maybe squeaky wheel or crank) who had a fit about the old rack. Not only did it not suit bikes after the 1970s, but when they had the lot repaved, it ended up nearly useless against a brick wall.

My mom would be proud that I am carrying on her example. She had little patience with inefficiency or stupidity when it affects others. She’s dead several years now, but lives through me in this way at least.

The existing badly reinstalled bad rack actively discourages bikers. Setting aside the contradiction of driving a few miles to exercise to stay or get fit, I figure it can work the other way. The Y has two parking lots, often full, with spillover into adjacent residential streets. When cyclists discover a conveniently located, sensibly installed and easy to use rack, with my bike and a couple of others, they are likely to be inspired to spin 2 to 5 miles instead of driving.

I’ll report on the effects come spring.

Oh, yes, and the requisite praise should go to the city’s bike coordinator, Nicole Freedman, and Mayor Tom Menino to, if you pardon, driving this rack program.

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Lackaday, No Bike Cops

July 31st, 2009

Sunny weather and a jolly convoy from the bottom of JP to City Hall Plaza marked today’s Bike Friday. The missing element was the toy joy of having bicycle cops lead the convoys from neighborhoods and burbs.

There’s one more such event this year, August 28th. Check the site for convoy routes and times. When you arrive, expect too much free food, plus one to two dozen tents of bike organizations. Several bike shops will check and lube your bike on the spot for free too.

Mayor in his elementOur new well inculcated in cycling Mayor Tom Menino loves this stuff. He claims to bike daily at 5 a.m. from his Readville home in the Hyde Park neighborhood. In our Left Ahead! interview, he couldn’t restrain himself from talking bike either, adding that he wish he had started cycling 20 years ago.

On Bike Fridays, he show and talks and walks and shake hands. Today, he  glad-handed all comers.

Alas though, we were missing those bicycle cop escorts described in a previous post. City Bicycle Coordinator (a.k.a. bike czarina) Nicole Freedman told me this morning that they were a casualty of budget and rules changes.

She says that the city bicycle police are no longer allowed to cross district lines. That makes leading a convoy even less than 10 miles from, say, Readville logistically impossible.


Number two son and I rode in from the start of the start of the Lallement Bikepath along the Southwest Corridor. Doug Mink led about 20 of us into town. It pleasant enough and there was camaraderie to spare. However, no cops leapt off their bikes in intersections to keep us safe. No one had lights or sirens on his bike.

I shouldn’t whine. To most of these bike events, I’m too impatient to wait for and then stay with a convoy. I bike into downtown all the time and it’s quicker and more direct to tool on in solo.

Going at the slow pace was nice today. Several impatient commuters on bikes rolled past and greeted us. Every year I ride around town, I see more of them. I believe Menino and Freedman when they say that we are slowing getting momentum to turn our town into a cycling one.


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Duty to Disgrace

June 11th, 2009

Boston City HallAren’t reporter types supposed to humiliate and befuddle political interviewees? I have lost or mitigated that instinct. Maybe I’ve been a UU too long or have fallen back on my Southern heritage too cozily.

In recent podcast interviews with three candidates for Boston mayor, I have relied on our standard method instead. We have one person at a time, with no surprise guests and no trick, gotcha questions.

I try to keep real political posts off Harrumph! So if you are looking for those interviews, click to Left Ahead for Sam Yoon, Michael Flaherty and Kevin McCrea.

The issue of the obligations of the interviewer have fluttered in my mind since watching Frost/Nixon recently.  Like the related turning points of All the President’s Men, I thrill when the good guys have a breakthrough.

Yet, from my newspaper days of high school, college and professional, I know too well that the vast majority of news and analysis simply doesn’t offer the possibilities of great moments, sudden revelations and confessions. As much as blathering cable-new talking heads pretend the trivial is the pivotal, the typical story, as young folk like to say, is what it is.

Sometimes though, even in my blogging and podcasting persona, I smell the arena and hope for verbal combat. I anticipated that when I booked soon-to-be-disgraced Sen. Dianne Wilkerson on our show. She backed out and would not be interviewed by us or anyone.

Instead of the theatrical and even vicious, over at Left Ahead, we try to go for the much more low-key insightful. We are, after all, three progressive sorts who share similar political goals, even though we differ on some.

I suppose that’s maturity, even if less exciting than the figurative spurting jugular from the perfect ambush question. Thus, I really appreciate Chris Lovett’s shows over at Neighborhood Network News for many of the same reasons. He’s no drama queen trying to lure a news figure into some snare. He asks well focused and researched questions that leave the viewer with a much keener sense of the guest and topic. I love it.

Given the chance with a crooked pol, I’d surely rise (or sink) to the occasion. I’d go against my upbringing as I did as a reporter and go for the real story. Week to week though, we don’t see that.

It looks like we’ll get incumbent Mayor Tom Menino on soon. He certainly doesn’t fall in the crook class, but there are obvious sensitive areas for a man who is infamous for hating to be criticized. (He supposedly doesn’t like that criticism either.)

I’d be happy to have him explain what he wants to do in a 17th through 20th years that he was unable to in the last 16 as mayor. That’s probably far more meaningful to voters than trying to corner him on one of the stereotypical points. Rather, we put on our voter clothes and wonder what we get if we keep this guy in office.

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Bikes Spring Pointers

June 2nd, 2009

Like wheels attached to my butt, cycling has been a joy. I’ve been back on a bike for over a month following the broken leg/surgery and I’ve discovered a fab plain-folk cycling maggy.

I’ll grant my surgeons the doubt. Let’s say not that they were blowing smoke, but that they under-promised so that I could over-deliver.  When they told me I wouldn’t be able to be back on the saddle until September and that I wouldn’t want to spin the wheels until December, they let me prove them wrong.

I targeted May 15th for a ride to Boston’s City Hall Plaza for the Bay State Bike Week hooha.  In early April when I was just barely able to lift my repaired leg onto the stationary bike-like-object at the gym, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to do it, certainly not kick out of the pedals with my still shattered fibula. I had sent an email to our biking czarina, Nicole Freedman, apologizing in advance.

Well, I wheel more slowly than before, but I hit the road, figuratively, to the Blue Hills, Wellesley, downtown Beantown, and for arrogance and joy, every trip to the physical therapist. So, come that Friday, number two son and I biked downtown.

Nicole is savvy about promotion and passionate about biking. She was funneling folk with any kind of salable tale to Bill Nesson, who teaches visual and media arts at Emerson College. We got a chance to be simultaneously self-absorbed and bike enchanted. Maybe it was the endorphins from cycling in to the plaza. See one of our clips here.

Meanwhile, on that other coast, Momentum magazine is having way too much fun. Number one son found it first and talked up the Facebook group for it.  Join that to get their very frequent updates to online issues, features and events. For the Myers-Briggs S types, the print version is also widely available at bike shops. I grabbed the current one at Community Bicycle Supply in Boston’s South End Saturday.

Unlike the hardcore gear-head slick pubs, Momentum covers cycling in different towns, bike shop, books, safety classes, and a virtually any style of commuting, distance, off-road and other biking. It’s for people and not for pros or Peter Pan types in $200 jerseys. Good on ’em.

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Ahab on Two Wheels

April 25th, 2009

Ten weeks — near an eternity to the impatient — after the surgery to repair my tib/fib break, I was on a bicycle. This was not the stationary bike-like object in the gym, rather my splendid Motobecane Grand Sprint.

By way of encouragement to others healing from titanium rod insertion, I did okay, although I could feel the unsureness of being back in traffic and wondering whether I could kick out and put a foot down as needed.

As I benefited from reading how people deal with their recovery, I urge working the muscles, both to strengthen them and to keep the blood bringing minerals, oxygen and other goodies to the broken and maimed internal parts.

My empirically based judgment on a single trip was that it was enough of a push to feel I had done something meaningful. Emotionally, it was huge to expand my functioning.

With a nod to Dave Barry, this was Ahab on two wheels (a good name for a rock band). I have set aside my cane. That is, I admit, a bit of a pretense. I could as easily continued using it for the sense of stability, but I prefer thumping along without it. Plus, I get to hear acquaintances exclaim how great I’m doing in my recovery, particularly those show last saw me with a walker or two crutches.

For the info of those recovering, I had a pretty slow paced ride of moderate length, 14 miles. It includes some rolling hills and one very steep one of about a mile. Before starting, I made a deal with myself that a lot of pain would trigger a turn around.

Going up the big hill on Unquity road, I slowed considerably. I probably fell back to 10 or 11 MPH up the steepest section and dropped to my middle crank wheel and lowest back gear.

A 20-something Spandex prince passed me on the steepest incline. I figure he was doing maybe 4 MPH faster. Figuring also that he is 30 to 40 years younger and not recovering from leg surgery, I was amused rather than annoyed or competitive. This has been a good side-effect from the break and recovery. I am picky about what upsets me and I am in control of what I react to now.

The speedy guy was a very look-at-me sort too. He was riding one of the $4,000 or higher Tour class bikes. His jersey and shorts were high-priced models covered with professional sponsor names. I hope for his sake he never slows enough for someone to pass him.

Back home, I showered, letting the hot water work the knee. It is a bit sore, but not really painful. I slathered the knee with Tiger Balm. It appears there’ll be no penalty for this little push.

Moreover, Bay State Bike Week (née Boston Bike Week) starts May 11th, with the festival on City Hall Plaza May 15th. Then, there’ll be a series of Bike Fridays with their own mini-festivals and group rides.

Back here in Woodbourne, cost center two returns from college in a few weeks. I had warned him that we would likely not be able to resume our father/son bike rides. After all, until last week, the surgeons predicted I wouldn’t be on a bike until September and wouldn’t really feel like pedaling until December.

My first physical therapy session won’t be for three weeks. They surely will be able to show me exercises to increase flexibility and decrease my remaining limp. I intend to bike over though and set the starting point.

So, if my little universe of one is any indication, I urge those recovering to push the possible and make it likely.

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Face Time with My Councilor

April 13th, 2009

John Tobin CD symbolI suspect my District Councilor is better than yours. Mine, John Tobin in District 6, not only is very responsive, but he has roving office hours.

Today’s was at J.P. Licks. It was a bit early for a sundae, but they have good coffee there (and free wireless). He announces his City Hall, District Office and coffee-shop hours on his website.

He shows with an aide to help with any followup. This time was more check-in and social, but December’s visit with him got my neighborhood a much-needed stop sign.

John seems totally lacking in guile. Combined with my candor, we get along fine, with no one playing any social games.

Today for example, one of my questions was how tense City Hall and Council were with two Councilors and an activist running against the almost certain to re-run Mayor Tom Menino. Tobin laughed and said there were no open conflicts, much less fights. However, the added that the atmosphere was pretty strange.

For example, at a recent city budget hearing in a small room, both mayoral hopeful At-large City Councilors, Sam Yoon and Michael Flaherty, joined the mayor, as did Kevin McCrea.  It was an open meeting; any of us could have attended. Four who will surely be in a heated battle did. It must be more fun to be a detached Councilor like Tobin who is only running for re-election for his own seat, while being able to watch the theater before him. This can only get better.

Back to the ice-cream shop hours, I am not aware of other Councilors who do this.  District 7’s version has told everyone repeatedly how wonderful he is that he maintains a District Office. Well, John Tobin does that and ratchets it up a notch with a temporary office in another part of his district. You should ask yours to do so.

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Miracle on Bourne Street

December 15th, 2008

…a very little miracle…

The signage elves came this morning. Six days after requesting a constituent service from my city councilor, it was done.

We had driving rain for two days and bitter cold for several others. Yet, my little miracle happened.

I am new to this and am impressed by John Tobin and Anna Sylvester’s work. I might conclude that he gets things done. I might also conclude that I should occasionally ask for the easily achievable. Probably both are right.

I am wont here and on other blogs to speak for high-minded and expansive aims, for righting big wrongs. I think a stop-sign replacement holds a lesson for me.

The short of this includes:

  • A couple of years ago, some driver sheared the stop sign post.
  • Rather than do the right thing, the city crew put the old sign on the street-sign pole at Bourne and Walk Hill Streets.
  • The stop sign was then obscured by the fence until Northbound drivers on busy Bourne Street were literally on it. They stopped in the intersection, blocking it and stranding left turning cars and bikes facing Walk Hill traffic bearing on them.
  • Seeing Councilor Tobin for his coffee-shop hours, I asked on the way out what city agency I should ask for a replacement.
  • He said he and his aide would do it.
  • They did.

sign.jpgI guess they came from good stock too. Sylvester sent me email saying she had requested a replacement post back 15 feet from Walk Hill were the old one was. She also mailed a hand-written note saying it was in the works. Also Councilor Tobin and I swapped a couple of short emails.

Seeing local cynics, particularly in the Herald,  I wondered whether this would become an amusing avocation. I planned to report on the progress and when the crew finally showed to photograph them and see how long it took.

Well, that’s not going to happen. Howie Carr or those other old rich kids masquerading as working-class champions aside, I rolled up Bourne this morning to see the new sign in the old place.

I watched five motor vehicles. They all did the typical Boston stop — that is rolling half a length past the stop-sign before stopping. However, because the sign is a car-length back from Walk Hill, they weren’t actually blocking people turning and were safer in spite of themselves.

I had asked for a stop line, which Sylvester said she’d request. I’m sure that would be part of a batch job when a crew is out re-striping around here next.

That would be another visual cue to stop short of where moms with strollers walk and old men such as I bike. In concert, the sign is now visible two blocks away, no longer hidden by  the privacy fence.

I view this like when I taught swimming. We learned to tell beginners to keep their legs straight in the flutter kick. The best kick is really slightly bent legged, but say that and most people would practically put their heels in the middle of their backs. It’s better to use a little trick and end up with the right thing. Likewise, a stop sign 15 feet before the street gives people the sense they are on the edge in half-way passing the sign when they are where you want them.

So, there’s no tale of a negligent Councilor. There are no absentee public works employees. There’s nothing but good to report.

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Beantown = Bike Town?

December 5th, 2008

On Wednesday, the 17th, we get Nicole Freedman on the Left Ahead! podcast. She’s Boston’s bike czar, with the unenviable task of changing us from bike unfriendly.

Freedman and MeninoIt’s good that Mayor Tom Menino got behind cycling. It’s great that he named such a driven person to head this effort.

She’s taken the best from Cambridge’s solid cycling programs, as she described at the Moving Together conference two months ago.  There was no doubt she was starting from way behind, but she developed a master plan and is attacking it like it was a race.

She’ll talk to us about some of the things we’ve seen. That includes bike lanes whenever a street gets restriped or resurfaced. Not only does that increase cyclist safety, but it also gets drivers to start thinking of bikes and sharing the road.

She’s targeted some easy efforts — figuring out where bike racks will help and putting them there, some harder ones — cages at major T stops and bus bike racks on crosstown routes, and will tell us what her most serious challenges are.

Maybe you’re like me who bikes whenever you can. Maybe you’d bike more if you felt safer doing it. Maybe you wonder why anyone would even think of biking in Boston. Regardless, Freedman is worth a listen.

You can hear the live stream 12/17 at 2:30 p.m. or check Left Ahead! for the podcast later.

Boston Arriving, One Bike Lane at a Time

October 15th, 2008

alhi.jpg As is my wont, I went to the annual Moving Together Conference. I’ll post some lore learned and some observations.

The first useful snippet came from Boston’s director of bicycle programs, Nicole Freedman, a.k.a. bike czar. She shared a session with Cara Seiderman, her Cambridge counterpart. There will be more on their show later, but the first thing to note is that Seiderman is the pro and we are the farm team. Freedman is working to change that.

Cambridge in an order of magnitude ahead of Boston in bike accommodation. We are still largely in the hatin’-them-Spandex-dudes cliché class. This is despite Mayor Tom Menino’s relatively new rotary joy.

Cambridge has bike lanes seemingly everywhere. They treat cyclists with respect and responsibility. Hell, they even ticket bike guys who run stop signs.

Freedman, the former Olympic and world champion biker, is, if nothing else, competitive. She wants us up and out quickly, chasing Seiderman’s rear wheel.

The former failed, fired bike czar, Doug Mink, was there as usual too. Freedman notes with affection and respect that he developed the major cycling plan she uses. Through circumstances and personalities downtown, he just didn’t get a chance to implement it. His office was dissolved; he was robbed.

She can point to many quick successes, maybe because we started from zero. That was zero bike lanes, almost no public bike racks and on and on. It’s facilities that encourage cycling and we didn’t have any.

nicolef.jpgFreedman is a perky and jolly sort. She notes with glee that she can and does plagiarize freely. Cities like Cambridge, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle have done what we need to. She’ll take the best and avoid their stumbles.

Here, I’ll point to bike lanes. They make cycling more desirable. Cyclists ride the direct routes, which generally means the main thoroughfares and not the buckled and often slow and few paths. She’s trying to use efficiency, common sense, and cheapness, while obeying the laws.

As noted in some of the earlier years’ postings on this conference, when a road gets rehabbed or even re-striped, it has to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists unless that is wildly impractical (like stone walls in the country). That’s required to get the state and federal highway funds. Freeeman is doing her damnedest to make sure that really happens and cycling considerations don’t get waivered out.

An example of her what’s-possible and low-hanging fruit is bike paths. A few major avenues, primarily around the central fist of the city and near universities, have already gotten them. Another is in the shot above, American Legion Highway in Roslindale.

This two-plus-mile stretch of the pretty straight thoroughfare is known as a death highway in my parts of JP. There are quite a few pathetic carnival-class plush animals in colors that have never appeared in nature. Tied to phone or light posts, these memorial artifacts mark where some late night or early morning drunken or drugged up driver raced down the road before careering into a tree or median.

It has four broad lanes with trees in the middle and on each curb. Now it suddenly has a bike lane next to each curb running from Walk Hill to Blue Hill. In typical Bostons fashion, if you bike to Walk Hill Street, you’re on your own from there, but let us praise two miles of relative safety.

The stripes went down in a recent resurfacing. As you regular readers know, I can quibble, as in:

  • There are no markings or signs of any type indicating what the bike lanes are.
  • Drivers don’t get it and many encroach into the lanes.
  • Neither side has NO PARKING signs, and many cars use the Blue Hill end by Franklin Park as a parking lane, endangering both cars and bikes.
  • The newish 30 MPH limit is, shall we say, not fully in the public consciousness. Biking the route today, I estimate that the average speed was 45, with many going faster.
  • Cyclists don’t yet know it is there.
  • It’s not the best example of where people live to where they want to travel.
  • The bike lanes are broad, as in the picture at Walk Hill (click for a larger view) where they piggyback on a bus zone, but narrow in the Northern region to perhaps 3 or 3.5 feet, not really adequate.
  • The travel lanes are quite broad and should have each given another foot to the bike lane to make it safe.

All those listed, I’m delighted to see it and shall use it more. It whets the cycling appetite for accommodation.