Why Bike to Trinity? Interview by Alex Perez

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Alex Perez, a Hartford bike advocate and Trinity College student, interviewed me for his blog, Two-Wheeled Hartford, and my responses are re-posted below, with additional photos.

Jack Dougherty's bike parking spot at Trinity College
Jack Dougherty’s favorite bike parking spot in McCook Hall at Trinity College

Why do you choose to commute to Trinity by bike?

“There are so many different reasons to bike to work. One is that I’m always trying to lose weight, since I spend so much time in front of a computer. My time is limited, so it makes more sense to exercise on my way to and from Trinity, rather than driving somewhere else to exercise. Another reason is that parking a car at Trinity can be a nightmare, but there’s always room to park my bike. Even on those days when someone else has taken “my” favorite bike parking spot, I’m smiling inside because it means travel by two wheels is becoming more popular. It’s always easier to make more room for parking bikes than cars on campus. Still, another reason to bike is that you see and hear so much more around you than from inside a car. Biking sets the right pace for me to notice what’s changing as I pedal through different neighborhoods, or to say hello to kids and crossing guards along my route. But the most important reason is that I’m having fun. For me, the best way to end a long day at Trinity is to hop on my bike, zip down the hill, and silently shout ‘WHEEEEE!’ to myself as I ride away from campus. Makes me feel like a kid again.”

I smile when this Trinity parking lots starts to fill up.
I smile when this Trinity College parking lots starts to fill up.

2) How long have you been commuting to Trinity by bike?

“For me, biking to work has been a gradual process that changed with my family responsibilities. A decade ago, I rode only occasionally to work during the summer months. As my children grew old enough to ride on my bike’s child seat (or trailer bike, or the back half of our tandem), I began cycling more often when the weather was good, because I could drop them off or pick them up at child care and elementary school. Now that my youngest is a teenager, I ride to Trinity about 3-4 times per week during most of the year. But I don’t ride every day. When the forecast calls for heavy rain, or tall snowbanks block my visibility, I drive my 1998 Honda Odyssey minivan, which has over 190,000 miles on the odometer. Riding your bike to work also cuts down on car payments.”

Riding with daughter Eva in 2004
Riding with daughter Eva on a trailer bike in 2004, when I began cycling to work

3) What are your thoughts on getting around Hartford by cycling? Any major obstacles during your commutes?

“To comfortably ride your bike, you need to feel safe about traveling on two wheels. To some degree, safety comes from creating bike lanes and passing laws to protect riders, which we’re seeing more from local governments and bike advocacy groups. (For example, cyclists from West Hartford and other suburbs often are surprised by the growing number of bike lanes in the City of Hartford.) But your personal sense of safety also increases by trying new routes and expanding your comfort zone. I’ve learned so much about cycling around the Hartford region from official tours (such as the BikeWalkCT Discover Hartford and Discover CT series) and informal group rides (such as the wonderful HTFD Slow Roll events). Exploring new paths by bike, especially with more experienced friends, helps us to grow and learn what’s possible. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun.”

To see Hartford on two wheels, join us for a Slow Roll event
To see different sides of Hartford on two wheels, join us on a Slow Roll event

4) What suggestions do you have for making the campus and/or the city more bike friendly?

“I’m impressed by the energy of Hartford’s brand-new bike shop, BiCiCo, a Spanish abbreviation for Bicicleta Comunidad (or Bicycle Community). This non-profit organization recently opened its doors at 95-97 Park Street, and currently provides do-it-yourself workspace and build-a-bike training, with retail sales/repairs to come. Thanks to its parent organization, the Center for Latino Progress, and their youth program coordinator, Tony Cherolis, BiCiCo has raised thousands of dollars through grants and affordable memberships. Plus, it’s a happening place. Over the past week, my daughter Eva and I visited three times to build her next bike from used parts, and we met more than a dozen members (including Trinity Professor Dario Del Puppo, who taught us how to replace the fork of a bike). With the growing number of riders on campus, I wonder if the Trinity community would be interested in a one-hour basic bike repair workshop on campus, or student memberships at BiCiCo.”

Tony, my daughter Eva, and new members we met at BiCiCo
Tony, my daughter Eva, and a few of the new members we met at BiCiCo

“PS to Alex: A few years ago, there was a left-turn green arrow at the northbound stoplight on Zion Street at Hamilton Street, near the base of Summit Street. For some reason, someone turned off this arrow, which makes it much harder to turn left on a bike, when facing oncoming traffic, to head toward Pope Park. Do you know anyone at City Hall who can bring it back?”

Join the New Britain bike tour on Sunday, Sept 27th

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DiscoverCT2015Come join us in New Britain on Sunday, September 27th, 2015, for the second installment of the Discover Connecticut Bike Tour, co-sponsored by BikeWalkCT and the New Britain Museum of American Art. This is a family-friendly event, not a race, with options for 10, 25, and 50 miles rides. The registration fee also includes brunch at the museum! I’ll be riding as a marshal/mobile mechanic to help folks in case of flat tires.  Learn more details and register for this event.

Check out the 10, 25, and 50 mile routes on this mobile-friendly interactive map that works on all computer and smartphone browsers. See the full-screen view, or type this shortlink into your browser: bit.ly/bikenewbrit

On Sunday, several of us tested the ride with the Bike New Britain organizers, Mark Hoffman and Bruce Miller, who have planned out routes that take us on bike lanes, wide roads, and parks around the city.

Tracy and Ethan Frankel met up for the practice ride at the New Britain Museum of American Art
Tracy and Ethan Frankel and others met at the New Britain Museum of American Art
The 25-mile route passes by Rogers Orchards and their apple cider donuts
The 25-mile route passes by Rogers Orchards and their apple cider donuts
All of the routes link up with the CTfastrak multi-use trail
All of the routes link up with the CTfastrak multi-use trail

The map above is also a mobile-friendly map that works on any smartphone, with no special app required—see more details further below.Before the ride begins:

  1. Type this shortlink into your browser:
  2. Turn on Location Services (your GPS locator) in your smartphone browser.
    – For iPhone: Settings > Privacy > Location Services > On (for Safari browser)
    – For Android: *instructions to come*
  3. If you get lost, pull off the road to location where you can safely use your smartphone, and click the “Show my location” button.

    Show My Location button in iPhone browser
    Show My Location button in iPhone view
  4. Optional: Save the link to your phone as a bookmark, or add to your home screen.
    – For iPhone: Press the “send” icon in the bottom center of your Safari browser, and either “Add Bookmark” or “Add to Home Screen.”

    iPhone send button
    iPhone send button
    iPhone buttons to save link
    iPhone buttons to save link

    – For Android: *instructions to come*

This web map is designed to supplement paper maps and cue sheets, not to replace them. This web map does NOT provide turn-by-turn directions. The mobile version requires a smartphone with GPS and internet service.  Always watch the road when biking, not your phone. If you need to use the web map during a ride, pull off to the side to view it safely. Remember that this is a free web tool, with no guarantee nor warranty.

To learn more about the open-source code, and how to modify or embed a map for your bike organization’s website, see http://bit.ly/bikemapcode or email me.

Discover West Hartford 2015, with Ideas for 2016

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DiscoverCT2015BikeWalkCT sponsored a Discover West Hartford bike tour on Saturday June 6th, 2015, the first of a new series of group rides in Connecticut. Riders had the option of an 11, 25, or 50 mile loop, and the staggered start times were designed to bring everyone back around the same time to the Celebrate West Hartford event. Thanks to Rick Thibodeau and many volunteers from Bike West Hartford, this was a well-organized event with over 200 participants (and perhaps more). Here’s some lessons I learned while riding as a marshall/mobile mechanic with the 25-mile tour.

Rob Dexter preparing to co-ead the 50-mile tour.
Rob Dexter preparing to co-lead the 50-mile tour.

Show safe and scenic routes to newer riders and they’ll come back for more.
While pedaling with the pack, my standard question was, “What’s something that you’ve never biked on before today?” The most common reply was that everything was new and different. Our 25-mile route took people through Elizabeth Park, down Quaker Lane to the Trout Brook Trail, and around Wood Pond, around the Cornerstone Recreation Area to the MDC Reservoir, then up Mountain Road and behind Bugbee School to the Center. Most of the cyclists I met had never biked on Trout Brook Trail (currently a tiny, beautiful route behind the Elmwood Community Center, which the Town is gradually expanding north to Albany Avenue). Some told me that they had never seen Wood Pond, despite living in West Hartford for several years. And while I’ve been biking around here for about a decade, the route took me on several roads in the Buena Vista area that I had never ridden nor driven on beforehand.

To help cyclists visualize the routes, I created an interactive map on the Bike West Hartford site (see below) and shared this shortlink to it (http://bit.ly/bikemapwh). Click “View Full Screen” and press the Layers icon to select the 11, 25, or 50-mile route. It’s mobile-friendly and works on smartphones, too, and you also can press the Marker icon to find your current location. The map runs on open-source code, which BikeWalkCT or anyone is welcome to copy, modify, and host on their own website. If you prefer turn-by-turn cue sheets, see the BikeWalkCT links to RideWithGPS for the 11-mile, 25-mile, and 50-mile routes. Also, the organizers handed out helpful paper guides and maps at the event, which could easily be uploaded to the website as a resource for riders unable to join us.

Explore this interactive map of the 11-25-50 mile Discover West Hartford routes

Continually educate cyclists about making our community a better place to ride. 
Our best cycling organizations do an incredible amount of behind-the-scenes advocacy to persuade local and state governments to improve routes for safe riding. One week before the event, I participated in a pre-ride for volunteer marshals, and heard up-to-date info on several biking initiatives from experienced advocates. But we did not have an effective way to communicate this information to the 200+ riders at the event or to mobilize their support. Next time, we could hand out a one-page advocacy sheet to riders at the finish line. Even better, we could ask riders to share their ideas on video at the end point, and ask them “what did you learn today?” and “what worked well and what could be improved about biking around West Hartford?”

At the finish line, Tracey and Ethan organized the Bike Corral for riders to enjoy the fair.
At the finish line, Tracey and Ethan organized the Bike Corral for riders to enjoy the fair.

Create easy ways to bring families with young cyclists back into the event.
Last week, my five-year-old neighbor (who’s always on his bike) and his mother asked me if there would be any bicycling events for children in West Hartford this summer. For the past two years, Bike West Hartford sponsored a “Wheel Fun Day” festival in mid-May, with a 2-mile ride down North Main Street to Town Hall, where many events were geared toward families with children. But organizing this event required many volunteer hours, and questions arose about whether the limited outcomes warranted such a large investment of time. This year, Bike West Hartford collaborated with BikeWalkCT to sponsor this 11-25-50 mile ride, timed to coincide with Celebrate West Hartford. This type of group ride is great for adults, but does not offer much for families with young children.

Next year, if it’s too challenging to organize a separate “Wheel Fun Day” event, might BikeWalkCT and Bike West Hartford create a special 1 or 2-mile ride for families with children? One route could be the Trout Brook Trail, which currently runs from New Park Avenue (right behind Hartford Baking Company) to Quaker Lane South, then crosses the road and goes up to Jackson Avenue (a brand-new addition), and is planned to go further north to connect with other existing pieces. Oddly, the newest segment of this bike trail was not included in any of our 10-25-50 mile rides, partly because it is too new, and not yet fully connected. If we draw attention and organize a family-friendly ride on this work-in-progress, perhaps that will create more pressure to bring it to a more timely completion.

Explore the newly expanded Trout Brook Trail, and help it grow.
Explore the newly expanded Trout Brook Trail, and help make it grow.

Interested in the next Discover Connecticut ride organized by BikeWalkCT? Learn more about the New Britain ride scheduled for Sunday, September 27th, 2015.

Trinity student Alex Perez on Hartford cycling

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This guest post is by Alex Perez, an avid cyclist and sophomore at Trinity College. Please fill out his quick online survey about bicycling conditions in the Hartford area.

Alex Perez on Founders Bridge
Alex Perez on Founders Bridge, Hartford

Back home in Chicago I would frequently ride my bicycle to navigate around the city. Whether it was to get to school, to work, or to just explore somewhere new, I personally always felt safe riding around Chicago. I feel like being able to ride your bicycle safely in a city allows you to connect more with your surroundings. When I arrived at Trinity, I did not know much about Hartford other than it was a small city on the east coast. I decided to bring my bicycle to campus and explore what Hartford had to offer. As I explored around the city, I saw issues with the number of bike lanes around the city, the conditions of these bike lanes, and very few people ride their bicycles. I have been working on my project to develop a bike map where the Hartford community can have open access to it. The goals are to create a bike friendlier city and promote a bigger cycling culture that can give hopefully provide connectivity all across the city and not just the downtown area. Currently, I want to connect with people who have worked on improving cycling elsewhere and receive feedback. I am reaching out for any possible suggestions in order to figure out what directions I should take next to create a greater cycling community in Hartford.

My initial reaction to Hartford after riding my bicycle around was that there was something missing. Also, at Trinity I observed that not many students stepped outside campus to explore the city. From my experiences riding around Hartford, I realized that not that many people walk around in the city either. Hartford does not have much connectivity between its neighborhoods, which is unfortunate because there is so much more the city can offer. Hartford is a historically and culturally rich city, but it lacks the transportation infrastructure to enable people to feel encouraged to visit Keney Park or Elizabeth Park, the Wadsworth Athenaeum or the Connecticut River Front. Also, one sentiment I had about riding my bicycle around Hartford was not feeling safe. As I rode my bicycle, I hardly found bike lanes, and if I did, they would only stretch for a block or two before cutting off at random. Some bike lanes faded off into the street, or were so poorly marked that they did not make cyclists feel any safer. These issues motivated me to try and repair the current bicycle situation in Hartford.

See Alex's bike map
Click bike map to open in new tab.

During my freshman year at Trinity, I started to develop a bike map of Hartford with Professor Cameron Douglass from the Environmental Sciences Program. We acquired GIS (Geographic Information System) data from the city of Hartford for their bike lane network, but discovered that the bike lanes currently in place are very disconnected from one another. We decided that in order to have an effective cycling route network in the city bike lanes should be connected to each other, and provide access to regional thoroughfares and existing bike paths. Our map (viewable at http://arcg.is/1FfQzTl) connected the bicycle lanes together, along with suggested bike routes that expanded throughout the greater Hartford region. After the map was completed, I realized my project has led to a broader initiative to lobby policy makers and community groups on these issues.

At this point in my project I want to seek different strategies organizations or professionals who have worked with improving cycling in other places and integrate those ideas to Hartford. All of it’s residents agree that Hartford is in need of revitalization, and I think that my bike map and our initiative can help increase future development. This is the perfect opportunity to get my project out there as Hartford is planning to build a new baseball stadium, a new dedicated regional bus network (CTfastrak), and Governor Malloy’s newly announced budget includes $100 million for transportation planning in the state (http://wnpr.org/post/gov-malloys-transportation-plan-spans-30-years-100-billion-lacks-funding-source). Cycling ought to be integrated with improved public transportation to get more people to be active in Hartford. People would be encouraged to ride their bicycles more often and create safer bicycle trips. Cycling has grown in other cities and I want bring that to Hartford and generate accompanying environmental, economic, and health benefits. A stronger cycling culture can bring new life to the city. Life in Hartford can benefit in the long run if my bike map becomes possible and it can bring the connectivity in between communities that it is missing.

Updated May 2015: See Alex’s presentation, “Cycling in the 21st Century: Developing a Bike-Friendly Community in Hartford, CT,” delivered at the Hartford City Council


Free bike-friendly map for your website

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Does your cycling organization need to display customized bike routes on your website? Try http://bit.ly/bikemapcode, a free and open-source tool that can easily be modified and embedded in your website.

Click the screenshot to explore bikemapcode site.
Click the screenshot to explore bikemapcode.

Cycling organizations using this tool:

Learn more about the tool on GitHub. Share your feedback in the comments below.