Thursday, March 10, 2011

Coach Thornton

I'm starting a new blog chronicling my sports inept self and wife coaching a t-ball team.  Follow along, it should be interesting:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Running down a cyclist intentionally? Sounds like a hate crime to me!

Just saw this tweet from our friends at Streets blog:

Shocked by news from Chicago Bicycle Advocate about zero jail time for men who hunted people on bikes with their car:

Whoa.  Some drunk good ole boys decide they are going to go around and run cyclists off the road for fun?!?!?  The Chicago police catch up with these guys and after going to court one of them gets off scott free and the other gets 10 days in jail.  I don't get it. 

Getting drunk and hunting cyclists.  How is this any different than the long island teenagers who go hunting immigrants?  Or the kids with too much time on their hands that go roughing up the homeless?  I could go on and on about the various types of randomly motivated hate crimes but that really isn't the point.  My point is that we are outraged by these sorts of crimes and general sentence them hard.  Why is this case any different?  It's not.

I recall a story my brother-in-law told me a few years ago.  He was riding in rural Ohio when a pickup pulled in front of him and on a long open road and slammed on it's brakes.  He was riding a tandem with his 13yo daughter.  They nearly lost control of the bike. Then two guys steps out of his truck like he wants to fight my brother-in-law.  My brother-in-law must have looked smaller on the bike or the dudes noticed that there was a kid on the back because he firmly told the driver that he better get back in his car and the driver was wise enough to do so.  Who knows what that was all about, maybe it was mistaken identity but I think it was more likely some dude out to have fun at a cyclist expense.

When I try to look at this from the bike hater side I get that we must all look like a bunch of Lance Armstrong wannabes.  And it doesn't help that many cyclist dress "funny" with tight shorts and jerseys that could be mistaken for a NASCAR driver with all the "sponsors".  Go ahead.  Make fun of it.  I'll admit I look like a dork.  I can deal with that.  But don't eff with my life!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The complete newbie guide to riding the bus

If you've followed this blog from its early days then you know that I started out with a complete ignorance for the public transit system.  In that opening post I pledged to figure it all out and share that knowledge with the world.  Here it goes.  Everything I think you need to know to ride the bus around the city or at least Seattle.  It's actually not that complicated or scary and technology has simplified everything.

Step 1 - be prepared

If this is your first time riding the bus I suggest  you do a little research.  The internet is by far the easiest way to do this and Google maps is the only real game in town for simple, accurate directions on a easy to use map(come on Bing!).  All the big local transit systems also have route finding services if Google maps doesn't work in your town.  But in my experience Google maps is the easiest and best way to go.image

Go to and enter your address and where you want to go.  Be sure to choose the "by public transit" option.  Once you choose your destination Google maps will spit out all the route information you need.   You can change your departure time to a date in the future and choose between alternate routes.  It lays everything out for you on the map and even tells you how far you need to walk and how long that walk will take.  On the left hand side of the page you get a output like this:


So now you know you that if you leave your house by 3:48 you should roughly make the 3:58 245 and get to the Redmond library at 4:30.  You can change the time you want to leave or arrive and it will figure out all the details. 

Now you know where to go to catch the bus and where it's going to drop you at.  What Google doesn't seem to get right is how much it's going to cost you.  I don't know if that's a bug or something I 'm just not smart enough to understand but Google is always telling me the bus is free.  It's free if you have a pass that someone else paid for but in general the bus does cost money.  We'll get into that in a minute.

Step 2 - Walk to your stop and wait

Once you're at your stop you get the wait for the bus.  Who knows how long that will take right?  Wrong.  At least here in the Seattle area we have a system that can tell you almost exactly how long it will take for the bus to come to your stop.  It's called One Bus Away.  You can check it out at or download one of photothe apps available for most modern smartphones.  It also works with just any old smartphone via SMS.  Here is a shot of One Bus Away on an iPhone.

Generally before I even step foot outside of my house or office I check this app.  Over the course of a year I think OneBusAway saves me hours of time not spent waiting at a bus stop.

The app uses the GPS in your phone to figure out what stop your standing near and then uses some funky dead reckoning system and SMS to transmit the bus's location to a central server which this apps connects to.  I don't claim to really understand it, but you can read about it on the onebusaway development blog if you're interested.  All I know is this app works really well and is well worth it's free price.

Step 3 - Get on the bus and pay

When your bus arrives you'll need to pay that bus driver.  This chart from explains the basics better than I can.  The bus costs more money during "Peak" hours so if your travel times are flexible you can save a little by travelling during the no-peak hours.  Once on the bus there is a machine that takes your money when you get on the bus.  You just drop your money in.  There is no change so try to bring in exactly what you need.

Of course you might be in what's called a "free zone" and then you don't pay when you get on the bus, you pay when you get off the bus.  If the bus is in the free zone then you will see a sign on it when you board.  Don't try to pay if your in the free zone and it slows everything down.

Step 4 - Grab a seat

If it's really your first time on the bus try to sit up by the driver.  It's the best view of where you are and it's also easy to ask the driver a question if you need to.  I also find I get less car sick up in the front of the bus.  The fronts seats do get priority for elderly or wheelchair passengers so you may need to move when new riders board.  Now you can sit back and enjoy the WIFI, read a book, apply hand sanitizer etc.

Step 5 - Debussing

When you start to get close to where you are going to get off you will want to signal the stop.  You do this by pulling the string near the window.  On some busses it's a button like thing.  You want to signal early enough that the bus driver doesn't blow past your stop but not so early that the bus stops at the wrong stop.  It seems really simple but I've still managed to screw this up a few times.  On one occasion I was entrenched in my reading and looked up and thought I was right at my stop.  Turned out I was a little early.  I didn't have the kahunas to admit my mistake so I got off and had to walk a little extra.


Like anything in life you don't really know what you don't know.  Bus Etiquette is no different.  In general it's all common sense and politeness which is sort of a dying art.  Here are the important highlights in my opinion:

  • Be self aware and keep your volume to a minimum.  Nobody else wants to hear your conversations or music.
  • Avoid placing cell phone calls.  Most folks on the busses I'm riding are reading and it's really distracting to overhear meaningless chit chat. It's not to say you can't use a phone but in practice most folks don't sit on a call through the duration of their ride like so many car drivers do.
  • Most folks don't want to talk to you or hear about your first time on the bus or your bus blog so in general don't engage them in conversation.
  • Do offer a seat to an elderly or wheelchair rider
  • Do be nice to the driver
  • Don't over chat up the driver.  I made the mistake of asking a driver who was talking with me what her name was.  The tone of the conversation changed and she said that she was Ms. Busdriver. 

That's about it.  The bus is actually quite easy to ride and can be a nice change of pace from riding in a car. 

Anything I missed?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Get yourself killed any day of the week, ride a bike

In addition to riding the bus to work I’m also a bike commuter. I fully admit I’m a fair weather bike commuter at best. Basically if it looks like I could wear shorts outside and I don’t have a 9am meeting I’ll often opt for a ride in on a bike. I really enjoy marrying exercise to my commute because of the efficiencies it brings to my day.
I was talking with a coworker the other day about the contrast between riding the bus, running and riding a bike.  The bus is great because I get to check out, do some work and get ready for the day.  Running is fun too because I get to lose myself in my thoughts.  The bike, while fun is the most challenging though as I feel like I constantly have to scan my surroundings for potential death traps.  There are basically a couple varieties of drivers that perplex me the most.  Here is my attempt to apply a taxonomy to the worst drivers I encounter daily.
The passer
You'll find this type of driver all over the country in all types of cars.  For what ever reason this species feels the need to pass a cyclist no matter what speed the cyclist is going.  It's my hunch that they feel responsible for the cyclists safety when the cyclist is in front of them.  Therefore, if they pass the cyclist as fast as they can they no longer have to share responsibility for the cyclist safety.  I actually believe they think they are doing the cyclist a favor.  You can recognize them by the way they slam on the gas as they pass the cyclist then proceed to have to slam on the brakes as to not hit the car in front of them.  I run into about 10-15 of these drivers in a given one way commute.
The aggressive passer
This guy just doesn't like bikes and thinks we are all crazy hippies.  Generally this guy is in a truck or a sports car.  He will pass you with a very loud muffler and then sometimes even cut you off.  You get to enjoy his exhaust.  A rare treat indeed is when the aggressive passer feels the need to yell at you.  The nicest thing I've been yelled at is to stay in my lane.  On other occasions I've been called some nasty names.  I might be taking my life in my own hands but I'll often use hand gestures to communicate to the aggressive passer.  My message is clear just because I have spandex on doesn't mean I couldn't be packing heat.  I've never had anyone actually stop and confront me but if they did I'd wager I'm in better shape.
The way to close to shoulder driver
This one is pretty easy to spot.  It's usually a landscaping truck or a U-Haul.  The driver of which doesn't really understand how wide they are and they really don't care about a cyclists well being.  Contrary to popular belief these guys aren't always passers. In fact in many cases they just ride right next to you but entirely too close.  3 feet please.
Don't you pass me douche bag (DYPMDB)
In recent years this guy has become more prevalent.  His belief is that if he is stopped no cyclist should be allowed to pass him.  You'll seem him at stop signs and stop lights with his car intentionally pulled over as close to the curb as possible.  If provoked they will try to run you off the road.  I find it's best to just let these drivers be.  I suspect they grow up to serial killers and or just very mad at the world.  When I encounter a DYPMDB I just take a deep breath and wait for the light to change. 
There are others but these are the big 4 I see often.  All joking aside, if I were the king of the world I wouldn't give out drivers licenses until applicants had ridden a bike through our city streets during rush hour.  I know commuting by bike changed my driving habits around cyclists.  It's something I intend to instill in my kids.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Would you rather fly or ride the bus?

I just returned from a trip to Columbus Ohio with my eldest daughter.  Most, if not all of the air travel experience was a complete disappointment.  Anyone who has flown much in the past 5 years is guaranteed to have a set of travel horror stories.  I am no different.  As I was stuck in Chicago on this last trip it hit me that if all things were equal time wise, I’d rather sit on a bus for 8 hours than a be on a plane.

A few years back my family had to cancel a vacation due to some rather unfortunate but serious health situations. After months of negotiation with American Airlines, they finally agreed to “refund” my ticket costs, with some fess of course, in the form of vouchers.  At the same time I had to cancel some tickets on USAir .  USAir was who was totally cool.  I provided a doctors note and they cut me a check.  AA ended up being a hassle and really didn’t want to do anything for me.  I even offered ridiculous compromises like, just refund me half and you keep half.  We had over 6 months before we were to travel so it wasn’t like they didn’t have time to resell my seats.  Long story short I got these travel vouchers, these cursed travel vouchers.  Every trip I’ve booked using these vouchers has had at least one rather serious mishap.  There was the time they canceled my connecting flight and the time my car seat didn't show up for days.  The list goes on.
The big disaster on this trip was that the plane ran out of gas.  Thunderstorms diverted the plane over Kansas and we didn't have enough fuel to make it to Chicago.  So we got to land in Minneapolis to fillerup.  That caused my daughter and I to miss our connection.  So we spent the night in Chicago at the airport hotel and we lost a day of our vacation.  Then AA couldn't get us to Columbus until 6pm the following day which was almost another disaster until a smart gate agents figured out that he could get me to Dayton by 10am, which we did.

Back to vouchers.  I’ve learned just about everything there is to know about vouchers in the past two years.  The thing AA doesn’t tell you about vouchers is they are basically a scheme for AA to charge fees.  Now before you think I’m just another airline hater I’m not.  I get that it’s a business and I completely support the ala cart direction things are headed.  Go ahead and charge me for a pillow, drink, tv etc.  I like the idea that I pay for a base ticket and then I can choose to add amenities.  That makes sense.  What doesn’t make much sense to me is pointless fees.

It all starts when you call in to book a ticket.  Yes, you have to call, you can’t use vouchers on  When you call in guess what, it costs fees to talk to a real person.  So now you are talking to a real person and your trying to find that sweet fair you saw on  Oh, that’s a Internet fare, you can get on that flight but its 25% more than what your seeing online.  Once you have finished negotiating a flight you get to mail the voucher in.  That’s right there’s not way to do this over the phone or Internet.  You have to mail the thing in like its 1982.  That is unless you are travelling in less than 2 weeks, then you can take the voucher to the airport.  Of course that results in a “convenience fee” because you get to talk to a person.  It's ridiculous.
On this last trip I discovered a new fee.  I noticed that there were two early flights for my second leg home.  I went to the ticket desk in Chicago and asked if my daughter and I could get on the standby list.  The gate agent said it would be $50 a piece!  After I picked my jaw back off the floor I asked her if she would take vouchers :)  Of course the don't.

Monday, March 29, 2010

It is the last week

I find it hard to believe but I’m in the final stretch here.  This is my last week of my commitment to ride the bus for 40 days.  While my personal commitment is going to expire this week I’ve actually changed my transportation habits and dare a I say preference.  I expect to continue to use the bus for commuting for many reasons, but mostly because it’s easy and I like it.

Last week I enjoyed two experiences that never would have happened in the car.  First I met a neighbor while waiting at the stop whom I never knew existed.  It turned out we had a number of things in common.  Secondly I ran into a old coworker who I had not seen in years.  It was nice to catch up on the ride home. I dig that the bus has a social element to it and offers a opportunity to connect with folks that I normally would not see at a day in the office.

So what am I planning for my last week of posts?  Well here are the topics I want to get to but I haven’t yet.

  • What’s the value of my 40 day experiment as a carbon offset 
  • OneBusAway and why it rules
  • Lastly I want to answer the questions in my original post with The total newbie's guide to riding the bus.

And now I’ll leave you with a couple more cute photos of my kids and the bus.  Last week my youngest daughter visited me at work for a hour or so before work ended.  We rode home together on the bus.  This was her first trip and she was of course very excited.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I cheated yesterday, sort of

I haven’t missed a day of bussing since I started this adventure.  Even preschool, which I expected to be cumbersome has been really easy.  I’ve been motivated every morning to go catch the bus and I’ve been truly enjoying the extra time the bus gives me to work, read and think.

However yesterday was different.  I had to visit a customer for work.  This is something I rarely get to do.  The customer only lived about 6 miles, as the crow flies, from my house.  The night before I put the route into Google maps and no matter how I calculated it I was looking at 3 busses and close to 2 miles of walking to get to the customers house in Redmond.  I scratched my head for along time but the memories of last Friday were too fresh.  I decided my car was the way to go.

Yep, I cheated on my bus diet and drove my car to the customers house and then onto work.  I felt dirty but luckily there are showers where I work.  In the end I couldn’t justify the amount of extra time the trip was going to take on the bus nor was I willing to risk being late.

Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of just selling my car but it’s the unexpected things like this that make me think I still need it.  Sure a zip car might be an answer but I have to admit deep down I still feel like I need a car.  But based on my experiences over the past several months I’m pretty clear that I need it a lot less than I previously thought.