CategoryBikes and Transit

Compiling and mapping Chicago-area campgrounds

I’m adding Chicago-area campgrounds to the Chicago Bike Guide to entice new users and to espouse the enjoyment of medium-distance bike camping (which I’ve now done officially once, earlier this year).

<The Chicago Bike Guide is available for Android and iOS.>

I’m taking a systematic approach to finding all the publicly-owned campgrounds in the area by looking at primary sources.

First, though, I’ve used Overpass Turbo to create a list of all existing campgrounds in OpenStreetMap. You can see a gist of these places.

Camp sites at Greene Valley forest preserve I mapped.

Camp sites at Greene Valley forest preserve I mapped.

The next method is to find out which campgrounds are operated by the county forest preserves, which are usually well-documented on their respective websites. Then I will look at state parks in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, operated by states’ respective Departments of Natural Resources (DNR). Next I will look at national parks and finally commercial campgrounds.

The app will display campground information such as alcohol rules, if cabins or lodging is available, and how you can get there (which trails or train lines).

I’ve so far mapped the campgrounds in two ways, as nodes and as areas. At the Greene Valley forest preserve in DuPage County, for example, I’ve mapped the 11 individual camp sites (see map), but at Blackwell forest preserve in the same county, I’ve mapped the area as the camp site (see map).

Blackwell has over 50 sites in a discrete area and it’s more efficient to map them as a single node, while Greene Valley had far fewer sites but scattered over a couple areas.

Cross-posted to Web Map Academy.

Stop locking your bike at the Clybourn Metra station overnight

Existing bike parking at the Clybourn Metra station

This is a resolution.

WHEREAS, I love GIS.

WHEREAS, I was reading this blog post on the Azavea company blog about bike theft prediction and trends in Philadelphia.

WHEREAS, I analyzed bike theft location in Chicago in 2012 and the Clybourn Metra station emerged as the most frequent Metra theft location.

WHEREAS, I searched the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry for “clybourn” and several thefts have been reported to the registry in 2013.

WHEREAS, I believe the Chicago Police Department still doesn’t allow searching of their database for bike thefts thus leaving the CSBR as the premier source of data.

WHEREAS, I am watching this show called The Bletchley Circle wherein a group of four fictional women who cracked codes in World War II are solving a murder mystery in 1950s London.

BE IT RESOLVED that you should not leave your bicycle parked at the Clybourn Metra station overnight as it is a terrible place to leave a bicycle parked. Why? No one is around most of the time to socially secure your bicycle.

New bike parking at the Clybourn Metra station

This is a great place to get your bike stolen. In the dark. Overnight. With no one around to see it happen. 

Tidy bikes on trains: a trip to Den Haag, and Thursday in the Netherlands

Two WorkCycles bikes stand tucked out of anyone’s way in a Nederlands Spoorwegen (NS) train to Zandvoort aan Ze. See all photos from this set, and from Netherlands.

60% of people arrive to train stations on bicycles.
A third of the country commutes by train each weekday.
Passengers, in a departure from American transit policies, must pay a fee to bring a bike aboard trains. (Bikes are not allowed on buses or trams, though.)

In August, my friend Brandon Gobel and I took a trip to Copenhagen for 7 days and Amsterdam for a little less than 3 (when he returned to Chicago I kept going to Munich and Berlin). We arrived in Amsterdam on Wednesday, August 22, by overnight train, walked to the WorkCycles Jordaan shop and picked up our reserved rental bikes. Brandon got an opafiets and I a Fr8 (the same model I bought two days later).

Bicycles are accommodated at every point in a Dutch resident’s journey – and for visitors, too! I don’t know how it would have been possible for us to do so much in the Netherlands without the bicycles.

In Latin: A wise man doesn’t piss against the wind. 

On Thursday we had breakfast at some place with a surly waiter that old pancakes near the Apple Store and this funny slogan written in Latin. We then ambled to Amsterdam Centraal Station to buy tickets for our short train trip to Zandvoort from where we’d then bike to Den Haag (The Hague; I just love pronouncing Den Haag). The station never stops bustling. We walked our bikes to the desk to buy one-way tickets, including all-day bike tickets. I never set a PIN on my credit card so the NS ticket vending machine wouldn’t accept it; I had no idea that you could set a PIN on credit cards, thinking that was something only debit cards had.

The train station at Zandvoort. The train is a DD-AR.

A lot of people were traveling to Zandvoort: it’s a beach resort town less than an hour from Amsterdam and the weather was atypically wonderful, warm and sunny. We rode in the direction of the water until we found the infamous red and white bike wayfinding sign pointing to Den Haag. It hugs the sea for a short distance. Before deviating, though, I wanted to jump into the North Sea.

There are no photos of me swimming in the North Sea, but here’s a photo of my rental bike on the beach. 

We got back on the route to Den Haag. I didn’t bring my GPS logging device so I can’t say for certain where we got off the route, but we kept going south and on the advice I got from a local, “kept the sea to our right”. We eventually drifted inland and started riding through towns and along highways (Americans: in the two-lane, rural sense of the word). There was separated infrastructure for most of the journey. When there wasn’t, the roads and laws were set up to prioritize bicycle traffic.

Welcome to South Holland province. Holland ? Netherlands. Do not call the Netherlands “Holland”. 

At one point in our “off the route” cycling, the off-street path ended. That didn’t seem right. I didn’t notice a sign indicating that we should turn off prior. We backtracked a little an then found a different path (still no directional sign). But we kept moving south. Neither of us had a map, nor data connections on our iPhones. I was confident we wouldn’t need one. I have a pretty good sense of geography, even in a foreign country. This one’s so small and I memorized some of the names on a map before we left.

I will admit that I was getting nervous. I didn’t want to “get lost”, even though I completely disbelieved that “getting lost” in the Netherlands was really possible because of its small size and extremely well-connected towns, trains, and roads.

One of the signs that eventually popped up along the bike path that pointed us towards Den Haag. 

“Huzzah!” A red and white sign saying Den Haag is 17 km thataway! After this sign, every proceeding junction had one pointing to Den Haag. It’s still weird that we got off the route for 30-45 minutes (it seems longer).

The last part of the route before entering Den Haag is along a motorway. This is kind of awkward. Think of biking along any interstate. The only separation between the bike path and the road was a strip of grass and some trees (I didn’t take a picture of it). This is the complete opposite of American motorway design (Americans: motorway is “European” for interstate): here, if there’s no concrete or metal barrier on the outside, then there’s a 50-feet wide cleared right-of-way, often with a ditch.  But we know that while clear areas mean less colliding into stuff, it means faster driving!

Pretty much any city greater than 200,000 people in Europe has trams.

Anyway, back to the bike route. We arrive in Den Haag. We head toward the train station, in the center of town. We’re hungry but there’s nothing around here (which is unexpected, as this is the center of town). But the center of Den Haag is very modern and “business oriented”. Maybe the restaurants are inside the office buildings where the plebeians can’t find them.

Expansive plaza outside the Den Haag train station. View of the opposite direction.

We bike north a little towards what looks like a residential area and find what could be a dive bar. Whatever, as they’ve got cheap beer and food. The menus in Dutch, neither of us read Dutch, and the proprietors don’t speak English, but we recognize the word “hambuger”. That’s what we order. I order mine “deluxe” – I can’t remember how it was described; it came with an egg on top! Hamburgers don’t automatically come with buns, apparently.

We ate weird hamburgers at Café Locus. 

I turn on my iPhone and find that the restaurant has wifi. I’m having a hard time recalling how I asked for the wifi password. A patron (who seems like a regular) knows English and passes this along to the proprietor and tells me the wifi password. After a few attempts it works. I needed it to try and contact someone in Delft whom I wanted to meet but it wasn’t to be. We pay up and depart the restaurant for the Den Haag train station, saying thank you and goodbye to the owner and patrons.

A low volume neighborhood street between Café Locus and the Den Haag train station. 

The bike ticket we bought (€6 each) is good for the day. We return to Amsterdam, tired. It was a smooth, fast train ride  on a VIRM (my favorite).

The return train to Amsterdam (which leaves pretty much every 30 minutes) had seatbelts for bicycles. 

We return to the apartment on Bilderdijkstraat we rented through Airbnb. The lovely bakery across the street, Cake Loves Coffee, is still open so we talk to the owner and sole employee, Nicole. I get a slice of berry sponge mascarpone (photo). We can’t subsist on sweets and fill up on fast food pizza restaurant across the street while we gulp beers sitting outside on the sidewalk in front of the apartment, watching nearly a hundred people bike south after work.

Beers in public. Yes, it’s allowed. Yes, it’s a very civil and normal thing to do. No, it doesn’t lead to the downfall of society. 

View Street View of apartment/bakery neighborhood larger. This image was taken over 3 years ago and the street has been redesigned. Instead of having door zone bike lanes, there’s now a proper cycle track. The bakery wasn’t built yet.

It eventually comes time to head out and visit the Red Light District. What a fun place to visit. If you don’t like seeing real live topless women, or stag parties (Americans: stag is British for bachelor), you should probably avoid it. On our way back to the apartment we stop at a nice bar down the street (between it and Vondelpark). I had noticed it the previous day and finding it reminded me of something peculiar: I never created a turn-by-turn route for any journey we took but I was able to get Brandon and I to any destination in Amsterdam, and “home”, without too many deviations (one of my goals is to never backtrack). I think half the money we spent that wasn’t on trains was spent on booze.

Hash Marijuana and Hemp museum in the Red Light District. 

A group of guys carry the bachelor in the Red Light District. Prostitution is legal in this area of the city. It’s impossible to photograph Amsterdam without a bike in the shot. 

WorkCycles Fr8 fits on the CTA’s bus-bike rack!

If you ride a bike more than you use other transportation modes, and you visit online forums, then you probably know that the correct number of bikes is n+1. I got a new bike this year, but it was partly to replace the cargo carrying capabilities I lacked after selling my Yuba Mundo in the spring.

Two weekends ago I passed by the Chicago Transit Authority headquarters to test if my WorkCycles Fr8 could fit in the Sportworks VeloPorter 2 bus-bike rack the CTA uses on most buses (it’ll eventually replace the red ones). I don’t know if Pace buses have the same model.

It fits! (I feel like saying “It blends!”)

I already knew that the WorkCycles Transportfiets would fit, having made a video of it last year. But they seemed to be of different dimensions (they probably aren’t) and I wanted to check ahead of time lest I embarrass myself and delay a bus if I tested it in the field.

Actually, I wasn’t worried that the Fr8 wouldn’t fit, I was worried that it wouldn’t fit securely under the spring-tensioned arm with the yellow grip. I have a burly front rack and metal fenders that wouldn’t be able to budge. See how that worked out for me in the photo below. Additionally, my bike weighs 50 pounds unloaded (and without the red basket) – the Sportworks specifications note that each bike tray holds 55 pounds. Phew!

Last weekend I took the Fr8 on its first ever train journey, from the Clinton Pink/Green Line station to the California Pink Line station. The Pink Line uses the 5000-series cars, which are brand new from Bombardier’s factory in New York. They have the distinction of providing two wheelchair-accessible spaces in every car instead of one. This means there are two fewer “modesty panels” in the vestibule. It offers more room to position and park your bike – it works out great; see photo below. It still doesn’t provide enough room for a passenger to bring a bike aboard, stay put, and let other passengers in and out of the door. Passengers with bikes will still need to pay attention to the announcements to know which door will open at the next station and move their bike accordingly.

Looking for a WorkCycles of your own? You can contact them directly in Amsterdam. Shipping is €200, which is a really good deal now. You can also contact J.C. Lind Bike Co. who will become a dealer soon.

Comparing how bikes and buses interact

A photo from Los Angeles, filling in for a lot of North American cities (less Montréal):

Photo by Metro Los Angeles. 

A photo from Amsterdam, filling in for a lot of European cities:

Photo by Boudewijn Deurvorst. 

Where would you rather bike?

See more photos of bikes and transit in the eponymous Flickr group.

Enter the Houten Fietstransferium, and other bikes and transit commentary

Video by Mark Wagenbuur, aka markenlei on YouTube. See his original blog post about it.

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that “Fietstransferium” means “bike transfer building”. It’s a structure underneath the train tracks at the Houten (in the Netherlands) main railway station (it has a secondary station on the same line a little bit south of the main one). You roll in directly from a car-free street in the center of a town, park your bike, and walk up to the platforms. Also available in the Fietstransferium are bike rentals (likely OV-fiets) and bike repair. It wasn’t open when I visited Houten in January 2011.

From the video (and from other sources) 60% of NS passengers arrive by bike. Good connections between bikes and trains helps maintain that access rate, but probably also helps increase it. Bike connections to major train stations in Chicago is woeful, even at the stations that are new enough to support a good connection. Let’s call Houten’s bike to train connection quality “roll in, walk 100 feet, service”: you roll into the bike parking area, and walk upstairs to your train (there’s even a ticket machine in the bike parking area). This differs from “roll on service” as that means you roll your bike into the train.

One shot from the video was taken from this vantage point, showing the bike parking, the staircase, the platform, and a train. Photo by Vereniging van Nederlandse Gemeenten VNG (Dutch Association of Municipalities). 

Chicago

The LaSalle Street Metra Station got an upgrade in bike connections this year when the “intermodal center” adjacent to it on Congress Parkway and Financial Place was added. It came with bike parking, an elevator, and a staircase with bike ramp. The station has other access points, which are very well hidden. Unguarded.

The LaSalle Street intermodal center. 

Northwestern Station lacks indoor and guarded bike parking, and any that’s available is far away from the tracks. The sheltered bike parking is very undesirable, dark, and dirty; I don’t recommend parking on Washington Street. Nor do I recommend parking on any of the sidewalks surrounding the station block.

Union Station is similar to Northwestern Station: all bike parking is unguarded and far from the tracks. Millennium Station. Same problems.

The nexus of bikes and transit is something I enjoy planning, and talking and writing about. Read my past articles on the subject. I’ve created the biggest and best collection of bikes and transit photos in the eponymous Flickr group. It’s an important part of the Chicago Bike Map app. You can load train stations on the map, search for them, and get information about when and how to board a train or bus with your bike. Coming soon is information on accessible stations (which have wide gate turnstiles making for self-service bike entry) and stations that aren’t accessible but have the same wide gate turnstiles (called TWA, or turnstile wheelchair accessible).

Additionally, none of these stations are accessible by good bike lanes. Only Union Station and Northwestern Station have adjacent bike lanes, and then only ones that are north-south (Clinton and Canal). As the Chicago Department of Transportation noted in its multiple presentations about the upcoming installation of the Union Station bus intermodal station, biking on Canal Street is not good and the bike lane will probably be reconfigured during the Central Loop BRT project. To summarize, the connection quality that Chicago’s downtown train stations provide is “confusing service”: where does one park? will the bike be safe? how does one get to the platform now?

Biking on Canal Street outside Union Station. It has multiple entrances and access routes but which one is best?  Another photo from biking on Canal Street.

Near Northwestern Station, the Washington Street bike lane ends abruptly three blocks away at Desplaines Street. The Madison Street bike lane doesn’t reach Northwestern Station, nor would it be effective with its current design, as it would constantly be occupied by things that aren’t bicycles.

Biking on Washington Street, a very wide fast street, whose bike lane ends very soon (in the middle ground) where then you find yourself competing for space with buses and right-turning cars. As soon as one is “competing” on a street, the street fails to provide good space for either mode. 

Harrison Street just south of the LaSalle Street Station is usually a good street to bike on, but it lacks the kind of bikeway infrastructure that attracts new people to transportation bicycling, and more trips to be made. (I’ve lately been thinking of ways to synthesize the argument about why protected and European-style bikeway infrastructure is necessary, so here goes: Bicycle usage will not increase without them.)

San Francisco

Photo of a man walking with his bicycle in a BART station by San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. 

BART in the San Francisco Bay Area tested in August policy of having no bike blackout periods on Fridays. That meant people could bring their bikes on the trains at all times on Fridays in August, and not just outside rush periods. Showing their high level of attention planning and policy, the agency evaluated the program with a proper survey. There’s a meeting tomorrow with the BART Bicycle Task Force; Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority should have such a group!

It snowed in Amsterdam

And as we like to say in Chicago, Amsterdammers also said “it was no big deal”.

I love what you see happening in this photo. A person cycling across the intersection is looking back at a white van and a streetcar that seem like they’re going to collide. But no one will hit each other. The Netherlands has the lowest crash rate in the world.

What it’s like to Amtrak it with a bike

Update: This post has been widely shared. I suspect other people have blogged about their experiences of taking bikes on Amtrak. Leave a comment with the link, or tweet or email me, and I will include a link to your blog on this page. 

My friend, Will Vanlue, from Portland describes his experience taking a bicycle on Amtrak to Seattle. He bought a bicycle ticket even though he was pretty sure folding bikes could be brought on as carry-on luggage. It was true and the Amtrak staff refunded him.

Like some light rail trains, Amtrak Cascades cars have vertical storage for full-size bicycles. Travis was able to get his Bullitt “Long John” cargo bike on the train with assistance from the staff. 

The Amtrak Cascades train spoils their passengers compared to those on the Hiawatha or Wolverine, offering a power outlet for every seat, and free wifi. I took the train in April 2010 on my trip with Brandon to Portland and Seattle.

This is a good time to bring up, again, that Michigan trains will soon offer “roll on” bicycle service to passengers in 2012.

Bikes on trains, Bremen, Germany edition

As part of my “continuing coverage” of how bikes are welcomed (or not) on transit, I’m pointing out how bikes are accommodated on trains in Germany.

My friend and I rode our bikes from central Bremen (the name of the city and its state) to the Valentin submarine pens in the north part of the state (the smallest state in Germany), a 22 miles journey. View an approximation of our route through a rural part of North Germany. The map shows a ferry from the west side of Weser River to the east, which we took. I think it cost 1€ per person, one way.

On our way back we took two trains:

  • A shuttle train, essentially, from Bremen-Farge to Bremen-Vegesack. Operated by NordWestBahn. 18 minutes trip.
  • A Regionalbahn train from Bremen-Vegesack to Bremen Hauptbahnhof (central station). Operated by DB Regio. 23 minutes trip. This trip required an extra ticket, just for the bicycle.

Both trains have designated spaces for bicycles as well as “seat belts” with hooks on the end for wrapping around your bike and then to a pole or to the belt itself.

Our bikes on the first train to Bremen-Vegesack.

Our bikes on the second train to central Bremen.

The train station at our final destination, Bremen Hauptbahnhof (central station).

Find more related photos:

Can we standardize rules about bikes on trains?

Every transit agency across the United States has different rules about bikes on trains.

I think every bus operator with front bike racks has the same rule: “all day, every day”. But taking your bike on the train is a different story.

In San Francisco, there’re three operators with three sets of rules:

MUNI, a city agency, doesn’t allow bikes on trains, ever. I almost learned about it the hard way. I was returning from downtown on Market Street to my temporary apartment in the Castro District and I took my bike into the MUNI subway. I entered the station without seeing a sign or a staff member that would indicate I couldn’t do this. While walking along the platform, I saw a rules board and noticed no bikes. The trains were not busy, but they’re also not very big. I can see where some people would say, “Oh, I’m new here and I didn’t know”.

But that’s not me. I went upstairs and rode the bike all the way home.

Update May 26, 2011: Streetsblog SF tells us that MUNI will now allow folding bikes on the light rail trains.

BART, a state-controlled transit agency, allows bikes on their trains most of the time. Just not at certain stations, at certain times, and in certain directions. You either memorize these restrictions or carry a brochure.

And BART trains run on broad gauge track making them wider than all other rail transit vehicles in the country. This makes for a lot of space – dedicated space!

Finally, there’s Caltrain, a commuter/regional rail system operated by a joint committee of three transit operators. They seem the least restrictive: every train has a bike car or two, capable of holding about 40, 48, or 96 bikes. “But by the end of 2011, every gallery train set will have two bike cars, allowing for 80 bicycles minimum.” (See last photo.)

In Chicago, the Metra (like Caltrain) and Chicago Transit Authority (CTA, like BART and MUNI) have their own rules that differ from each other and from above.

It’s quite simple to remember the rules of one transit agency, but to be subject to the rules of two or three makes bicycling with rail transit a bit more complicated. The size and design of train cars has a big influence on rule making, but so does politics – the Active Transportation Alliance, né Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, had to lobby the state and the transit agencies here in Chicago to open up their trains to bicycles, and to further liberalize the rules as the agencies became more comfortable.

National or regional planning efforts could ensure that the designs of future or upgraded transit systems follow guidelines that “standardize” the rules of bringing bikes on board. The first step in this direction could be a dialogue between BART and CTA about carrying bicycles onto escalators:

BART did its own study on the “safety issue” years ago and concluded that escalators and stairs were equally safe for cyclists to use in BART stations. (Via Cyclelicious)

The rule banning bicycles from escalators is expected to be lifted this year. The CTA, and other rail operators, could review BART’s study and come to the same conclusion.

Photo of a loaded Caltrain bike car by Richard Masoner.

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