Barriers to Entry, but Not to Exit

Just when you think the Woodrow Wilson Bollard Farm has reached it’s maximum level of stupidity, the good folks at VDOT make it worse. Today’s addition is four new flexible bollards leading to the center fixed bollard at the base of the hill on the southern approach to the bridge. That was long winded but the picture gives you the idea. The point here apparently is to give you seven bollards of two types to avoid as you approach the underside of the bridge.

The magnificent seven

For a while there was a lone bollard in the middle of the trail down near the river.  This bollard was not sufficient to keep out evil doers because the design geniuses behind this project left one entire side of an adjacent parking lot obstructed only by some saplings. Of course, rather than address this problem they decided to install more bollards across the trail.

The lone bollard.
Drawing to indicate location of new bollard

All of these bollards are intended to keep a truck bomb from beneath the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which has been unprotected for 42 years.  Of course, every other Potomac River Bridge, including a key railroad bridge, a metro bridge, the 14 Street Bridges, the Memorial Bridge, the TR Bridge (plus assorted ramps) and the Key Bridge)  could be blown to bits by a truck on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, but the geniuses at Homeland Security couldn’t figure out how to install bollards across the Parkway without pissing off motorists.  That just wouldn’t be prudent.

Although I refrain from photographing it, the Homeland Security folks have also added some sort of black cages to some of the arches beneath the Wilson Bridge to deter evil doers on foot. I can’t believe they don’t just fill the underside of the bridge with a massive amount of concrete and call it a day.

Of course, they could place security cameras around these places but that would require someone to watch the cameras. Even though every local DOT does this 24/7, our Homeland Security folks can’t get it together to do that.

(For the record, I briefly worked for Homeland Security and was nearly driven insane. I left after 8 weeks.)

If this keeps up, I may become a Tea Party person. Or, end up in the nervous hospital.

Meanwhile, seven miles to the north, the beautification committee of the National Park Service was hard at work installing plastic, water-filled jersey barriers along the trail near the entrance to Roosevelt Island.  Now, they could have actually planted some nice hydrangea bushes or maybe some arborvitae to act as a barrier but that would be tasteful and we can’t have that now, can we?

Aren’t they pretty?

On a bittersweet note, yet another of my cycling-related friends and a member of the Friday Coffee Club has flown the DC coop.  First, Richard, a member of last fall’s 50 States Ride posse left for Puerto Rico by way of Spain. Then, Florencia, the organizer of the posse, headed for Cambodia by way of Argentina.  Then Adam (a.k.a. Froggie) was shipped off to Norfolk by way of Vermont.  (I do believe the 50 States corkscrew routing has messed up their senses of direction.) Today, Lauren, a.k.a. lkono, has headed off to Ireland (by way of London, which leads me to believe she rode the considerably less convoluted 13 Colonies Ride).  These four people embody why living here in the Washington area is so great.  Between them they have interests in meteorology, yoga, Chinese, acroyoga, Spanish, rock climbing, back alley waffles, running, a rooftop bathtub, and the Navy.  And I know I am leaving a lot out.  You’all (it’s a southern city, don’t you know) are welcome back any time.

New/Old Mount Vernon Trail

Obsolete sign

New/Old Mount Vernon Trail, a set on Flickr.

Readers of this blog have seen countless complaints about the dangerous detours, bollards and design flaws on the Mount Vernon Trail near the Wilson Bridge. The renovated parkland beneath the bridge has finally been opened and, with it, a brand renovated segment of the Mount Vernon Trail. I have to admit, once you get away from the mess at South Royal Street, this is pretty darned nice.

Munching the Miles

My bike riding typically picks up in June because I no longer have to attend my daughter’s school events. This June I missed out on almost a week of riding to take my daughter on a college safari from DC to Auburn AL and back. We visited six colleges in four days and drove more miles than I want to admit to.

Anyway, back to the bike. Despite the time off, I logged 621 miles in June. I did 23 rides in all and commuted to work 14 times. 338 miles were on Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist. Yeah, it’s a folding bike but that doesn’t mean I can’t use it like a regular bike.  Six of my commutes and 12 rides were on Little Nellie. Big Nellie, my Easy Racers Tour Easy recumbent, placed with 254 miles, 7 commutes and 10 rides.  The Sequoia is resting comfortably in the Rootchopper Bike Garage after doing one ride, a commute, of 29 miles.

My longest ride of the month was 41 miles. Just a ride around the area with some shopping thrown in for good measure.  In fact, all but a couple of my rides were around 30 miles give or take a mile or two. My compatriots on the Friday Coffee Club team in the National Bike Challenge kid me about how much I ride.  I feel a little like PacMac biting off 30 mile rides day after day.

The other highlights of the month are the new Brooks Flyer saddle I put on Little Nellie, the 30,000 miles that appeared on Big Nellie’s odometer, and the 3,238 miles I’ve ridden in the first half of the year.

July riding will be complicated by car maintenance. Typically, I put Little Nellie in the trunk of the car and take it to the mechanic.  We now have two cars in need of work so that will make for some interesting logistical legerdemain.  Also, I lose a weekend in a couple of weeks to a trip to the world famous Sigler Family Reunion, where even heathens like me can get richly blessed if we so choose. We’ve been to this in-law fest for 20 of the last 21 years, missing only when my daughter had the swine flu a couple of summers ago. I hope to get in at least one long-ish (over 60 miles) ride this month. I also have to get my act together and start fixing Big Nellie up. She’s looking the worse for wear these days. Fortunately, Tim Fricker at Bikes at Vienna has a new seat bag that looks like it would be the perfect birthday gift for the middle aged recumbent cyclists.  Black or red would be best.

Geese, Bollards, Heat and Physics

People don’t appreciate the little things. Take air conditioning, for instance.  Go five days without air conditioning during a heat wave in Washington DC.  It builds a hell of a lot more character than playing football.  Actually, that’s not true; it just makes you miserable, which come to think of it is exactly what football practice did for me back in high school.
Yesterday afternoon, the power was restored at the Rootchopper Institute by some utility workers from Illinois. I guess they have this derecho thing figured out west of the Appalachians, but the DC area has a power grid on a par with Havana.  I kept checking the temperature on our digital thermostat.  It took 3 hours for our air conditioning unit to lower the house temperature from 88 to 87 degrees. Ruh roh!  Between the still rising temperatures outside and the oppressive humidity, the air conditioner was doing everything it could just to stay even.  It’s sort of like the summer time version of shoveling snow in a blizzard.  You can kill yourself just keeping even with the snowfall. After several hours, the temperature outside and inside started to fall and I was able to sleep in my own bed for the first time in almost a week.  
For several days, I have had a craving for cereal and cold milk.  I eat cereal and cold milk for breakfast about 300 times a year.  It’s not a coincidence that the word “crack” appears in Cracklin Oat Bran. After eating a bowl this morning, I felt like Ewan MacGregor after he shot up in Trainspotting. I fell back in ecstasy and passed out.  When I came to, I jumped on Little Nellie and headed out into the swampy air for my bike commute.  
As long as I didn’t stop everything was copacetic.  I had to stop in Belle Haven Park, though, to document the geese herd.  This was no gaggle. It was a gaggle of gaggles. A metagaggle. Gagglegeddon.  Soon they will have to close the park to clear all the geese poo.  Ick.
I wonder if they are planning a takeover.
Bollards on Southern Side of Bridge
When I arrived at the Wilson Bridge Bollard farm, I stopped to take some pictures of the recent improvements. They painted lines to direct trail users through the bollards and put a yellow reflective band around the top of the bollards.  It was good that these bollards were in place because any southbound truck bomber had easy access to the underside of the bridge because the barrier gates were still not in place.  (I am not giving away any secret info to evil doers because the underside of the bridge has been unprotected since about 1960.)
Bollards on Northern Side of Bridge
As I rode through the north end of Old Town Alexandria, I heard a screech of tires. I looked to the intersection just ahead of me and there was a young man on a motor scooter who decided that it would be a good idea to come to a stop at a stop sign when the crosswalk was occupied by two elderly men walking and a third in a wheelchair.  If I had Mr. Fantastic’s powers, I would have used my stretchy arms to smack him upside the head. (Motor scooter boy, not wheelchair man.) Alas, instead I have the looks of the Thing and the only stretchy part of my anatomy is my waistline. I could have jumped off my bike and whacked him with my belly but I thought better of it. (I wonder if his helmet would have saved him.)
The rest of the ride in was blissfully uneventful.  There were not all that many people on the trail, but there were some Park Service folks cleaning up the debris left behind by the fireworks watchers.  I have to say that people seem to be getting much better at carrying out their trash. 
The ride home began with yet another saddle tweak.  It looks like my back likes the saddle level so that’s where it’s going to be set.  Once out of the garage at work I entered the blast furnace of this heat wave. Dang.  Fortunately the winds were tail and my legs were fresh so Little Nellie rolled smartly down river.
There was one incident that made my ride home remarkable. Just beyond the beltway, the Mount Vernon Trail runs right next to the George Washington Memorial Parkway. At one point it crosses an access for a condominium called Porto Vecchio.  There is a traffic light for bikes at this point and I had the green.  A car heading south on the Parkway to my right made a turn into Porto Vecchio directly across my path.  He also had a green light. I am pretty sure I had the right of way in this situation and I am also pretty sure the laws of physics were in his favor. I hit the brakes hard and yielded to the car.   
Beyond Porto Vecchio my bike and I were treated to a loverly ride in the shade.  I hardly noticed the heat until I pulled into my yard and stopped. Dang.  

Of Bollards, Derechos, and the Intersection of Doom

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It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  Since I last posted on this blog, I was nearly killed by a car in the Intersection of Doom, Little Nellie has been utterly transformed, my blog was cited by local bicycle advocacy organizations in a frontal assault against the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Bollard Farm (now capitalized since it is almost certainly destined for national monument status), and I have learned, rather uncomfortably, what derecho means.
Intersection of Doom: For those of you who don’t know about it, the Intersection of Doom is located in Rosslyn, Virginia at the meeting of Lynn Street, Lee Highway, the I-66 off ramp near the Key Bridge, and the Capital Crescent Trail.  I ride up the hill from the Mount Vernon Trail to the IoD every morning and take a left in the crosswalk on Lynn Street to go to my office.  (Normally, I don’t ride on crosswalks but I’d have to go through 4 lights and even more of the IoD to get there on the streets.) The crosswalk crosses the three-lane off ramp from I-66.  The people in the cars waiting at this particular light are antsy since they’ve been going 60 miles per hour and have grown accustomed to high g-forces.  Once they reach the IoD their frustration amps up as they have to wait for cyclists and pedestrians crossing through the IoD before turning right toward the Key Bridge and DC.  Right on red is allowed here, but it is not allowed from the center lane, of course. About a month ago, a pickup truck almost picked me off as I was riding across the ramp on Big Nellie.  Last week, it was a black sedan (piloted by a friendly stranger, no doubt).  I was on Little Nellie which is taller than Big Nellie. I watch as the driver blew through the red light without any apparent attempt at braking while talking to someone on her cell phone.  I hope she arrived at her destination in time.  She must be a very important person, because she thinks one minute of her time is worth the rest of my life.  You have to wonder how many cyclists and pedestrians will be mowed down before either a traffic cop is placed at the intersection or the intersection is re-designed.
Bike Transformed: Since I put a Brooks Flyer saddle on Little Nellie last week, the bike has transformed itself from a snail into a galloping platypus. Like a platypus, it’s still kind of funny to look at with all its pivots and levers and little wheels, but it really is riding like a regular bike now.  I keep tweaking the saddle position to dial in the best tilt/height/fore-aft orientation. No matter what I do both my back and my knees are more comfortable than they were with the previous saddle, a Brooks B67.  (That saddle was wider and springier.)  Little Nellie even made a guest appearance in @commute_by_bike’s blog out of Flagstaff AZ.   How you ask? (I heard you in the back row.)  He was in town and came to Friday Coffee Club last week. He thought my commuting arrangement was overkill, I guess.  My bikes and I do what works for us. So far we’ve managed to pull off the 29 mile commute 68 times this year.  Little Nellie is chuffed. 
Woodrow Wilson Bridge Bollard Farm: I was shocked to see that the Washington Area Bicyclists Association posted an account written by Jonathan Krall of the Alexandria Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee of their WABA/BPAC meeting with the officials in charge of the Wilson Bridge Bollard Farm.  Long story short, it doesn’t look like much will be done in the short term to remove the bollards, but I am still really happy to see WABA and BPAC  go to bat for the Mount Vernon Trail users who have been putting up with unsafe conditions at the bridge underpass for years.  Special thanks to Jonathan (who is also a Bike Friday owner) and Greg from BPAC and Shane Farthing from WABA for enduring searing heat (over 100 degrees) to walk transportation officials through the various problems with the site.  Also, thanks to Mark Blacknell of WABA for his involvement. 
Derecho: I took seven and a half years of foreign language between 8th grade and my freshman year in college.  Sadly, not one bit of it was in Spanish. French, it turns out, is useful when ordering fromage et crepes and Latin comes in handy when involved in heated discussions of Caesar’s Gallic Wars.  (“All of Gaul is divided into three parts…” That’s all I remember, sorry. I don’t even remember the parts other than Hellevicia which has since become a font.)  So I paid no mind to the warnings that the line of thunderstorms appearing on Weatherunderground was a derecho.  I mean, derechos sound like an excellent, if unhealthy, snack food. My family and I were spending a nice summer evening in the Starship Rootchopper, enjoying the icebox conditions that Mrs. Rootchopper prefers from April to October thanks to our Warp-drive powered air conditioner.  Then, faster than you can say “Que Pasa?” the derecho hit. The whole damned ship shook. Stuff was banging against the exterior walls, or was that thunder? Lightning or maybe something else was flashing nearly continuously. I called down to engineering to direct more power to the shields.  They responded in an imitation Scottish brogue that “we can’t take much more of this!!!” The interior lights flashed a few times and the warp drive left us adrift in the eerie calm of Hades on the Potomac.  In Hades, no one can hear you sweat.  (I’ll take the Tholian web any day over this.) For five days we were without power.  The temperature in our ground floor living room rose to a toasty 93 degrees.  I took to sleeping outside with a million of my insect friends where it was considerably cooler after sundown. My son deserted us for his friends’ air conditioning.  My wife and daughter both attended more movies than Siskel and Ebert. I hung out reading my book about the sex life of H. G. Wells. (I am not making this up.)
This morning a phalanx (learned that word in Latin class) of utility trucks pulled up in front of the drifting hulk the Starship.  After several more hours of sweaty waiting and reading, we lit out in our shuttle craft for food, cell phone charging and air conditioning. (I wonder how many newborns will be given the name A. C. this week.)  When we returned the extension cords that our neighbor cleverly ran across the street were gone.  We were saved. I sure hope we don’t have to endure a sequel anytime soon.  Rootchopper II: The Wrath of Derecho.  (Is Ricardo Montalban still alive?)