Showing posts with label BIXI. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BIXI. Show all posts

Friday, July 29, 2011

The evolution of parking

Last year I put up a post on scooter parking and BIXI stands. You can get to that post by clicking here.

Now, a little over a year later, my theory that each BIXI stand offers parking for at least two scooters seems to have taken root as a generalized practice here.

Am I only an observer, or, by publishing my observation, did I interfere with what might have been, and contribute in one way or another to expanding an isolated event into an actual trend?

Evidence in favour of the latter is the fact that my original post that mentioned the theory that BIXI stands offered natural scooter parking is the fourth most viewed post on my blog.

I'll never know.

I'm definitely not in flash-mob territory, but it's a tantalizing thought, if only for me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One of these things does not belong

Imagine my surprise.

I've seen a bike like this before of course. In Washington this past April.

No, I doubt that anyone rode the bike here and docked it.  BIXI supplies the DC Capital Bikeshare equipment and somehow one of those bikes slipped into the Montreal network.

I wonder if there are Montreal branded BIXIs in DC or Toronto?  Kind of like a public bike exchange program.

On my way back to the office 20 minutes later, the DC bike was gone. If I didn't have the picture to prove to myself that my eyes didn't deceive me I might be thinking I had hallucinated the whole thing.

Do you think the guy might be pedalling back to DC?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

BIXI, BIXI, BIXI

I was in Toronto over the weekend for a family occasion and noticed that BIXI bikes are operating there as well (see my earlier post with photos of BIXIs in Washington).

This photo and the other one below were taken while driving through the University of Toronto campus (I wasn't at the wheel, my son was, just in case you think that I've taken texting-and-driving to a whole new level).

Bike share programs are wonderful, and the Montreal flavour is probably the very best of the breed.  Solar powered, off the grid, and first class bikes.

In spite of its success, or perhaps because of its success, BIXI is having growing pains, particularly in financing its expansion with sales to New York City, Washington D.C., Toronto, London, and other places that are in the works as well.

I sincerely hope that needed financial assistance will be forthcoming from the City of Montreal town council in short order.

I am among those who believe that we need to change the way we in the U.S. and Canada commute to work.  Bicycles and the infrastructure they require to make them an alternate means of urban transportation are important ingredients in the recipe.

Public bike share programs like BIXI send important messages to urban populations where they are implemented:
  • The community truly cares about its quality of life;
  • More cars in the downtown core is not an acceptable solution;
  • Bicycles are a viable and serious means of getting around;
  • Solutions that consume no fuel, or very little fuel, are by far preferable to those that consume a lot.
 It's certain that there is a cost to implementing a bike share program.  That cost is very much justified.  Implementing a top-notch solution like BIXI makes perfect sense.  The quality of the system and its bikes are an important part of the message.  It means there's a real commitment to make a change, and it means that the users' experience will be a positive one.

So color me strongly in favour.

May the nay-sayers say what they may, and come what may, I say Yeah!!!!
Oh! And while our municipal politicians are busy exporting  our bike share solution to Toronto, they should busy themselves importing Toronto's generous parking solution that makes urban parking free for scooters and motorcycles.  Now that would be a step in the right direction here.

As for the scoot commute and me commuting on my Vespa scooter, it's been lean pickings.

The atrocious and unremitting rainy weather means I drive rather than ride.

Next week the scooter drought will continue.  I'm in Toronto on business on Monday, then off to Calgary for more business for the remainder of the week.

Being a firm believer, as noted in an earlier post, in the law of averages, I will be due for many fine scootering days in the coming weeks and months.

PS: BIXI got it's funding. Hang in there BIXI!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Finally Free in DC

Warm, humid, and wonderful. That's how I feel.

I'm fresh from an invigorating walk back from an earlier successful mission to fetch cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes.

The cupcakes are treats for Susan and Lauren.  Encouraged by my success, I drop the cupcakes off in my room and use the maps app on my Iphone to plan my further evening adventures.

I'm striking out from the hotel further down M street in search of Vidalia.  "Fine southern cuisine" is the promise on the restaurant cheat sheet handed to me by the concierge at the Fairmont.  I'm thinking that it's high time for some real southern fried chicken which I don't believe I've ever had.

Before satisfying my hunger for comfort food, I set off on another quest.  This is, after all, a blog about life on two wheels.  If you know the Washington Fairmont, you may think I'm headed for the complimentary BMW bicycles that the hotel offers to its guests.

Not quite my objective.

In the cab on the way in from Reagan National on Monday night, I had spotted a BIXI stand!  I knew I just needed to shoot proof that Montreal's public bike share program is alive and well in the heart of democracy.  It doesn't take me long to find my quarry.

On my way, I pass a Honda Metroplitan chained to a signpost looking like a forlorn pooch temporarily foresaken by its owner.
It reminds me of my first scootering experience in Victoria, so I snap a shot of it and move on.  No time for dawdling, I'm hungry.  But as I write this, I have the time to be indulgent.  So here's a shot of my very first scooter experience which, inexplicably, I haven't posted before.
Earlier in the evening, heading down M in the other direction, I had spotted a beautiful cream-colored Vespa ET that followed my cab, then filtered ahead, only to disappear down a side street before I could snap a picture.

A few brisk walking minutes later, I spot my prey at the corner of 25th and Pennsylvania Avenue.  A genuine real, feels like home, BIXI stand!!.  Except here it's capital bikeshare.

But a rose by any other name... is still a BIXI.
Such nice bikes. You just have to love how those sidewalls light up at night.
 Where am I? Right! Boy it's 8:45 and I'm starving.  But it has begun to drizzle.  I swing down Pennsylvania to 24th and back over to the Fairmont to fetch a brolly.

Armed with the loaner umbrella and feeling invincible, I set off down M in search of Vidalia and the promise of chicken.

Five good city blocks later and M has lost virtually all the charm it had in Georgetown from the cupcake store to the bridge just south of the hotel.  Now it's kind of office-y, and drugstore-ish, and drabb-ish, and I'm passing restaurants that are mostly closed-ish, with the only source of sustenance a brightly lit McDonalds.  If Vidalia is a bust, do I do McDonalds?  I shake off the wisp of thought, and forge ahead.

There! Across the street, Vidalia.

I scurry across the street feeling like the scofflaw jay walker that I am.  Hey! I'm a Montrealer.  We invented jay-walking. It's an art, it's efficient, not a crime, OK?

Hmmm.  The restaurant is downstairs.  There's a guy sitting on the stairs on his cell, looking a little dejected and, maybe desperate?  His back is to me.  If he was wearing scruffy clothes, I'd turn around and whistle my way over to Micky D's for chicken nuggets. But this guy's in a suit still.  He might be an investment banker, and this might be his first night on the mean streets.  I shrug, decide to chance it, and gingerly sidestep him as I head down below street level, into the unknown abyss.

Nice place once you're down here.  Now I'm worried that my casual attire or the late hour might earn me a box of McNuggets after all. I glance at my watch and look for anyone else in jeans.

No cause for concern   After a brief consult with the powers that be, the hostess offers me a very nice table where I have a view of the bar, and of a private room emitting clinking sounds and occasional polite applause that wafts out of the open frosted glass door and mingles appropriately with the jazz tracks piped in by unseen speakers.  Very nice indeed.

I've come to this slice of heaven in spite of the fact that the hoped-for fried chicken is only offered on the lower brow lunch menu.  The dinner menu is all braised bison short ribs and crispy duck breast, and foie gras au torchon, and such.  Hey, I can shift gears.

My waiter soon presents himself.  Very cool-looking dude, all in black jeans and shirt, cornrows, looks like the kind of guy you'd like to have as a cool friend, might own a bar in the islands, with a hint of Jamaica in the tone of his voice, and secretly you know he is way too cool to hang around with the likes of you.

I gingerly mention that I was hoping for real fried chicken, but I know it's not on the menu and would be pleased to indulge in some other southern fare.

My cool dude smiles a nice cool dude smile and encouragingly says he'll have a word with the chef.  The chef is way cool too, because they let the menu slide, and in the way I imagine southern comfort to be, indulge my desire.

While I wait, the amuse-bouches that now seem ubiquitous and de rigueur make their way to the starched table cloth before me.  Oh my dear Lord, I do believe I have found the ante-room to heaven and I am in it.

I now know this is going to kick ass!  A beautiful bent wood Scandinavian-looking breadbasket comes with a miniature trifecta of corn bread, traditional dinner roll, and a Vidalia onion brioche, accompanied by a ramekin duo of whipped Amish butter sprinkled with sea salt and a Vidalia onion marmalade.

Now you're thinking that in my overworked, sleep-deprived, meeting-numbed skull, I have lost all perspective and that nothing can be this good.  Dream on you silly reader.

There it now sits.
Three perfect, perfectly trimmed, perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked, perfectly beautiful, impossibly crisp pieces of southern fried chicken, resting on what the cool-dude later described off-handedly, with I assume to be false modesty, as black pepper gravy.  He then apologized for having had to substitute Vidalia's signature Mac & Cheese for the promised mashed potatoes, saying that it was just as well, since the chef used heavy cream in equal parts with potatoes in his recipe, so the three cheese Mac & Cheese was the obvious healthy choice.

As you can see, my feast was rounded out by beautifully presented and confit-like collared greens as a vegetable antidote to the other portions of the meal.

Do you get my point that you have to now start planning a visit to DC just so you can eat at Vidalia?  Chatting with the owner, I find out that this slice of bliss has been in business for 18 years.  That's an elephant age for a restaurant.

It's already tomorrow, and I have to be up at the crack o'dawn.  So this post has to come to an end now.

Nite!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Parking

One of the great aspects of commuting on a scooter like the Vespa LX150, is that while it is powerful enough, and "legal", for freeway use, it is small and nimble enough so you can literally find parking wherever you care to go.

I alluded to this in the previous post.

I was reading on Modern Vespa today that Boston has expanded parking in the city for motorcycles.

Toronto has taken a much more liberal view, and, in my opinion, adopted the most bike favorable policy I know of, by allowing powered-two-wheelers to park free of charge in any metered municipal parking slot in the city.

Now Montreal has never been that kind to scooter and motorcycle riders.  There are a few (and I mean very few) designated areas where motorcycles and scooters can park free of charge.

There is also a theory (which may have force of law, but who has the patience to find out?) that motorcycles and scooters can also park at the beginning, and at the end, of street parking slots designated for cars.

Here is an example of a motorcycle testing that theory just outside my office.  The reflections from the sun made taking this picture difficult.
 Notice I circled in white the "L" shaped marker designating where the permitted car parking space ends.  Any car parking in the space that the motorcycle is in would surely be ticketed.  The motorcycle? Maybe not.

In other two-wheeled respects, the City of Montreal is among a handful of progressive cities worldwide that make available a municipal bike-sharing program.  The city is now covered with BIXI stands.

Interestingly, just about every BIXI stand just happens to leave enough space at either end for a scooter to tuck in safely.  This is a phenomenon that is sprouting serendipitously all over the city, and here is a great example, also right outside my window.

Close to 300 BIXI stands strategically placed throughout the city means that, in addition to all the existing nooks and crannies where I can park my Vespa, there are close to 600 more cozy spots just waiting for me.

So when it comes to parking for the scooter commuter, although on paper Montreal isn't as enlightened as Toronto, or as forward thinking as Boston, there is no shortage of great spots where you can park a Vespa.

For those of you living in Washington D.C., and for students and faculty at Washington State University in the Northwest, good news, BIXIs are coming your way as well.  More parking for DC scooter commuters.

Ride safely!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Urban renewal

It's been an interesting week.

The one piece rain suit I purchased got tested in the rain on Monday. As expected it performed very, very well. As my son pointed out, without the helmet on, it looks like a parachute jumpsuit. With the helmet on... well, I begin to look like an astronaut.

There are two issues with the one-piece rainsuit. It's challenging enough getting into the one-piece that I wouldn't want to be doing it in the rain by the side of the road. So that means putting it on if the weather is iffy. Which often means either that I'm wearing too much gear, or worrying that I'll get caught with too little on if it starts to rain.

So I traded the one-piece for a two piece, which is a much better solution for my real need. Yesterday at lunch I went out to the Jean-Talon market and it started raining intermittently. I put the rain pants on but left the jacket in the pet carrier. The Corazzo 5.0 riding jacket is water resistant, so even if there was a light rain, or a cloudburst, I'd be fine getting back to the office.

As it happened, there were only a few drops so even the pants were overkill. On the commute home, I did get some rain, and the combination of the Corazzo and the rain pants was just the right solution.

Which brings me to the morning commute. So far this week the mornings have been a little chilly, but otherwise gorgeous. The route along the lakeshore offers beautiful scenery in a variety that is constantly refreshing. Here for instance is one of the many lighthouses that dot the route. I have no idea whether they are purely decorative or truly serve a purpose, but with the quantity of ocean going freighters that travel through the lake I wouldn't be surprised if they really served a navigation purpose.The route along the Lachine canal is the reason for the topic of this entry.

The canal opened in 1825 following four years of construction. It allowed ships to reach the great lakes by by-passing the Lachine rapids. When you visit Montreal one of the things you can do is to take a jet-boat tour of the rapids. Anyone who is even remotely interested in the development of industry in North America should take the tour. It's really the only way to see the rapids and to get an idea of their size and of the barrier they pose to navigation. There are standing waves in the rapids that are more than 12 feet tall from trough to crest.

The Lachine canal quickly became a hub for Canadian industry during the industrial revolution. The opening of the St-Lawrence Seaway in 1959 signaled the end of the canal's usefulness. It was closed to all traffic in 1970 and the industrial buildings that lined the canal were slowly abandoned and decayed.
The federal government has since rehabilitated the canal first as a cycle path, and more recently, rehabilitated the locks and re-opened the canal to pleasure craft. The canal now offers a very pleasant route for pleasure boats to get from Lake Saint-Louis right down to the Old Port in Old Montreal. With that rehabilitation of the canal, many of the century-old warehouses have been converted to trendy lofts. Buildings that were not suited to residential conversion have been demolished all along the canal and brand new condos have sprouted.









The last few mornings I have ended my commute at a Van Houtte coffee shop about a block from my office. It's good place to read the Financial Post and enjoy my first of the many cups of coffee I am addicted to. Last riding season I would get there by taking a BIXI bike from the commuter train to the BIXI stand across from the coffee shop. This year I park the Vespa on the corner.Either way, I strongly prefer commuting on two wheels.

For the next little while, the BIXIs will playing a much more secondary role as I continue to explore the many urban pleasures that the Vespa affords.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Commuting strategy: picking a route

Commuting to work on a scooter is only a theory at this point.

I mainly commute by train, which is reasonably fast, safe and convenient. Except for having to live my life around the train schedule. When things are hectic at the office, I drive a car. Either way, the commuting time is roughly an hour.

My goal is to commute on my Vespa scooter each and every day from April through October, rain or shine.

The first step for my new commuting strategy was to find a scooter-friendly route to work. The criteria for the route were that it had to be pleasant, with no highway or expressway legs, and also reasonably efficient. The route I have chosen is probably a good part of the reason I am committed to doing this. I'll document my route during the summer on this blog.

My home is on the west island, on the lakeshore. Montreal is an island, like Manhattan. To the south, the St-Lawrence river widens to form Lake St-Louis. Three quarters of the route to downtown follows the old lakeshore road.

It's easily one of the most picturesque rides in the region. For much of the ride only parkland separates the road from the lake. The road takes you through pretty residential neighbourhoods dotted along the way by the old villages that developped along what used to be one of Canada's main early highways.

Eventually the scooter route leaves the lakeshore and follows the Lachine Canal along St-Patrick street. The canal was a nineteenth century industrial engineering marvel that allowed lake boats to take cargo from Montreal towards the great lakes, by-passing the formidable Lachine rapids. The canal was once the main artery for Montreal's factories. Almost all the factories that line the canal are long closed. For a time the Lachine canal was a dismal string of abandoned buildings. More recently, the entire length of the canal has been redevelopped as a parkway with a scenic bicycle path that travels the entire length of the canal ending at the port in Old Montreal. Most of those old factories have been redeveloped in the past 5 to 10 years as trendy residential lofts.

As ugly and forbidding as the canal once was, it has emerged as one of Montreal's great outdoor recreation spaces.

From the canal, which is only a fifteen minute Bixi bike ride from my office, the route crosses over into downtown. Five minutes on a scooter for that leg, tops!

I tested the route several times by car, and, it takes an hour.

So, an hour by car in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic on a clogged expressway; or an hour on a packed commuter train; or an hour on a scooter along one of the most picturesque, winding tree-lined, scenic routes in North America. Seems like a no-brainer.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Getting started...

The city in the title backdrop is Montreal. I took the three pictures I used to make the composite view of the city on a flight home from Victoria in the fall of 2008. The city is seen looking to the south.

(Ed.: this journal was redesigned in late 2015 and the original header was changed. Here is what it used to look like:


That should provide the needed context.
)

To begin this blog, a little context is in order.

I vividly remember my first bike. It was to be the present for my seventh birthday. A candy apple red Raleigh 24" frame, coaster brake bike. I dreamt about that bike. I imagined I could ride it. I day-dreamed about what it would be like to get it for what seemed like eternal winter weeks and months.

When I finally got the bike in the spring, it was everything I had hoped for. It spent the first night in my room, on its center stand, at the foot of my bed. In the darkened room, with my eyes closed, unable to sleep, I could smell its presence. A whiff of that wonderful smell that you get when you walk into a bicycle store.

I found out the next day that actually learning to ride that bike was going to be incredibly scary, difficult, and ultimately in those first few days, painful.

Like most kids I persevered and never looked back. Growing up, my bicycle was the key to freedom. Endless summer days and evenings, riding with my friends, every day a fresh adventure, more riding skills learned.

By junior college, I was riding a second-hand 10-speed bike. I was easily doing 30 or 40 miles a day, between home on Montreal's north shore, to my summer job near the airport, and then east to Ville St-Laurent for summer classes.

In university I managed to convince my parents and my grandmother to buy me a moped for my birthday. All I could afford was a Solex. It was basically a more or less sturdy bicycle with a 49cc engine driving a kind of abrasive roller that rested on the front tire. In dry weather it could easily do 20 miles an hour. In the rain, the water lubricated the roller causing slippage, and you were lucky to do 15... 10 if there was a head wind. That could be misery. Still, I loved that bike and the freedom it brought.

Read on, there's a picture of a Solex below.

With each each new bike, my range increased. I thought nothing of jumping on the Solex at my parents' house (then located on the western slope of Mount Royal) to visit my friends who lived 25 miles away in Ste-Rose.

Eventually I graduated to a family of my own, kids, cars, hockey and soccer practices, dog walking, and life on two wheels just became a thing of the past.

In the mid eightys I left my law firm to work in-house for a large Canadian public company. The firm’s managing partner bought me a really good Norco touring bike as a parting gift.

It was by far the best bike I have owned.

I began to re-discover the pleasures of cycling. As my sons, and later my daughter, learned to ride as well, we would take longer and longer rides. Eventually, the kids grew up, and, as I had done, moved on to cars. Somewhere along the way I was lucky to acquire a nice shiny red (my wife was quick to point out it was "mid-life crisis red") Miata roadster, so I wasn’t exactly pining away and missing life on two wheels.

2008 was a turning point in my life on two wheels.

My wife and I got to take two weeks’ vacation in Paris and Barcelona. Both those cities were firsts for us, and we absolutely loved each of them.

What struck me most was how people in Europe live on two wheels. It didn’t take long for that impression to hit home. In the taxi on the way to our rented condo, as we drove along the expressway towards Paris, there were actually five lanes of traffic on the three lane expressway: motorcycles and scooters were riding the white lines and traveling somewhat faster than the cars and trucks. 110km an hour in rush hour traffic on the lane dividers on scooters… all kinds of scooters, Vespa GTs, Burgmans, MP3s, and three-wheeled BMW scooters complete with 4-point seatbelts, stereos and windshield wipers.

I have to say it made quite an impression. Including the person seen here commuting on a Solex.

After two weeks of seeing all those folks living care-free on two wheels, I began to think I could do the same in Montreal.

I first rented a scooter in the fall of 2008 during a conference in Victoria B.C. I spent a wonderful afternoon riding as far as I could up the coast of Vancouver Island. What a blast.

Last fall, I rented a Vespa LX50 for a couple of days and tested a commuting route from my home on the western tip of the island to my office in the downtown core. It was October 31st and it rained for both the trip home and the trip back to the Vespa dealer. Without real rain gear, I was wetter than I have ever been, and cold too… but in spite of less than ideal conditions, I was firmly hooked by the Vespa bug.

Three weeks ago I took delivery of a second-hand, lovingly cared-for, dragon-red, Vespa LX150 with a Vespa top case. What a dream.

I haven’t begun to commute quite yet since there are some minor issues to deal with, such as installing a turn indicator buzzer (since I have discovered to my dismay that, try as I may, I remain prone to forgetting to cancel the indicators; a nice, loud, Italian air horn (a Stebel Compact Nautilus, to be precise), because I don’t want to be going “meep-meep” when some fool is bent on threatening my life; and lastly, the scooter didn’t come with its master key, so my only key is off on its own adventure getting cloned.

April 1, 2010 (I know, April Fools Day, but I’m not a prankster, this is for real) will mark the beginning of my scoot commute.

I learned a ton of stuff from reading scooter blogs and following the posts at Modern Vespa since last fall, and I figure that I owe it to others to share my experience as well.

This blog will not just be about my Vespa. Montreal inaugurated North America’s first public bike system last summer, and I am proud to say that I was one of the very first subscribers. I got a special black smart card key to prove it. From the first day the service began in May until the bikes were taken off the streets for the winter at the end of November, I racked up more than 600 kilometers on Bixi bikes. The Bixis are the best gift I have received from the C├Čty of Montreal since Expo 67. This summer I'll continue to Bixi on my lunch hour, getting down to Old Montreal, and up to the Plateau, or over to the Atwater Market for lunch.

Future posts will not likely be anywhere near this long. I just figured I needed to introduce myself properly before getting on with it.

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.