Sunday, September 20, 2015

Exploring the Solar System by Bicycle

While Christine and I were exploring the Eugene bike trails, we came upon a one-billionth scale model of one of the planets. It turned out to be part of a larger work, a model of the solar system. Today we hopped on our bikes and completed a lovely and educational tour of the entire installation. Riding from planet to planet, reading the signs and seeing the relative sizes of the models really help give a sense of the vastness of space and the place of our tiny home world within it.

It was a beautiful morning for riding and we rode out to the farthest reaches of the solar system.

The official space scientists might have demoted Pluto to dwarf planet status, but Eugene still recognizes it. It is really tiny. At this scale it's only a few mm across.

We roll on toward Neptune.

Neptune is much bigger than Pluto.

The signs tell about the planets and contain a map showing how they are laid out along the trail.

The arrows at the base give the distance to the sun.

The real sun (not the model) is out in force today. It's still early so it's not too hot.

Christine claims I take too many pictures of her.

Here we are at Uranus.

On to Saturn.

The model makers totally had to fudge on the scale for the thickness of the rings to make them visible and durable.

Jupiter is the biggest planet. Like Saturn it's a gas giant.

The inner planets are all relatively close to the sun and in this model they're all near the duck pond on the north side of the river. Mars is about the size of a little marble.

After visiting Mars, we stop off at Earth. As the Grateful Dead said, "A peaceful place, or so it looks from space. A closer look reveals the human race."

This shows how close the Earth and the Moon are. This trip really made me appreciate the relative complexities of various space missions. Getting to Mars is much harder than going to the Moon. The fact that we could get a probe out to Pluto to get those recent pictures in flat out amazing.

Christine admiring Venus.

Now we've made it to the closest planet to the sun, Mercury.

Here's the sun. It's kind of weird seeing the model sun in the light from the real sun.

And that concludes our tour of the solar system. I hope you enjoyed it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How Eugene Encourages and Discourages Biking and Driving

Over the years I've lived and biked in a variety of places. Eugene, Oregon, the city I now call home, is a pretty good place to get around by bicycle. It's not perfect, but the city has done some interesting things to lessen the potential conflicts between cars and bikes.

The street pictured above is 11th Avenue, the street I live on. It's a one-way heading west and it's not very bike-friendly. I think that's great. Here's why.

11th Avenue is the fast way to go to the west side of town. If you're a driver in a hurry, you take 11th. If you're a bike rider, you really don't consider 11th. Too busy, too unpleasant and there are several other great roads. Why are these other roads great? Because, among other things the impatient drivers pick 11th! 12th is a low traffic residential road. There are stop signs every couple of blocks and it's labeled "Bike Route". Nice for biking, fine for driving if you're only going a block or two.

This is 13th Avenue. 13th is a fast one-way headed east. But 13th is pretty nice for biking because it has a bike lane and no parking lane (at least on this section). No parking lane means no door zone. You can bike quickly and not have to worry about a door being opened in front of you. Also note that the bike lane has a bit of a buffer zone. Not perfect, but better than the bike lanes in a lot of places.

But here is what I take for a majority of my commute. I live on 11th Avenue and Bike Friday (where I work) is a couple miles west of me on 11th Avenue but I commute via the Fern Ridge Bike Path (which almost everybody calls the Amazon Creek Trail). It's a nice path for bikers and walkers and there are no cars.

Eugene has lots of bridges that are just for bikers and walkers. This is one that goes over the Amazon Creek.

And this is the view from the bike bridge over 18th Avenue, a busy East-West two-way street. 18th has bike lanes on each side.

Here's a view of the bridge.

Here's a street that intersects with 18th. Note that bike riders get their own button to trigger the green. A lot of the other intersections have labeled detectors built into the road surface showing where to place your bike to trigger the green.

Here's another feature of the trail along the Amazon Creek. In many places the trail passes under the roads it crosses. If you want or need to turn off onto the road, you take the upper route. If not you roll under the road.

The underpasses can flood in the wet times of the year.

Here's a street level crossing. One difference between Eugene and the Seattle area is that about 80% of the drivers in Eugene look for and stop for bike riders and pedestrians going across. It's not 100% and I always slow, make eye-contact and decide if the driver is really stopping but in Seattle the norm was for the driver to assume they had right of way.

As I mentioned, Eugene has loads of bike bridges. This one was trucked in from elsewhere. It's no longer rated for heavy traffic but it works great for bikes.

It's nice seeing these old bits of history serving a useful function.

This is where I work. A vast majority of us bike to work. We have a secure bike parking garage and showers. The car drivers don't get secure covered parking.

Here's another chunk of the 13th Avenue. It starts out as a sharowed street and then turns into a street with a bike lane next to parking (so yeah, the door zone problem).

But then the parking lane goes away and the bike lane remains.

But cutting over one block is better. This is 12th. It's low-traffic & residential. Good for biking.

This is even better for biking. This is Broadway. If you're on Broadway in a car, you can't go more than 2 blocks without being forced to turn off. But it's an expressway for bikes.

Tyler Street (my cross street) is similarly signed. These forced turns keep drivers from blasting through the neighborhood. Again, there are designated fast streets for drivers and folks in a hurry take those.

Many local businesses encourage their customers to bike by providing good bike parking. This pub is a good example.

As is the local hippie grocery store.

Eugene also uses sharrows for wayfinding. These tell the cars, "hey you're probably going to see bikers here" and it tells bikers which way things are flowing.

There's a great path that runs along both banks of the Willamette River.

This is super pretty path system and it also has a lot of good ways to get across the river.

Yeah, it's kind of pretty around here.

There are actually more bike bridges than car bridges across the Willamette.

There are also signs that make it pretty hard to get lost.

Some of the car bridges have bike lanes, but the dedicate bridges are pretty and totally relaxing ways to get across the river.

I probably shouldn't have waited for traffic to clear when I took these shots. Actually, these bridges and paths see a lot of use.

Rolling back toward home.

The library is another example of a place with plenty of bike parking. Unfortunately, it's also a hotbed for bike theft.

Eugene is good a good place for bike riding because it works to make some places very nice for riding. It makes some other places nice for driving, drawing the cars away from the bike friendly places. Sometimes this is a forced separation but other times it's nudge that works very well.