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Friday, April 28, 2006

Folding Bikes - The Viable Alternative To Cars

by Larry Lagarde

Earlier this afternoon, I read an email asking why bikes have come so far when cars haven't.

A lighter car is coming; in fact, it's here. Google HPV and you'll find several companies (including one in Texas) that make light, enclosed vehicles. These are human powered machines that can easily exceed 30 mph. Several are made in Holland and Germany and they tend to cost $5-10k.

The problem with HPV's is where to ride them. They're so light that riding in motor vehicle traffic is dangerous due to wind from other vehicles. Since they're so fast, it's dangerous to ride HPV's on dedicated bike/pedestrian paths as other users are unaware of their presence until the last moment...

For now, the only viable alternative to a car is a folding bike. Get the right one and you'll be amazed how empowering folders are. The best ones are sturdy to ride yet will compact to a very small size for storage and can be rolled whether folded or not (minimizing the need to carry them). I've taken my folder into the bank, post office, elevator, train station, onto the subway, restaurant, work... all without a problem. I've even zipped it into a suitcase and taken it on vacation. Try doing that with a car!

For more about folders, visit wikipedia. Most folders are mentioned there.

By the way, I've been riding folding bikes for years. I liked their convenience so much that I sell 2 brands now: Giatex (starts @ $279) & Mobiky ($699). I sell Giatex because they "stretch" to fit the size of the rider; thus, one can serve the entire family. I sell Mobiky because they fold in like 3 seconds and are engineering wonders. Both bikes can roll when folded, ride extremely well & will fit in a suitcase for travel.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Teaching/Learning How To Ride A Bike

By Larry Lagarde

Recently, a customer from Memphis asked me to help find training wheels for the 16" Giatex Sport 550 that she had just purchased. According to her neighborhood bike shop, training wheels would not fit. As a result of assisting her, I learned about 2 new products and more about teaching kids to ride bicycles.

Not having a set of training wheels handy, I asked a business associate for advice. Since standard training wheels interfere with the movement of the derailleur, my associate suggested that the customer install the wheels over the derailleur and accept that the bike would stay in the same gear until training wheels were no longer needed. Every bike with training wheels is a single speed anyway, right? WRONG.

Searching for training wheel alternatives, I discovered 2 products: Fatwheels & the ReadyRider. Both can be used with multi-speed bikes that use derailleurs to change gears.

Fatwheels are training wheels on steriods. Using a combination of larger, better tires and stronger braces, they're far more stable/durable than the traditional, narrow, solid rubber training wheels most of us have either seen or used. Fatwheels roll more easily than traditional training wheels and can be used on a wider variety of riding surfaces making them the first choice for safety conscious parents, regardless of the riding surface. They can even accommodate the weight of an adult.
Cost (incl the extender needed to clear the derailleur and shipping in lower 48 states): $95

ReadyRider is a handle that can be used to steady and propel a rider from behind. It attaches to the rear axle of the bicycle and the seat post and can be used with or without training wheels.
Cost (incl shipping in lower 48 states): $25

Test Results
Although I didn't test the Fatwheels, the ReadyRider worked well, attaching quickly and free of problems. I think my 6 year old will learn to balance on his bike much faster with the ReadyRider than with training wheels.

Teaching/Learning To Ride
Safe bicycling takes considerable coordination, agility, balance and judgement. If you're looking to teach someone to ride a bicycle, use more than the potential rider's age to assess their ability to ride free of training aids or assistance. You may find it beneficial to read "Teaching Kids to Ride" by Sheldon Brown. Sheldon has been writing about cycling for years and offers excellent advice on a wide range of cycling subjects.

By the way, with respect to kids' abilities for cycling, ibike.org (a very large bicycling info site) has this to say: "Most kids try two-wheeler with training wheels around age 3 years... Between the ages of 4 and 8 years most kids develop sufficient physical coordination and agility, good balance, and master starting and stopping on a tricycle or training wheels and are ready to learn to ride. (Note: Kids generally lack the coordination and strength for hand brakes until at least 5.) But, along with physical skills it also takes mental readiness and motivation to learn to ride."

Looking for a great starter bike...
Whether you're looking for the first 2 wheel bike for your tike or a bike for an adult, the Giatex is the only bike for the job. The 16" Giatex Sport 550 will stretch from a compact size for preteens to accommodate riders up to 6' 4" and 205 lbs. For more info about sturdy, light and practical folding bikes under $300, visit RideTHISbike.com.

Gasoline @ $5/gallon This Summer

Would you pay $4/gallon for regular gasoline? According to a report today on Fox News, gas prices at the pump in some areas of the country could exceed $5/gallon. All it would take is a big hurricane hitting the Gulf of Mexico this summer.

With experts predicting another active hurricane season, continuing uncertainties in the world oil market and increasing demand in China & India for oil, we, the American nation, need to be realistic about fuel costs. Perhaps we can't stop the upward spiral of oil prices but we can take control of the effect oil has on our lives.

There are consequences to every decision we make in life. How we live, where we live, where we work, where we play and how we get to the places we go - by personally choosing to make changes to any of these issues, we as individuals can affect the personal impact of higher fuel costs on ourselves.

I for one refuse to allow rising fuel costs to sap the joy from life. I'll use my bicycle and public transportation more often and put less miles on my car. I'll change the motor oil and check the tire pressures more often. I'll insulate my home better from the weather. I'll work from home when I can. I'll turn lights off when I leave a room. I may even move back to the inner city and participate in urban renewal...

My point is that change is the ONLY constant in life. If we embrace change and the challenge it presents, our lives and our economy in general will be fuller and more robust. It's up to us.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Meeting Notice: New Orleans Regional Transit Authority Board of Directors


WEDNESDAY, APRIL 26, 2006 AT 10:00 A.M.
2817 CANAL STREET (behind the A. Philip Randolph Bldg.)


1. Call to Order
2. Invocation
3. Pledge of Allegiance
4. Roll Call
5. Approval of Minutes
6. RTA Chairman’s Report
7. RTA General Counsel’s Report
8. Jefferson Parish Report
9. TMSEL General Manager’s Report
10. Administration and Finance Reports
A. FEMA Public Works Assistance Projects
B. Insurance Matters
C. FTA/FEMA Contract
D. RTA Bus and Streetcar Shelter Program
E. Status Report on APTA/SWTA Donations

11. Procurement Activity Report
To Award:
A. Paratransit Vans
B. Compensation to Reliant Transportation
C. Repair of Canal Street Streetcars and Riverfront Streetcars
D. IBM Maintenance Contract

To Solicit:
A. Buses
B. Support Vehicles
C. Support Equipment
D. Temporary Power at Canal Street
E. Permanent Power at Canal Street

12. Operations Reports
13. HNTB/PricewaterhouseCoopers Project Status Update
14. New Business
15. Audience Questions and Comments
In re: CDC #1998-21747 Div “I”
Kelly Nesten vs. Regional Transit Authority
17. Adjournment

New Orleans Public Transportation Outlook Dims

by Larry Lagarde

A serious budget crisis threatens the future of public transportation in New Orleans, making alternate transportation like folding bicycles even more important.

Unless a new source of funding is provided soon, emergency funds that have allowed the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA) to continue to serve New Orleanians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina shall cease on June 30, 2006, forcing additional employee layoffs and more cutbacks in service, says Rosalind Cook, NORTA's media relations manager.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, 60% of funding for NORTA came from fares; the balance was funded through local sales tax and hotel tax revenues. Unfortunately, all of these traditional funding sources have decreased dramatically since Katrina (ridership alone is just one fifth of what it was before the storm).

With the budgets of both the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana sucked dry, the only hope is that the federal government will come through with funds. The US House of Representatives has approved $200 million for emergency transportation issues like this one; however, the US Senate must also approve this bill for the funds to become available. The issue is before the Senate now but an answer will probably not come until May 27th when the Senate goes into recess.

Mrs. Cook also said that Warren notices are being mailed to all NORTA employees to inform them that they may not have jobs in 60 days. No doubt, this will make NORTA's Board of Commissioners meeting at 10am tomorrow morning very interesting. The budget crisis is on the agenda.

Looking for transportation alternatives...
Regardless whether you're planning to ride a streetcar or bus in New Orleans, folding bikes have become an attractive transportation option. For more info about sturdy, light and practical folding bikes for under $300, visit RideTHISbike.com.

For more about the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, visit http://www.norta.com

Friday, April 14, 2006

Lake Pontchartrain Bike Path Update - Jefferson Parish

Long ago when I was a teenager, a linear park was created along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain in Jefferson Parish. During the summertime, I'd ride the paved bike path from end to end about once a week. Recently, I revisited the trail; here's what I found.

My memories of the trail were a great view of the lake, a linear bramble of weeds and young trees stretching about 150' wide and a seldom used bike path about 20 miles long. The lake views are still great but the trail has changed. The biggest change is the lack of overgrown vegetation. As a result of ongoing work to build up the hurricane protection levee, virtually all of the trees were bull dozed. The no man's land of brambles and rip rap that stretched between the levee and the bike path are gone too. Where the levee work has been completed, the linear park is just one long, mowed lawn.

Portions of the lakefront bike path (Williams Blvd west to the parish line and the segment between Causeway and the canal by East Jefferson Hospital) remain closed to traffic as work continues on rebuilding the flood protection levees. Other segments of the lakefront trail (such as a critical connector bridge at the Bonnabel Boat Launch and the underpass below the Causeway) are still closed due to storm damage. Bike trail segments that are open are smooth for the most part; however, with the trail running right up against the lake shore, some points of the trail are a little bumpy from settling. Every now and then, riders must also navigate over a layer of clam shells and flotsam that have washed up with the high tide or wave action.

Jefferson Parish being the traffic nightmare that it is post Katrina, it's refreshing to get out on the lakefront linear path. Other than the excellent linear path along the Mississippi River, the lake front trail is one of the only places in the entire metro area where riders need not interact with motor vehicles for miles and miles.

Bicycling In New Orleans: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Having recently returned to New Orleans, there are a variety of cycling related changes since Hurricane Katrina.

The Good
Within the city limits, I'm seeing more cyclists than ever before as well as notably fewer motor vehicles driving down the streets.

The Bad
There are fewer vehicles because so many people have yet to return to their homes. Whole neighborhoods continue to lie empty. Tourism has also not returned to normal. As a result, some bike shops have closed and a great, local bike tour company (Laid Back Tours) has closed indefinitely.

The Ugly
Small debris like glass and roofing nails continues to litter the roads throughout the metro area. Cycling in Bywater, I narrowly missed rolling over a 1" roofing nail. At the end of the same ride, I passed another bicyclist; she was walking her bike due to a flat...

Friday, April 07, 2006

What's Better: Hitch Hiking Or Biking?

This morning, a post on a travel forum about hitch hiking caught my eye. The post was from a guy in his early 20's asking for suggestions about hitch hiking across the USA. It reminded me of an experience I had some 20 years ago that could have been the end of my life.

When I was in my 20's, I traveled extensively in both the USA & Europe, sometimes with very little cash. The more I traveled, the more confident I felt and the more likely I was to take an occasional risk. When I found myself in a bind with no other option and desire to get from Point A to Point B, I hitched. About 70% of the time, I used a service that matched drivers and riders as this requires providing identification info from both parties. There was one time though when I hitched on my own out of Munich and, frankly, it was quite a creepy experience.

I was at an on ramp of the Autobahn thumbing and a guy pulled up in a Volkswagen Bug. He looked middle aged, clean cut and trustworthy. He said that he was going in the right direction too so I hopped in. We drove for about an hour, talking about travel, the weather, etc. and everything was fine. After sunset though, the guy became unnerving. I don't remember all the details (mental block?) but once he mentioned that he liked to take young guys to his house WAY out in the countryside, my mind started racing for an exit strategy.

I began talking about friends of mine in Austria, that they were expecting me, that I was already overdue and thus needed to call them. Meanwhile, it began snowing quite hard, slimming my chances to catch another ride if I got outta' there. He kept saying that I could use the phone when we got to his place but I was adamant that we stop. Angrily, he pulled over at a rest stop and I jumped out.

I found myself standing in a blizzard at a rest stop on the Autobahn. The snowfall had turned into a blizzard, it was late and there was NO shelter from the storm. I was cold, wet, alone, angry (at being so foolish) and anxious about what would happen next. Thankfully, God took mercy on me. After about 20 minutes of thumbing alongside the highway in the numbing cold, a student on his way home for the weekend pulled over and gave me a ride. We drove late into the night, over the border into Austria and on into the Alps.

What's the point? This hitching experience involved 2 clean cut guys. One was a weirdo, the other, a God send. Unfortunately, I COULDN'T TELL who was who just by looking at them and therein lies the problem with thumbing; you just don't know what you're getting into. Add to that the VAST distances involved with traveling across the USA, the fact that it could be a LONG wait between rides and, in my humble opinion, 'nuff said 'bout hitchin'.

On the other hand, I did a solo, 1500 mile bike trip (basically from Yellowstone NP to Las Vegas, with many stops in between). It took 3 weeks and was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The point is that I had fun and felt safe the entire time. I went where I wanted to go. I didn't have to wait on a ride. I didn't have to worry whether the driver was a sicko. I camped in the country side and was never bothered. In some cases, I'm sure no one knew I was even there b/c bikes leave such a small footprint. Of course, having the bike also allowed me to bring lots more gear than I could comfortably if I was backpacking so that made for a more enjoyable trip too.

For anyone considering hitching as a means to travel, my suggestion is to buy a light yet sturdy, folding bike (like a Giatex for $289) and a $100 bike trailer (the kind folks use for their kids) to go with it. The whole rig will cost you less than $400. Pack your gear into the bike trailer and hit the road. Not only does the kiddie trailer transport up to 100 lbs, it also causes drivers to give you a wider berth than they would otherwise. If you get yourself the right suitcase, both the bike and the trailer can be packed up when you're trip is over. You can put the suitcase on a train, plane or ship it via Fedex, etc, giving you transportation for your next journey.

If this sounds interesting, you can find more information both about traveling by bike and about folding bikes at RideTHISbike.com. I can personally recommend the Giatex bikes; I've used them on several trips and pull my son to school and back in a trailer that's towed by a Giatex.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Kat-5 Vehicle Demo Offers A Glimpse Of The Future

In another step along the road to recovery after Hurricane Katrina, I met Friday with Lee Pryor with the Louisiana Technology Council to discuss leasing business space at the Louisiana Technology Council Center in New Orleans. At the end of our meeting, Lee invited me to attend a demonstration of the Kat-5, a vehicle that had participated in the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge this past October. I accepted Lee's offer and had a fascinating look at the future of transportation.

The 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge was the second race sponsored by DARPA (the US Department of Defense's central research and development organization) to accelerate research and development on robotic ground vehicles. Ultimately, the goal of the race was to identify the processes and technologies needed so that US military vehicles on the battlefields of 2015 can drive themselves without need for human intervention. Of over 100 entrants, the Kat-5 was one of just 4 that finished the race within DARPA's specifications.

The story of the Kat-5 is so incredible, it just begs to be turned into a movie. Developed at the last minute on a whim by the owners of a small casualty insurance company located in a New Orleans suburb, the Kat-5 was created by a dedicated team of 4 and with $650,000 in backing. Team members used raw ingeniuty to beat out huge teams from prestigious universities that had years of robotics experience and millions of dollars at their disposal.

The Kat-5 was so successful that it only varied 1 1/2 inches from the route over the entire 130+ mile course. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina interrupted testing of the vehicle, leaving insufficient time to optimize the software that controlled the vehicle. As a result, Kat-5 finished 30 minutes behind the winner; however, considering that only 5 cars succeeded in driving the whole course, that's quite an accomplishment.

Watching Kat-5 navigate obstacles by itself in a parking lot, two ideas came to mind. First, I was witnessing science fiction becoming science fact. Second, when my infant daughter is old enough to drive, I won't have to worry about her driving skills the way my parents worried about mine.

Photos of Kat-5 at the 2005 Grand Challenge
Video of the Kat-5 in action on the Challenge course (.wmv format)

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