200th Bike Rack, Bombed

You know that moment when Valencia is quiet? Early before all the shops open? I show up to work and there’s a woman out front knitting quietly on a little folding stool. A real live yarn bomber.

I wasn’t expecting her to be so open or charming. I thought yarn bombing was done anonymously in the shadows. I started asking questions and here’s what I learned.

Emily Stauffer (fogknits.com) has been doing this since 2010. As sweet as she is, she started out of snark. “All my friends kept sending me this yarn bombing story that had gone viral. It got kind of old saying ‘Yeah, I saw it. Thanks.’ So I decided to yarn bomb something so that I could say yeah, ‘I’ve done it. Thanks.’”

“5 years later, this is probably my 200th bike rack.”

Emily has bombed pansies in a garden, statues, fences, mail boxes and pink flamingos in a neighbors yard (the only time she’s yarn bombed on private property). But her favorite thing to bomb is bike racks.

“I’m so opposed to yarn bombing trees. Trees are beautiful. They don’t need improving. Let’s add some color to something that needs some help. An ugly fence. A steel bike rack.”

“It took me by surprise that the bike community appreciated it,” Emily said. “I used to just cover the very top of bike racks – the most visible part. But I kept noticing that people would slide the yarn down to one side. Eventually I figured out that bikers were doing that to protect their paint from getting scratched by the rack. Since realizing that knitting racks was actually functional, about 95% of my yarn bombing has been on racks.

Emily’s work tends to stay up anywhere from 24 hours (in the Castro) to a year.

When strips get boring, Emily throws in an Easter egg like this Charlie Brown stripe.

Do you recognize this pattern? Take your best guess in the comments below.

So how long does it take to yarn bomb 5 circular bike racks? Emily does most of the work in what she calls “found time.”

“10 minutes while waiting for the bus. Another 10 minutes because the bus was full and it just passed me by. 20 minutes on the bus. I don’t really sit at home and work on a project like this.” When pressed, Emily confesses, “I probably spent 60-70 hours on this one.”

I thanked her for her contribution and with a smile she corrected me, “my egregious act of vandalism.”


3D City: Launching off Jones

3D City is a year long stereoscopic photography project by Doctor Popular

Noel and I had just finished shooting a video for my comic book project, God Hates Dinosaurs, when we first met Toby Allender. He introduced himself as a BMX rider visiting from Australia and said he was on the hunt for a giant San Francisco hill that he could bomb on his bike. He saw our camera gear and stopped us to see if we’d like to help.

A couple hours later we were in Toby’s rental car driving around Russian Hill looking for a nice steep street and picking up any spare traffic cones we could find. We ended up at Jones and Union, a nice steep street with a nice flat section that would work great as a ramp. We set up some cameras, put on some orange vests, and waited for Toby’s signal once he was ready at the top of the hill. When he gave us the thumbs up, we placed the cones down at the intersection and kept our eye out for any cars pulling out of their parking lots.

I’d guess Toby was going about 40mph when he launched off of the intersection at Union, and he traveled about 40 feet before hitting the ground again. 15 minutes later we set it all up again for an even faster ride. Since I was in charge of blocking the intersection, I didn’t get to take many shots during the jump itself, but here are a few more from just before.


Bike Justice in the Mission

At 10:30 AM this morning the Bike Index sent an alert that a stolen Mission Bicycle appeared on Craigslist last night.

Less than 2 hours later, thanks to a total stranger and the SFPD, justice was served.

We posed as a potential buyer and asked the seller to meet us in a public spot. Thanks to the SFPD Twitter account @SFPDBikeTheft the police were just around the corner, texting “we see you” (usually creepy, this time helpful). As soon as the seller arrived the police stepped in and took over, confiscating the stolen bike.

This is how it’s supposed to work: citizens using social media for good, technology working for us, the SFPD helping reunite people with their bikes.

Here’s the blow by blow of how it went down.

To register your bike on Bike Index, click here. It’s takes about 5 minutes, it’s free, and it’s worth it.


Taxi Strikes Cyclist Who Happens To Be Me

It had to happen sooner or later given the jungle-like chaos of Market Street.  You may have witnessed it yourselves from time to time, or possibly have been inconvenienced while waiting on piled-up Muni buses from an occurrence several blocks ahead.  You just never expect it to happen to you.

First, a little back story:  I was hustling down Market on my bicycle as I usually do and crossed New Montgomery onto that weird block where vehicles in the right lane turn onto 2nd Street while the cheese-gratered left lane is reserved for through-traffic.  Knowing this, I stayed in the left lane while also being careful to avoid the treacherous Muni tracks and BART vents when all of a sudden a taxi cab pulled out directly in front of me from the line of cars waiting in the right lane. 

I only had time to yell before I collided with the window above the rear left door side and tumbled onto the pavement (I’m sure his passenger was quite surprised as well).  I popped back up (as many bikers do instantly after getting in accidents of various severity–why does this happen so often???) and walked over to the side of the road where a bunch of bystanders immediately came over to see how I was doing. 

I was actually overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who stopped to help.  One kind woman even offered to take me upstairs to her office so I could wash up in the restroom (my elbow was bleeding quite a bit).  Another person walked by and asked what happened, to which a witness responded, “That crazy taxi just hit that guy!”  Someone else said, “I’m calling the police.”  Just as I mumbled, “Oh, please don’t do that,” a squad car pulled up behind and buzzed the siren.

Before I could say anything, another person exclaimed “That taxi over there hit him!”  The officer asked if I was injured and required any medical attention, but I said I just needed something to soak up my now quite-bloody arm, which he quickly provided.  Then he went over to get the taxi driver who had been waiting in his cab after pulling to the curb.  Since I wasn’t too badly hurt, the officer said he was just going to provide collision information cards for the driver to fill out in case I woke up the next day and couldn’t move.

The cab driver, a young and polite African fellow, was terrified, however.  While the officer was getting the cards from his car, the cabbie pleaded with me, begging me not to report anything, saying he would lose his job and imploring me with sad details about his family.  He kept repeating “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you, please, tell the man, please,” over and over again.  I told him I felt fine and didn’t think I would have to make a statement or anything, but I just wanted his info as a precaution in case I ended up with some freak injury once the adrenalin wore off.  At the same time, I also warned him that he needed to be much more careful in the future, especially on a crazy street like Market, and that the move he pulled would have been unsafe under any circumstances.

With the situation resolved, we all went on our separate ways.  Hopefully the whole incident left a lasting impression on the cab driver so he drives a little more carefully from now on!  It’s not like he did it on purpose, but there’s a reason why cabbies in this city have such a notorious reputation.  As for me, hopefully my sore elbow won’t affect my drumming during the recording we’re planning on doing in the coming weeks.  It could easily have been much worse, so I’m happy that we were all able to walk away and go about the rest of our day.  Be careful out there, folks!


Pedestrian Struck by Taxi on Market; Muni gives up

Cyclist Down at Fremont and Market

Cyclist Dead After Hit and Run Collision

Creep In An SUV Targeted 4 Cyclists Last Night

Cycling: Good News and an Advisory

Great news, Mission! Bike riding is spreading like a plague, but with better symptoms and more positive media coverage: SF Gate has taken note! San Francisco Bike Coalition reports record numbers of new members! And honestly, this is an ideal moment to start biking if you’ve been thinking about it; Bike to Work Day is this Thursday! There’s a stop-off spot with food and drinks and goodies for bikers at each end of the Mission.

Biking in the Mission District can be confusing, though… other bikes often speed frantically past just so they can stop at the red light before you. There’s a whole strip of asphalt labeled “bike lane”, but it seems that drivers (who you would hope have pretty good eyesight) misread that as “park while passengers shop lane” or “it’s okay to double park here if your flashers are on lane”. Other drivers sometimes curse at you in Spanish when they drive past you, and explain when you chase after them that they were concerned for your safety on such a busy road (more or less). Baffling.

Some of these mysteries may never be explained, so I’ll start with something simpler. Let’s address the helmet issue. Covering your head with something to keep your brain safe is critical. That thing is a helmet, and they aren’t fashionable. Confusing, because people in the Mission are fashionable and like their headgear to match. Small-brimmed, brightly colored caps are not helmets, even if gonfiabili only bikers wear them. Hair is not a helmet, even if it is long and blows attractively in the wind. Even if it is full of styling gel and makes a hollow sound when you knock on it, it is not a helmet. Finally, to the man biking on 22nd St: cowboy hats, although arguably appropriate for riding horses, are not helmets. Maybe you can wear it on top of a helmet for the same effect.

Not a helmet.

Not a helmet.

P.S. New obstacle in the bike lane on Valencia at 7 a.m. today: a cop car, parked diagonally, plus two cops writing a ticket to a disgruntled sidewalk-biker. Helmets can’t protect you from everything, so I wouldn’t suggest JWZ point #11 even while wearing protective gear.

Construction Camp on V-Street

Valencia Street is a dangerous place, more or less. We’ve all heard the debate: are there so many bike accidents on Valencia and Market because they are such dangerous (bad) bike routes, or because they are such well-used (good) bike routes? I say a combination of the two.

Today, though, I’m interested in making this a more nuanced discussion: is Valencia so dangerous because of the potholes or because of the constant construction fixing the potholes? I am not, of course, some freaky pothole fan, but I can get used to them. I ride Valencia twice a day, every day, and it’s not potholes that set up camp a block or two at a time and leave a single lane castillos inflables for both directions of car + bike traffic, and travel leisurely up and down the road for months on end. Potholes don’t make that awful, numbing noise, and potholes don’t have the terrifying visual impact of a cavernous hole cut in the asphalt with only a sparse line of orange cones to shield it. A pothole did not spray me with muddy water yesterday as it cut a chunk out of the pavement.

Do not go putting the potholes up on pedestals, now. They need fixin’. I love the SFBC for marking them to increase visibility and encourage municipal action, with events like Crater Invaders getting lots of folks involved. I love the people who are actually doing the work – and it’s not easy, pleasant, or pretty – to keep San Francisco roads rideable, driveable, and walkable for all of us. What I am asking is a pothole-neutral question: why has there been construction on Valencia Street almost every day since I moved to San Francisco? It’s only 2 miles long, from beginning to end. It is only the middle part of my commute. What is going on?

Construction workers, perhaps, enjoy the culture they’ve discovered in the Mission. It might be the greatest agreement forged between hipsters and wage earners since the trucker hat: Valencia Street is the finest drag in San Francisco.

Mission Mission’s “Cycling” category here.

Complete Mission Mission Valencia Street coverage here.

Heavy Metal Bike Shop

Fate keeps bringing the Heavy Metal Bike Shop and I together. Fate and the inevitable unexpected perils of riding a bike, however sturdy, in San Francisco. Monday night, for example, I got the call: “Hey, you should blog about the Heavy Metal Bike Shop. Don’t you love that place?” Yes, I do. I ride past Heavy Metal every day on my way to work, right after I pass the Post Office, wishing I had something fun to send out, and right before I pass Mitchell’s, wishing they had vegan ice cream. That same night, my housemate was kind enough to help me adjust the not-very-adjustable pieces of my tiny green Schwinn, which is the sort of bike where the bumper stickers stuck to it are almost all rubbed off. Tuesday morning, I hopped on my bike to find it transformed into a see-saw, tipping backwards and forwards as I tried to hold on with parts not meant for holding on until I finally reached Heavy Metal, that sanctuary of basic tools, about 5 miles into my daily ride. They let me use a wrench, chatted with me amiably about the inflatable water slide size and weight of my bike (both absurd: it’s like some sadistic exercise regimen for children), gave a little bike-seat-angle advice, and sent me on my way.

It was nice to step into this little bicycle trove again, which I first experienced on a beautiful sunny day, just before Hanukkah. There was no school that day, and I was gleefully anticipating an afternoon overflowing with a bike ride which I intended to loop along the Bay, to glide past the Golden Gate Bridge, to wind south from the northern tip of San Francisco to Market Street, to coast victoriously back into the Mission by nightfall or, who knows, to see the sunset out at Ocean Beach. So the moment came to leave the office where I work mornings and out I went for about a mile of cycling as planned, until a screw laying innocuously in the bike path punched into my back tire. You know the sound.

The first moment of fate.

I yanked the screw out of my tire and adjusted my plans for the day, walking to a spot nearby with a view of the Bay and its Bridge, and read for a few hours. I didn’t want to get stuck downtown during rush hour, when bikes are forbidden on BART, so I walked to the Embarcadero Station around 4 and stepped onto the first train headed towards the 24th Street/Mission Station. The first thing that greeted my eyes on that first train (2nd moment of fate) were bike handles I recognized. One of my good friends had fissioned under the pressure of art school finals, gone to get a haircut, and hopped on the train home 5 or so hours earlier than usual. So there were were, and she thought I should bring my bike to her boyfriend’s favorite bike shop, the one on her walk home from the BART Station, Heavy Metal. She was kind enough to walk with me even though her bike tires were intact.

Inside the bike shop I found friendly folks who trudged good-naturedly through the layers of intrigue surrounding my bike. It’s so small, so green, so heavy, so nostalgic and so impossible to find a new tube for. They found me an old tube instead, not the right size but one that fits, all dusted with whatever fills an unopened box after a few years. Now I need a Presta pump for one tire and a Schraeder for the other. My old tube had three distinct holes in it from that assiduous screw.

I spent a while there. I chatted with a man wearing an Elvis Presley necklace, I found some chocolate gelt on the counter and learned where to find vegan chocolate gelt. That day, I heeded fate and headed home on my pumped-up bike only $15 later. $15 plus BART fare.