That’s so dangerous!

Our perception of danger is not always very accurate.   Most people, my irrational self included,  fully aware of the danger of cars and the relative safety of air travel, will jump in fright in turbulence but hardly notice going over a bump in the road. There are plenty of things I am scared of that are not likely to happen, and plenty of things I put out of my mind and do anyway because I have to or want to.  But when it comes to riding my bicycle to work, I will admit that I am always surprised by how dangerous others perceive this activity.  I would understand if I were commuting on busy streets, but I am not (most is on trails).

Is bicycling dangerous?  Absolutely.  So is walking across the street and driving…especially driving, and especially on Kelly Drive.   In the years that I’ve commuted to work by bicycle I have seen only one or two bicycle accidents on the trail, and the cyclists were always able to ride away with barely a scrape.  But in these same few years, I have seen the remnants of four fatal or near fatal car crashes, all along Kelly Dr.  The last one was yesterday.  A car went into the river, and the driver is still missing.  Read more here.  My heart aches for her and her family.

On my commute home around 5pm, I passed the spot she went over the wall and into the river. There was a crowd of reporters, rescue workers and observers:

Rescue workers looking for the driver

The crowd surrounding the site of the accident

Sadly, the rescue workers were still there this morning on my way in. (Edited to add: As of 6:10pm tonight when I rode by on my way home, they still had not found the body.)

So, while I don’t know what the chances are of being hit on the trail  by one of these out of control cars headed for the river,  I feel safer on a bicycle along a trail than I do in a car.  If you’ve heard about a fatal bicycle crash, you’re likely about to scream at me, “But I know this…”  Yes, I know of people who have died or been terribly injured riding their bicycle.  I know it is dangerous.  But no mode of transportation is 100% safe, and whether it is an accurate perception or not, I feel safest and, perhaps even more importantly, happiest on the trail.

As a parting note, please cycle and drive safely.


Ewww, gross!

Where do you shower?  It is the probably the most common question I get about my bicycle commute.  The answer is…I don’t.  Well, of course, I shower at home everyday.  But nope, no shower for me when I get into work.  There are a few showers available on campus, if I really, really needed them, but that would just waste time.  What, 10 miles of riding your bike, and you don’t shower!?!  Ewww, gross!  Well, maybe that’s true, but I’ve worked it out.  There are a couple of things that make it easy.  I have a relatively flexible and casual job, the bike ride in is mostly downhill so I don’t get quite as sweaty as on my ride home, and I have an office where I can shut the door to prep.  But perhaps more importantly, I have low standards.

So how exactly do I go about riding to work, not showering and not stinking up my department?  Well, when I get into work, I first go to the sink and rinse my face.  I have a large utility sink near my office so I can also stick my legs and arms in on rainy days and get the mud off.  Then, I head to my office–I try to get in at least 30 minutes before I need to be presentable–and I stretch and cool down while I read my email and get settled in.  Once I’m cooled off, I use wet towelettes to wipe off.  Then I get dressed, put on a bit of make-up and some deodorant, brush my hair, and I’m good to go.  Gross?  Maybe, to the overly sanitized types, but if this is what I have to do to get in 20 miles of riding my bicycle every day while working full-time and being a mommy of two little ones, I’ll take it.  You know how people like to say, “You can’t do it all!”  Well, I like to think that maybe you sort of can, or at least most of it, but you won’t always look good doing it, and that is ok with me.  Just don’t get too close.  And truth be told, I don’t even come close to doing it all, but at least biking to work gets me a little closer.

Basic Trail Etiquette

Some basic etiquette for those of us who use busy, urban/suburban, multi-use recreational trails, including Forbidden Drive Trail, Lincoln Drive Trail and the Schuylikill River Trail

For everyone:

A busy trail is very similar to a roadway.  If you wouldn’t do it on the street, don’t do it on the path either.  This includes U-turns without looking over your shoulder, passing on the right, stopping in the middle of the path, walking in the middle or left side of the path, and yelling obscenities.  (OK, so maybe we each occasionally do that last one on the roadways, but it isn’t acceptable on the trail.)   Also, if you walk, run or bike with headphones, keep one ear free, or turn your music down low enough to hear passing traffic.  Keep in mind the nature of a multi-use trail.  While you may be trying to get to work on your bicycle, others are trying to enjoy a morning stroll with their child.  Conversely, if you are strolling along hand-n-hand with your lovey, keep in mind that someone behind you may be trying to get home to their family on their way home from work.

The Basics:

Walk, run, skate and cycle to the right of the trail.

Pass on the left.

Share the trail.

Try to anticipate the actions of those ahead to avoid collisions.

Always listen and be on the look-out for others.

If you plan to stop, look behind you first, and stop to the side of the trail.

Do not litter, and practice low-impact trail use.

Be polite.  (We’re all out there for recreation, after all.  Trail rage is no fun.)

Be aware of your surroundings.

Glance over your shoulder periodically, and always before stopping, passing and turning.

Never cross the trail without looking.  (It is bad enough that the geese do this.)

Look out for the well-being of other trail users.

Special Considerations with Children:

Keep your children within arms’ reach and to the right of the path.

Consider using the trail at less busy times (or another area such as a parking lot or grassy field) for things like teaching your child how to ride a bike.

Teach your children how to use a multi-use trail safely and review the basics each time you get on the trail together.  (I knew I had succeeded with this one when my son yelled at me “Mom, stay to the right of the path!”  Do as I say, not as I do…)

Special Considerations with Dogs:

Be mindful of how well-behaved your canine friend really is, and before taking them on a busy trail, make sure you have good control.  (Ask a friend their opinion, as doggie mommies and daddies, myself included, often have wildly flawed perceptions of our dogs’ obedience.)   If there’s a possibility Spot will jump or bark at children, bikers or runners, consider training him elsewhere and at less busy times before taking him on a busy path a 5pm.  Full disclosure: my naughty little lovable pooch is old and cranky and therefore no longer allowed on busy paths.

Only walk your dog on a busy trail if you are using a very short leash.  Trying to pass someone who is walking a dog on a long leash is extremely dangerous for the person passing, as well as the doggie and the owner.

Consider keeping your dog to your right, on the outside of the path.

Special Considerations for In-Line Skaters:

When the trail is busy, limit the wide turns and side-swinging of your arms.

Skate in control and ready to stop quickly and safely.

Special Considerations for Walkers and Runners:

Stay on the right side of the path.

If passing a slower pedestrian, look quickly behind you before going to the left side of the trail to pass.

Don’t walk or run with more than one other person sise-by-side during busy times on the path.  Your group should never take up more than half of the path.  Ideally, groups should run single-file when the trail is busy.

Special Considerations for Bikers:

Unless passing others, stay to the right of the path and pass on the left.

Cycle in control.  Be ready to stop quickly and safely.

Don’t cycle with more than one other person sise-by-side during busy times on the path.  Your group should never take up more than half of the path.  Ideally, groups should cycle single-file when the trail is busy.

When passing others, slow down and look quickly behind you before going to the left side of the trail to pass.

When necessary, alert others that you’re intending to pass with an audible (but not jolting) “Passing on your left!”  “Out of the way!!” is not acceptable, even if it is what we want to scream sometimes.  If you’re biking in a pair or group, informing others of the number passing is helpful (e.g., “Five bikers passing on your left!”).

Special Considerations for Spitters:

Do your spitting and snot-blowing when others aren’t nearby, and try to avoid landing your luggies on the trail.

Alerts and musings from mid-September

What a gorgeous, drizzly day biking along the Schuylkill.  I personally love these rainy days.  The path is relatively free of traffic, and the ride feels more like an adventure than a commute.  It is now slightly less of an obstacle course, though, because the trees that were down across the Lincoln Drive trail have been cleared.  And while I do like adventure, hauling my bike over trees when I’m in a hurry can get annoying.

And while I do mean this blog to be encouraging others to ride their bikes to work, here’s yet another downside to biking to work: I didn’t know my polka-dot bra would show through my shirt, until I put it all on at work, five minutes before my first meeting.  Sigh.

Caution! Cross-country season!

There are always other bikers, runners, walkers and skaters causing traffic jams on the trail, especially in nice weather.  Then comes fall, and with it, the crew teams and cross-country runners!  For those of you who run and bike along Forbidden Drive and the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia, note that cross-country season–that glorious time of year when sweaty kids train in packs to race on natural terrain courses–is in full swing, and the crew teams too are heading to their boats (and in the process, swarming the trail near boathouse row).  The runners primarily train in the late afternoon/early evenings (sometimes early mornings).

So, watch out for the mobs of lean, mean, running machines from every high school and college in the Philadelphia region.  The slow ones always seem to be desperately trying to keep up with the pack, off to the side, right where one might want to pass.  And since they’re trying so desperately to hang on, they are really loathe to use any extra energy to get out of a biker’s way (or they’re suffering hearing loss due to a lack of oxygen to the brain).  I was once on a cross country team and have run miles and miles alone and in mobs for years (and was often the one  trying desperately to keep up) so I keep a soft spot in my heart for them, but I do wish that their coaches–some, others do a very good job of this–would take 5 minutes to teach the runners some basic trail etiquette.  But we, as cyclists, can at least do our part.  When you need to pass a mob of runners (or walkers), take time to slow down, alert them that you’re passing with a friendly but audible “passing on your left”,  and pass with caution, keeping in mind that there may be someone else, who you can’t yet see, trying to pass from the other direction as well.

As for other alerts, it is getting a lot better since the storms–there have been at least 6 trees across the trail along my commute that have already been cleaned up–but there are still obstacles remaining on the path along the Wissahickon, over a week after the storms:

Tree across the trail about midway between Ridge Avenue and Lincoln Drive--cyclists need to get off to lift bike over the tree

Tree across the trail near the intersection of the Wissahickon trail and Ridge Avenue--cyclists also need to get off here to lift bike over the tree

Mud along the trail

The nuts and bolts of my commute

I live in Mt. Airy, near Hortter St. and Lincoln Dr.,  and  work at Penn, near 33rd and Spruce.  Depending on weather, lights, traffic on the trail and my starting point, my commute in can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 50 minutes.  Coming home, since it is uphill near the end, usually takes a bit longer.

My starting place varies because sometimes I bike in directly from home, but other times, if I am in charge of dropping off one or both kiddos, I might park near my son’s school (in Germantown), near Rittenhouse Town off Lincoln Drive, or even in East Falls (on Midvale).  We have one car and therefore keep a bike rack permanently on the back to make taking the kids in to school, parking the car, riding in, and having the other parent able to bike quickly to the car for kiddo pick-up as easy as possible.  On a typical day I’ll have one ride that is about 6-8 miles and one ride about 10 miles.

Both of our schedules are somewhat flexible so when we ride in and back varies a lot day to day.   Typically I take the train home if I am commuting home after dark, but my husband and I both have lights for our bicycles (more on safety in another post).

The route from home to work:

Ride down Hortter St.

Cross Lincoln Drive and continue on Hortter.

Turn left at Wissahickon.

Just after Walnut and before Wissahickon crosses Lincoln Dr., take a sharp right onto the path through Rittenhouse Town.

This is where the trail section of the commute begins, and this section is often referred to “Rittenhouse Town Trail” and is paved in some sections and is packed gravel in other sections.

Follow path and turn right to stay on trail just before the trail runs into Lincoln Drive.

Follow path to the parking lot at the end of Forbidden Drive trail.

Go through this small lot, turning slightly to the left to the continuation of the paved trail.  (There is a wooden bridge on this section.)

This section of the trail is referred to as Lincoln Drive Trail, and the entire path is paved. 

Follow this paved trail to Ridge Ave.

Cross Ridge Avenue, turn left, and follow the sidewalk around to the right to the bike trail.

This is the  Schuylkill River Trail, and the entire section between Ridge Avenue and Chestnut St. Bridge is paved.

Continue on this trail until the Chestnut St. Bridge.

Go up to the ramp at the bridge to the street level and cross the river to West Philadelphia.

The rest of the ride at this point is in bike lanes on the roadway, unless the biker chooses to go through Penn Park.

At light, go left to Walnut Street.

Take bike lane to campus.


There are alternate routes for my commute.  Two of my favorite are:

Instead of taking the Schuylkill River Trail the entire way from Ridge to Chestnut St., sometimes I cross the Schuylkill River at Falls Bridge and ride to the museum on the west side of the river on the West River Drive Trail.  This trail tends to be less crowded than the east side of the river.

When I want to do more trail riding, instead of taking Wissahickon Avenue to the trail (or the reverse on the way home), I ride down Westview or Carpenter’s Lane to Kitchen’s Lane and from there ride down to Forbidden Drive Trail (packed gravel), which merges with the Lincoln Drive trail.  Kitchen’s Lane is a steep hill (paved) and there is also a rocky hill down to Forbidden Drive so it can be more challenging (and fun!) than the street route, but note that after a storm the rock path down to Forbidden Drive Trail can be difficult to navigate on a bicycle.

One of the downsides…

There are still several downed trees between Rittenhouse Town and  Ridge Avenue that I have to lift my bike over, but the Schuylkill River trail, while dirtier than usual, is pretty clear and drying up.  It was a nice ride in this morning…But then I got to work, feeling good that I beat in the first student who was due in my office, when I realized that I forgot my shoes.  Luckily–or is that unluckily?–it isn’t the first time this has happened, as you might imagine, so I do have some spares.  But since summer just ended, the spare shoes in my office are currently flip-flops.  So, if you see the lady in the fall dress and flip flops, don’t laugh, simply think to yourself, Well at least she got to ride her bicycle to work!  And of course, it could be worse.  I’ve forgotten a change of underwear and a bra before too.  Much, much worse.