Thursday, September 29, 2011

Must Haves for Fall Bicycle Commuting

Not a fashion statement!

Fall is a GREAT time to commute to/from work by bike in DC - low humidity, crisp, blue skies, and a lot less sweat.  BUT, fall cycling requires some prep work. With just a few accoutrements - you can enjoy a safe and comfortable commute as we go into the season...and beyond.

1) A helmet! With shorter days and the way DC drivers drive, you've got to protect yourself. Even if you're on a Capital BikeShare bike, PLEASE use a helmet!   (Yes, your Mom asked me to write that, but she's right!)
 2) Illuminate and reflect:  Just because DC streets are well lit and you don't need lights to see where you're going, once the sun even begins to set, your visibility as a cyclist - to cars, other cyclists, and pedestrians - catapults into near oblivion.  Help us ALL out and invest in lights whether you cycle on trails or roads, and put them on the front and back of your bike.  Battery powered front (white) bike lights don't last that long..and go through too many batteries.   A NiteRider rechargeable front light costs a bit, but after 5 years and daily use for 6 mos of the year, mine is still as bright as a car headlight when charged - which I do daily for about an hour. I use red, flashing battery powered lights on the back of my bike and on my backpack.  I've got stick-on reflectors on my bike, helmet, and backpack ...and I just invested in some bike string lighting that outlines the frame of my bike.  Buy a bike vest! Be seen!!

3) Gloves:  You'll need a good pair soon.  The way your hands wrap around the brakes really exposes your fingers and can make them immovable you can't brake ..if they aren't protected.  Insulated gloves are best..and as the weather gets colder...put on a thin glove and put a heavier pair over those. Gloves don't have to be expensive...they just need to be insulated.  They can't be too bulky - or you won't be able to brake. In winter, slip in some charcoal hand warmers. Tooooooasty!

4) A medium sized plastic bag or plastic shower cap - just the thing for covering your bike seat when you stop for that warm cup of coffee when it starts to rain.

5) A woolish type scarf: The wind can really cut through to your neck on a ride.  A  neck warmer/scarf allows you to turtle in and keep at least part of your face and neck warmer.

6) A thin skull cap or head band will protect your ears from the cold and still allow you to wear your helmet.

7) Layering: An old pair of tights (or two) or longjohns under whatever pants/skirts you bike in will help keep your legs warm - even bike pants. In winter, ski pants and tights are great.

8) Shoe covers:  somehow the top of the  foot where it meets ankle gets miserably cold on morning commutes.  As the mornings get colder, shoe covers really help.  Be sure to get a size that will fit over the type of shoe you wear as many are designed to fit over clip in bike shoes.

REI and Bike Nashbar are good on-line sources for bike gear...and there are many more.  DC is blessed with lots of locally owned bike shops as well:  Capitol Hill Bikes, District Hardware, Revolution Cycles, just to name a few.  Mostly, have fun and enjoy the season!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dark Brown is my River - the poop on DC's rivers

I recently participated in the Nation's Triathlon....that turned into the Nation's Duathlon this year as e-Coli levels were so high in the Potomac after all the recent rain that the water was unsafe to swim in.  I've heard about this issue for years and I decided to do a bit more research on it. Here's what I've found out. 

According to DC Water, like many older communities, DC has a combined sewer system that serves about 1/3rd of the city - mostly downtown and the older sections. In dry weather, the system sends wastewater to the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant. When it rains, runoff water also enters the system, and if the conveyance capacity is exceeded, the excess flow - rain and raw sewage - spills into waterways - namely Rock Creek, the Anacostia and the Potomac. This discharge is called Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). There are 53 permitted CSO outfalls in the District. 
DC Water is currently engaged in implementing the Clean Rivers Project - for DC CSOs. The good news is that once fully operational, CSOs will be reduced by a projected 96 percent (98 percent on the Anacostia River).  The bad news is that the project isn’t scheduled for completion until 2025.
So, until that new system is functioning, there will still be raw sewage coming into DC waterways when we have heavy rains.  The tidal nature of the rivers allows the sewage to travel further upstream.  And it’s not just sewage that we have to worry about. A lot of pollutants enter the rivers from runoff upstream in the watershed...such as fertilizers from farmland and manure from pig, chicken, and dairy operations.  WAMU just did a great...if verbally graphic story on DC's sewer system that's worth listening to.

So, what can any one person do? Don't flush anything other than toilet paper down your toilet. Toilet paper decomposes fairly easily, but other things don't and risk making their way into the river. Reducing runoff will reduce the amount of water that gets thrown into the rivers.  While only a drop in the bucket, harvesting the water that comes off your house helps...and it will reduce your watering bill.  Having permeable yards and patio surfaces will also help (bricks or stone vs concrete or asphalt).  Reducing the use of chemical fertilizers will also help. There are some great organizations that are working on the Anacostia, the Potomac and the Bay in general…and they always have some great outdoor activities planned.  Check out:
The Alice Ferguson Foundation, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Potomac Conservancy, and the Potomac Riverkeeper, just to name a few.

Monday, September 12, 2011

How Green is My University???

Well, thanks to the Sierra Club, you can now get some idea of how DC Area universities stack up against the others across the nation.  In their 5th annual survey, the Sierra Club sent out a 12-page questionnaire to 940 universities across the US with queries on purchasing practices, waste disposal, transport, energy etc.  Unfortunately, only 118 schools responded to the questionnaire.  Universities in DC scored fairly high – with American University ranking 26th and GW ranking 30ieth.  Maryland came in at 20ieth.  It seems Howard, Georgetown and George Mason were among the non responders. For a full listing of all schools that responded and the methodology used to rank them, check out the details on the online version of the Sierra Club Magazine.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Low Carbon Child-Raising..and taking green living to the next level

While I'm an avid recycler and freecycler, I'm always humbled by my friend Keya...who REALLY walks the talk...and is raising a baby while doing it. On her blog she's documenting the experience of raising a child on a low carbon diet...and has all sorts of advice on diapers, breast pumping tips for working moms, and other green living gems.