Friday, January 29, 2010

Trains, Planes and Automobiles: DC-Boston-Zurich-Prague

Trains, buses, planes, trains, buses, car and beyond…

WASHINGTON, DC (Jan. 27, 2010; 4:57 a.m.) - I have had this date circled for a long time. Tonight I’ll be off to Prague. I’m sitting in the Liaison Hotel lobby waiting for the Metro to get running and the Starbucks to open for business. Then it’s off to BWI and then home and then back to Logan for tonight’s flight.

Since yesterday’s blog posting I’ve received some really nice comments. Thanks for all the support. Just so folks know, I’ve scraped together enough pocket dough to survive until payday. My lone piece of advice from years of doing this is to travel with a water bottle at all times.

Seriously, people have been wonderfully kind and supportive of me. Too often, folks find funny ways to be mean or mean ways to be funny whenever folks have great opportunities. Typically those folks are hurting inside. I’ve not heard any of that.

We had an amazing event last night at Gallaudet University. Today Best Buddies and Special Olympics delegates will surge on to Capitol Hill to urge Congress to support the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act. Last night served as a pep rally of sorts.

But I awoke at 4 a.m. and started the transition to my passion for cyclo-cross and cycling. But I also have this enormous passion for travel. At its basic form, cycling is transit. Any person who has endured a trip alongside of me knows how attentive I am to transportation infrastructure and culture.

Americans are infatuated with the “middle” transit: primarily the airplane or the automobile. But the first and last few miles are what truly intrigue me. I have used mass transit all over the place, including once figuring out the bus system of Managua, Nicaragua. In 2004 when I went to Europe five times for OLN, I managed to turn in a $42 expense report which covered transit from Geneva to Sion to cover the Tour of Romandy. They were confused by the report because most of their on-air talent routinely turned in hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in cost to renting cars, fueling cars, parking cars, insuring cars, using taxis, etc. I just walked off a train and found the hotel.

Although a strong advocate for bicycles – especially in cities – I feel that bikes work best when augmented with great mass transit. I get somewhat frustrated when cycling mags heap a ton of praise on communities that are isolated as being so bike friendly. To truly be bike friendly communities need to have a lot of intermodal options that enable people to actually get where they “need” to go, not just “want” to go. Of note is that even though Boston is routinely shat upon as not being that bike friendly, it has a higher cycling usage rate than a lot of so-called bike friendly communities. Why? For starters it is the world’s largest college town. Boston also has a compact design that pre-dates automobiles. But a major reason is that Boston has some of the best mass transit in America.

So here is my trip log for Jan. 27-28, 2010!

So let’s start with Washington DC.

This is one of the greatest transportation cities in America. And they have some amazing bike facilities thanks to the hard work of the group WABA. But during a walk home with my colleague Hilary, she described witnessing a car smack a cyclist the day before. And two years prior she saw a cyclist killed when struck by a car.

DC has great bike lanes, rail trails, tow paths and bike specific paths. Although I personally love to ride in this city, I find it somewhat daunting at night. The roads are super wide. One would think that could make it safer for cycling. But the opposite is true. Wide roads encourage drivers to speed. I thought of this while walking with Hilary. Narrow roads choke the speed down below 30 mph. In DC I saw a lot of cars screaming by at 50-plus mph. And with a ton of out-of-towners driving in the District, there are some truly bone-headed moves being pulled.

But the city is a great walking city. I emerged from the Hotel Liaison at 6 a.m., turned right, turned right again and walked two blocks to Union Station, a magnificent temple to American rail. One can get Amtrak, Maryland Area Rail Commuter lines, or the Metro subway. I took the Metro for about $2.30, changed lines at Fort Totten, and took the green line to Greenbelt. There I waited for the B30 Metrobus to the Baltimore-Washington International. While waiting I discovered a bank of about 14 bike lockers at the bus stations. These are the fully enclosed, weatherproofed bike lockers. They’re all being used. Once on the bus, I had an enjoyable 35-minute bus ride to BWI. My tickets to BWI cost half of the rate charged to Ronald Reagan Airport in the District. But Reagan (aka DCA is the only airport in America to which you can ride your bike entirely.

At BWI I hopped Jet Blue to Boston’s Logan Airport (another airport to which one can ride provided one uses the MBTA Blue Line to get to the airport ring road).

Then I land at Logan. From there, I use the newly developed Silver Line, which connects to the Red Line. I take that to Alewife, where I connect with the 62 bus to Lexington Center. I have ridden my bike to Alewife, where they have pretty good bike lockers for the thousands of commuters who pedal down the Minuteman Rail Trail to Alewife Station, especially in the warmer season.

From home, I swapped bags and got some much needed time with my wife and family before departing again. I arrived home about noon and would have to leave again at 7 p.m.

By nature traveling is an anxious experience. I try extra hard to keep that anxiety at bay. Here I am about to leave for five days and I am short-tempered with Grant, my wonderful 15-year-old son who has just worked so hard to salvage his grades. He's brilliant but fell behind on homework. The make up process required an arduous 3 week effort. I felt bad.

I look forward to more travels with him. He's become a best friend.

Deb drives me to Alewife. It's a painful separation as too much of my marriage to this wonderful woman has been saying good by at this subway station.

Then it's back to red line, silver line and Logan Airport.

I climb on board Swiss Air 73 without much fanfare. I LOVE the European flights. I got good at them in 2004 when I did a lot of work in Europe with OLN. I settle in and we get airborne. Out comes the cart, two mini-bottles of wine, a Benadryl, dinner, and I watch The Matrix from the beginning (which I had never seen). After 20 minutes of that I am out.

I awoke to sunlight in the cabin. I had piled on a solid 5 hours of sleep thanks to an eye mask, neck pillow, and my wife's Christmas present, a pair of Sony Noise Canceling head phones. (By now, you get a clue as to what a jerk I am, eh?)

From there came the Zurich Airport and hunger during the transfer. I searched hopelessly for an American-Czech electrical adapter. I boarded the flight frustrated and afraid that I could not bore people with blogs and insult Eastern Europeans with my music without that adapter.

After a brief flight I touched down in Prague. We'll pick it up there next.

Thanks for reading. Tabor is next.

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