An Engineer in the Bike Lane: Commuting with Chris Gaido

Caltrans Project Engineer Chris Gaido of Redding commutes to work, church and errands on his bike. He kept this bicycling journal for A News Cafe’s cycling series, “Taken By Two Wheels.”

Tuesday, June 28
Morning commute in the rain. I live in the Garden Tract and work downtown, so my commute is very short.

It’s still warm with a slight breeze out of the south. Lots of the golden pollen floating in the gutters. I notice there’s a bit of sheen on the road (oil residual?) that’s unusually slippery. This is a typical condition after rainfall that’s been preceded by a long dry spell. Lesson there somewhere …

My commute is along surface streets within the Garden Tract. For some reason, yet unexplored, I enjoy riding in the rain. With only a bit of planning and extra equipment, commuting in the rain is easy, enjoyable and safe. Because I’m lazy, I never took off my fenders this spring – don’t think I will for 2011 – so there’s no splash issue.

Had to go to the bank this morning (deposit, of course) and I ride right up to the ATM. Extra little benefit to the bike rider. Not sure it’s legal, but no one has complained. I so enjoy doing small errands via bike: groceries, pay a bill, visit my kids at school, bank, etc.

Afternoon: The lunch bit at the YMCA. I weave through town via the downtown mall and Yuba Street. Feel kinda guilty riding my bike through the obvious pedestrian-only zone, so I slow down a bit and be as kind as possible. Still, there are few people out and about on this dreary day and I have the run of the place. Yuba Street seems to work for the cross-town effort. I manage to spin by the post office. Another small benefit of cycling: I can ride almost into the post office without trouble. The parking is easy, and I’m in and out quickly.

I take Oregon Street north to the dead-end at the Eureka Way overcrossing. Weave through the overflow parking lot at Walgreens to the intersection at Eureka Way and Court Street. I never seem to make this signal and have to wait at the intersection. Good idea to move into Court Street traffic and leave the right turn lane free for the motorist. This way you won’t be second-guessing when the light turns green. Always surprised at the density of traffic on Eureka Way.

Wednesday, June 29
Overcast and cool. Lots of moisture in the air. Winds out of the northwest, slight. Rode one mile to office via Garden and Yuba streets. A large flock of pigeons (perhaps 30-plus birds) are nervously feeding on seeds at a driveway on Yuba. Each morning, an older man can be found lovingly setting out seed for these pigeons. I know not why. Perhaps just a bird lover.

Mid morning, I cycle across town for a meeting. I carry quite load of plans and specifications but it’s easy enough with the panniers. I ride through the downtown mall again. Noticed a new bike shop next to Grilla Bites. Make a mental note to stop in for a visit.

I’m meeting a friend for a run at lunchtime. The bike offers an easy and efficient way across town. The friend has been training hard for a triathlon and wants to test his fitness on a course we call “the elusive hour.” It’s an 8.5-mile hilly mix of single track, jeep trail and paved trail. Twisting and climbing through the Jenny Creek and Salt Creek watersheds, the course tests all running faculties and never gives a reprieve. I’m pensive that I won’t be up for the challenge. The course is called “the elusive hour” because over the last three years and multiple attempts we have been unable to complete the course in less than an hour.

The course is interesting, too, because it connects communities and subdivisions that otherwise don’t have direct connection, at least not for the automobile user. These small linkages I like to call “secret passageways.” Only the pedestrian and cyclist can use these access points and they do come in handy. For example, did you know you can ride/walk/run from Overhill Drive into Sunset Terrace then on to Buenaventura Estates without having to touch the River Trail or Eureka Way? There are many of these “throughways” around the city. Don’t take a “Not a Through Street” sign seriously if you’re on your bike.

As for the elusive hour effort, we finished respectfully, though with our pride compromised and the target still elusive.

Thursday, June 30
Nice morning. Sun’s out and there’s little to no wind. There’s some humidity and I feel a bit more sweat than usual. This morning I loop around the City Hall and head into town via Parkview to Angelo Avenue to California Street and Waldon. The signaled intersection at Angelo and South Market, especially in the morning, is dubious. I don’t like this crosswalk. The pedestrian use is high, and the walkers seem oblivious to traffic and signal color. I watch two drivers talking on their cell phones as a pedestrian uses the crosswalk, also talking or texting on the phone, unaware that the signal has changed. Luckily, the drivers see the pedestrian and wait for the intersection to clear, albeit impatiently. The number of drivers who actively use their cell phones while driving is astonishing.

Friday, July 1
This morning, there’s a noticeable decrease in humidity and strong wind shift, now from the north at 10-15 mph. Warmer too. Expect upwards of 100 today. I take a small detour from my usual commute to spin by the Convention Center and observe the setup for July Fourth fireworks. I note the left turn sensor (video overhead) for southbound Butte to northbound Sundial Drive/Auditorium Drive is now able to detect my presence in the turn lane. No car behind me, so it’s definitely sensing my presence. There’s quite a bit of activity. Mostly it’s fencing being assembled and positioned. I note a few cyclists but they’re generally the type riding without a helmet, brown bag in-hand, riding against traffic. Still, they’re part of the brotherhood and I try and give appropriate greetings and smiles.

I ride via the paved loop around Turtle Bay expecting to see a couple eagles, without success. I even stop to peer through the binoculars but find only an empty nest.

Near the old alignment of the beltline, there’s a lot of broken glass on the trail and a couple of empty glass bottles and aluminum cans (you can probably guess the contents, perhaps even the label). I stop to pick up the cans and bottles but not because I want to clean up the trail or remove litter. No, I do it because of the California redemption value. I never fail to find at least one empty CRV can, bottle or other container on my way to and from work.

I ride over the Sundial Bridge to the river trail, northbound. The deck of the Sundial Bridge is a bit damp and notoriously slippery. Touch your brakes and you can end up on the deck before you can say “Lance Armstrong.” “Just ride straight and slowly,” I say to myself. River trail to Benton Drive/Diestelhorst Bridge. There are many people out and about on the trail, crowded in areas. I’m thankful for my bell. It’s not an obnoxious sound. Just a simple “ding-ding.” I know I’m supposed to say “on your left,” but I don’t. Not sure why, just never got used to it or thought it made much sense.

I ride Court Street southbound toward Eureka Way. Both the deck of Diestelhorst and Court Street have significant distressed pavement. There’s a significant drainage issue on this section of Court near Riverside Drive. Stormwater leaves the Court Street gutter and sheet flows across both lanes of Court.

Saturday, July 2
A short, 35-mile fun loop in the morning with wife – she can climb and rides well – good riding buddy. Thank you, Emma (great baby sitter), for your willingness to be good to our children. We were able to sneak away for a quick ride to Happy Valley and return: Eastside Road to Canyon Road to China Gulch to Cloverdale to Placer, through Ranchland Acres (Prospect to Mountain Shadows to Ledgewood to Middletown Park to Swasey) and back to Placer. Wind out of the northwest. Temperature climbing quickly. Glad we’re out early, though not early enough. By the time we get to Cloverdale and Clear Creek, the temp has climbed to 100. Still, I always love the ride back to town from Igo via Placer. The descent to Clear Creek Bridge is twisty and smooth. Open enough to give a feel of safe passage. The expansion joints at the bridge are rather abrupt and offset. A little bunny hop is in order. At 40-plus mph, the bunny hop is disconcerting. Perhaps it’s my age …

I notice a number of unusual road kills on the pavement, snakes and possums and a raccoon. Somehow related to the increased temp?

Also notice many sections of pavement at a level of disrepair that I haven’t noticed since moving to Redding 11 years ago. There are many locations where the pavement is actually delaminating from the subgrade. A cyclist or car driver can audibly discern this – there’s a clattering as you pass. The pavement chatters and moves about with a wheel load. This situation can be dangerous, as sections of pavement can pop out without warning. Generally this condition is a precursor to potholing. Be on your guard, cyclists, as I don’t expect counties and municipalities to have access to cash for road repair, at least in the near term.

Sunday, July 3
Weather allowing, we (the whole family) typically ride to church. A short two miles via Cypress Bridge, Hartnell to Bechelli. My daughter (7) now can manage herself, albeit on sidewalk. I attach a trail-a-bike to my bike. My son (4) loves the ride. He talks the whole way. Full of questions and curiosity. The trail-a-bike is a much better option than a trailer. At the very least, he’s helping propel the bicycle forward (when he’s pedaling, that is).

Monday, July 4
Happy Independence Day! We – family – manage a quick ride to Turtle Bay. My son on his own bike. Long ride (1.5-miles) for a 4-year-old. He manages it well. He’s more confident each day. We stop in to Turtle Bay Museum and visit the “Grossology” exhibit. Pretty cool stuff. Much for kids to do. I recommend it.

Tuesday, July 5
Very hot this morning. Little wind. A.M. commute via typical route. I notice much litter and debris from the previous night’s fireworks show. Too many bottles and cans to pick up. Such waste.

I commute home via Butte and Sequoia. I notice a stray dog wandering about. I wonder if his flight is associated with the fireworks.

Wednesday, July 6
Very hot this morning again. It didn’t seem to cool off last night. More humidity, I think. No clouds.

I decide to commute to work via Lincoln, Canal, Gold, Verda and Yuba. All within the Garden Tract. There’s a near-accident at one of the unsigned intersections. Two cars, neither driver seems to be aware of the other until the last moment.

There are many of these intersections within the Garden Tract. No warning. No stop sign. No yield. Hence, if you don’t know the neighborhood, it’s easy to blow through the intersections without a second thought. I wonder how many accidents actually occur at these locations and never get reported or conveyed to personnel with the city. You’d expect – if there was an accident – it would be a slow speed crash and hopefully only result in minor damage. That is, if it only involves cars/trucks. I make another mental note to warn other cyclists about the dangers at intersections in the Garden Tract area.

At lunch time, I ride to the post office on Yuba and the YMCA. I use another secret passageway via the frontage for the railroad. It’s interesting because a cyclist can ride past the railroad station that has some character of its own. I like the old tile flooring and oversized eves. The color of the structure works, too. The view from the tracks is much different than that if you drive up from Yuba Street via the ugly broken-pavement parking lot.

Thursday, July 7
Hot this morning again. No wind. It is supposed to cool down tonight and tomorrow. Hope so. I commute to work this morning via the Sundial Bridge. No reason why. Just wanted to see how well clean up was going after the fireworks show. I’m surprised by the amount of debris and garbage still scattered about.

I also notice the poor pavement that begins immediately north of the bridge at Highway 44. There’s no shoulder leading to the Sundial Bridge, only broken potholed pavement. I have often thought this a rather obvious contradiction of the pedestrian nature of the Sundial Bridge. Wouldn’t the owners and managers of such a facility wish to promote connectivity with the other local pedestrian facilities?

That said, I should also mention and give appropriate accolade to the new bike/pedestrian path along the 44 Sacramento Bridge. This facility links Turtle Bay to Dana Drive and also Bechelli. I like the loop under the east abutment of the bridge that connects to Bechelli. It’s a nice link between northwest and southeast Redding. One of the few relatively safe ways to connect these two sections of Redding via bicycle.

I’m lucky to be able to use my bike to carry across town a large set of plans (311 sheets of 11×17 drawings). I need reproduction of plan sets. I enjoy how easily the plans slide into my panniers. The plans are heavy, but I don’t mind – there is no hill to climb. I see a squished goose on Park Marina. Poor guy. Why are we in such a hurry that it’s worth killing a goose? Furthermore, one should comment on the number of birds near and at Kutras Park on Park Marina. I know many people feed these birds. Not sure we’re doing them any favor.

I like using Park Marina under Cypress Avenue. This little move saves the cyclist from the headaches associated with the intersection at Athens Avenue and Cypress. This intersection is bad news. Too steep in the southbound lane of Athens, wide intersection and a short signal all align for a perfect storm. Better to use the Park Marina option. Plus, I think it’s faster if you are heading eastbound on Cypress or continuing on towards Parkview.

I loop around and head east on Cypress Avenue. The new bridge is a nice feature with a good bike lane, though the pavement is unusually scarred. Appears like the contractor never did the final paving. All the ghost markings and grindings appear to be artifacts of the old stage construction.

Riding Cypress eastbound near I-5 is an interesting experience. The lanes become noticeably narrower. Cyclists are forced to the gutter or onto the sidewalk. I listen for the sound of the cars approaching from the rear. Not so much the car noise, as the car tires hitting the raised dots marking the lane line. This is a little trick cyclists use to give some assurance of clearance between you and car. If you hear the car hitting the dots, you know the driver is aware and made some allowance for your presence. If you don’t hear the tires on dots, you are forewarned and can adjust your position on the roadway accordingly. Read: MOVE OVER. It’s not a fail-safe method but it does give the cyclist another tool in his safety quiver. Adopt a defensive posture whenever riding in traffic. Never assume the drivers sharing the road with you actually see you.

Friday, July 8
I have an early meeting at Yaks on Bechelli. It’s an easy effort on my bike. I’m not fully awake when I leave home this morning, but the morning sun and the pedals falling out from under my feet help a lot. I use Lincoln to Canal to Athens. Against my better judgment, I decide to head southbound on Athens to Cypress, figuring the morning traffic will be light. Yes, it’s light, but for some reason the signal doesn’t detect my presence. I wait through one cycle of the signals then backtrack to push the pedestrian crossing button. Funny, this signal usually picks up cyclists. Perhaps I just need to wave my hands around a bit for the video camera to sense my presence.

One advantage of using the crosswalk button is that you will have added time to cross the intersection. This isn’t usually a concern, but with wide roads and the intelligent detection systems, the time interval is very short for one car. Note: the new video equipment you see at intersections and in lieu of loop detectors in the pavement does not distinguish between a bike and a car.

I had another thought as I left this morning – one that continues to bother me. In the Garden Tract, all roads are very wide relative to use patterns. The norm is 36 feet of pavement width throughout the Garden Tract. The area must be at full build-out from the city of Redding perspective. My thought is: why do we need such wide streets in residential areas? These are areas we want to control and limit speed, not promote it. I can think of many reasons why a narrower street is both preferable and economically beneficial to all. If the street width is not being used for transportation, why incur the cost of building and maintaining it? There’s the loss of revenue to the city from the potential property tax increases from plot sizes being larger. There’s also the increased stormwater management costs, greater impervious area, reduced green space, less space for sidewalks.

I know it sounds crazy, but I think there are some very good reasons to consider reduction in road width in residential areas. I’m not talking about the through streets, only the neighborhood streets. Especially for the older subdivision streets. This type of development would allow for modifications to utilities (overhead to underground), changes to substandard intersection design and improved pedestrian zones. There’s so much more…

Chris Gaido is married with two young children, ages 4 and 7. He has lived in Redding for 12 years and works as a project engineer at Caltrans.

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6 Responses

  1. Avatar Sara says:

    Thanks for sharing your rides, Chris. I take many of the shortcuts you mentioned including Walgreens parking lot, Promenade, and frontage along the railroad tracks (yes, the train station has a much better view from the tracks!). Also appreciated your insight on street width on residential streets – good points. See you out out on the bike!

  2. Avatar Denise says:

    Nice article Chris, makes me want to ride my bike. : )

  3. Candace Brown Candace Brown says:

    Chris, what a great journal — loved the blend of description, commentary and helpful tips. 🙂

  4. Avatar Anne says:

    Great article – thank you Chris. It's nice to get get a real picture and understand the perspective of someone most people just pass by in a car….. and it's great to have your engineer's ideas about what is possible and how we can improve our streets and neighborhoods for transportation choice and the benefit of all – engineers, families, novice riders, pedestrians – so often our planning only accommodates users of our streets as fast moving cars, but there as so many other modes of transportation to consider. Thanks for the thoughtful reflection about how to make our community an even more wonderful place.

  1. September 20, 2011

    […] farmers' market produce and just about anything else she wants to transport by bike. Read more here.An Engineer in the Bike Lane: Commuting with Chris GaidoCaltrans Project Engineer Chris Gaido brings an engineer's perspective to potholes and storm runoff […]

  2. September 24, 2011

    […] farmers' market produce and just about anything else she wants to transport by bike. Read more here.An Engineer in the Bike Lane: Commuting with Chris GaidoCaltrans Project Engineer Chris Gaido brings an engineer's perspective to potholes and storm runoff […]