Biking in New York is better since CitiBike

For the last few years, Paola and I have been proud annual members of CitiBike, New York’s bike share program. It’s completely transformed the way we get around the city. It’s the quickest way to get crosstown, period, and it’s less per month than the cost of a single tax ($169/year or $14/mo+tax, as of May 2019).

Here’s a bit of history: Way back in 2012-2013, I was in Washington, DC and the local Capital Bikeshare was arguably the most successful bike share program in the US. I was a member and would use it occasionally, mostly for times when I didn’t ride my bike to work but wanted to get somewhere quickly.

New York launched big in, with 6,000 bikes and hundreds of docks in Manhattan and Brooklyn in April 2013. This move instantly made it the largest system in the US (Here’s a bit of history). I was following the news and was a bit skeptical that New York would be able to launch a program as good as the one in DC. In a sense, I was right, at least at first.

When I tried the system later that year, I found broken and unresponsive docks and I checked out a bike that had a loose steering column, i.e. the handlebars were ready to come off. Sure, the system was big, but it seemed to be facing some serious growing pains. This wasn’t the kind of system that I’d trust as an annual subscriber because it just wasn’t reliable.

In October 2014, the month after Paola and I moved to New York from DC, CitiBike came under new ownership and hired Jay Walder, former MTA executive, as its CEO. The company turned a corner almost immediately. The backlog of broken bikes and docks was slowly being addressed (incidentally, this is called asset management, and it’s what the MTA has been dealing with as well).

We gave CitiBike another try the following year and were kicking ourselves that we didn’t try it earlier. It turned 20-minute walks into 10-minute bike rides and it turned getting to work crosstown from a slog on crowded sidewalks into a breeze, comparatively, on crowded roads. Even better, it took bike riding from a leisure activity that required carrying bikes up and down three flights of stairs to just another thing, like coffee and a muffin, you can pick up on the street on your way to work.

As any urbanist will tell you, we dedicate too much space to moving cars instead of moving people efficiently. We now use a sliver of that underutilized road space, effectively the half-lane between the parked cars and the standstill traffic. Protected north-south bike lanes have been slowly introduced on 1st/2nd, 5th/6th, B’way, and 7th/8th/9th Avenues. As part of the L train shutdown along 14th Street, the city DOT has put in protected east-west lanes on 12th and 13th Streets.

All of which is to say, biking in New York is not bad, it can be a pleasant experience, and it’s getting better year over year. Especially for short trips in good weather, it’s both quick and cheap, much better than watching a taxi meter run while stuck in traffic.

Thanks to everyone at NYC DOT and CitiBike for keeping things running! I suppose the best way to show thanks for everything is to use it, so I’ll see you all out there.

John Muir was right about Yosemite

Back in grad school, I was teaching assistant for a course called History of the American Environmental Movement. Each semester, I would grade perhaps 70 to 80 essays, including a section on John Muir, an advocate of preserving nature for nature’s sake, and Gifford Pinchot, who advocated responsible conservation of resources for human use.

While Pinchot was the rational business-minded one, I considered John Muir the passionate activist, one who had the writing skills to make the “tough sell” of protecting faraway lands from development.

John Muir said this about Yosemite, which was the first land in the US set aside specifically for preservation:

“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.”

I always figured Muir was just a spiritual writer who connected in a different way with nature. This line about nature being a temple, I took that as hyperbole and as a metaphor. I was wrong. Muir was right.

After one visit to the Valley, Yosemite speaks for itself.

There is a temple in Yosemite, and it’s formed by the cliffs themselves. In the Valley, the interplay of light and shadow off three thousand-foot cliffs creates the sensation of being in a giant hall of worship.

The sun filters through a slight haze, making everything in the far distance look like a backdrop from a movie. As you wind down the mountainside into the Valley, breathtaking views in the far distance materialize in more-than-life-size miles as you realize you’ll be standing in the middle of that movie.

We are often awestruck by the magic of the “golden hour” before sunset. In Yosemite, this awe-inspiring moment lasts all day. Light shifts and transforms on the Valley walls from sunrise to sunset, as you’re surrounded on three sides by sheer granite faces too close to let sun stream through in full.

While Yosemite’s landscape is unique, the sensation of sun streaming through clouds, reflecting off the natural landscape is not. It’s what we felt in Storm King, in the Hudson Valley, which explains why the painters of the Hudson River School made their way West to capture Yosemite’s natural beauty on canvas. Their paintings, in part, encouraged thousands to move West.

Though as much as John Muir can rhapsodize in verse or as large as the Hudson River School painters may paint their larger-than-life portraits, it has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.

Move Complete

I’ve put enough time and effort into the blog that it felt like time to take it to the next level with its own domain and custom design.¬†This is that new site,¬†hopstrains.com.

Your feedback on the design and functionality of the site will only help me make it better.

With that said, expect a return to normal posting and more original content in the coming weeks.

Making it Mexican Street Food

Mexico, despite popular misconception, is not the land of crunchy tacos, ground beef, and shredded cheddar cheese. It is the land of chili, lime, cilantro, and onion. Lime, chili, cilantro, and onion (and meat) on a tortilla are the essence of a taco.

IMG_1057

Likewise, in Mexico, lime and chili (hot sauce, especially Valentina brand) can be added to nearly anything, from popcorn or potato chips, to fruit, to beer to make a legitimate snack.

Generally, Mexican street food starts with:

  • corn (tortillas, dough or corn-on-the-cob)
  • meat (pork, chicken, beef, goat/lamb, fish or shrimp), and often
  • fruit

It makes use of the following toppings:

  • lime
  • chili (powder, salsa or pepper)
  • cilantro
  • mayonnaise
  • cream
  • onion
  • lettuce, tomato

Some famous Mexican street foods containing the above elements:

  • tacos (right, below)
  • tamales
  • tortas
  • quesadillas / sopes
  • chilaquiles (left, below)

Some famous examples of normal food that has been “Mexicanized”:

  • michelada: beer, lime, and hot sauce
  • Hot Nuts: Japanese peanuts, chili, lime
  • tamarind pulp with chili and lime
  • mango slices with chili and lime

In this way, you too could become Mexican by dousing yourself in lime and chili, but then you would have to be eaten.

In a future post, we will explore the taxonomy of Mexican street foods, from the tame and American-friendly, to the parts of the pig you thought were inedible. Stay tuned.

Xochimilco, Mexico City

Xochimilco is known as the Venice of Mexico for its picturesque canals. It also happens to be the hometown of my wife and thus our home for the holidays during the last week of December and first week of January. The photos included here are from the streets, market, and and show my take on the most fascinating and brightly-colored parts of town.

Statement of Purpose

Hand-drawn map from Jack Kerouac’s diary (Source)

Journey With Maps. In part, an homage one of my favorite writers, Graham Greene, whose first travels outside Europe led to the travelogue Journey Without Maps, as well as Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, and others.

As one of the worst winters in memory fades away comes the urge to get outside and explore the neighborhood, the city, and further afield. My goal is to inspire, to chronicle trips planned, trips taken, and to look forward to those all-encompassing journeys that take more time and planning than we may have at the moment.
Expect entries of the following types:
  • Day and weekend explorations around New York City and environs;
  • Feasible weekend getaways (i.e. short rides or cheap flights);
  • Long odyssey-type trips spanning multiple days and stretching across multiple states or countries;
  • Maps and other travel curiosities.
In general, I’m more interested in the possibilities of non-car based trips, since you tend to meet people, notice the details, and relax when you move at a slower pace. This will include walking, biking, bus, train, and some combination of the above.
From what I’ve found, the travel blog genre mostly consists of tips on how to travel on the cheap, hotel, event and restaurant reviews, and the dreaded “listicle” (e.g. 5 Public Restrooms You Never Knew Existed, 17 Types of Backpackers You Will Meet in Thailand). Since I’m not the the first person to sail those waters, I’ll try to keep the content fresh and unique and not reproduce what can be found on Yelp or in your typical travel guidebook.
Each entry will likely be a trip idea with a special focus on the path used to get there. I will not purport to have the answers on how to get cheap airline tickets. Since I love maps, I will try to scan some of those that have inspired me that are unavailable elsewhere on the internet. In the course of developing a story, especially one about a potential trip, I may link respectfully to the work of others that have done a better job than I ever could.
Please comment freely, positive feedback is what keeps me going.
Kyle