Can I Get a Transfer?

As frustrating as the mixed-mode commuting experience can oftentimes be, the good news is that a number of bike-friendly policy changes are in the works. | Photo courtesy SEPTA

For Delaware Valley cyclists, traveling on trains and buses with a bicycle in tow can often be a rather dicey proposition. Transit agencies are trying to change that for good.

Let's imagine you're a bicycle commuter with a 9-to-5 job outside of Center City, and with a home in Malvern a few miles from the SEPTA Regional Rail station. Even at 8 a.m., the two-wheeled journey from your front door to the Malvern station should be pleasant enough. And in theory, the process of rolling your bike aboard the Paoli/Thorndale train once it arrives, and then completing your trip into town—at which point you'll hop back on your bike and ride to the office—should be equally stress-free. After all, two bicycles are allowed to travel in each car on all SEPTA Regional Rail lines, provided they stay within a designated area. That's just one example of a policy that should make this sort of mixed-mode travel nothing less than a Philadelphia-area bike commuter's dream.

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Paving the Way

Mayor Michael Nutter participates in Bike to Work Day on May 17, 2012, an annual event hosted by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. | Photo by Mitchell Leff

Since 2008, Philadelphia has taken strides
to make its streets safer for cyclists

If you wanted to have your voice heard and presence felt while bicycling in Philadelphia in 2007, then you’d most likely join the Critical Mass ride designed to disrupt automobile traffic and create a spectacle of advocacy. But in 2014, if you want to be seen and heard, Philadelphia has the Naked Bike Ride, where over 2,000 participants bare their bodies and celebrate the freedom to ride leisurely through the streets of our great city.

Needless to say, a lot has changed since Mayor Michael Nutter took office in 2008. Although he’s credited with ushering in a younger and more progressive Philadelphia, (which definitely lends to the lack of inhibition needed to ride naked through the street), this sea change in thinking surrounding bicycling has actually been the hard work of public officials, city planners, nonprofit advocates, small business owners and private citizens who all see the bike as the most appropriate, cost-effective and convenient mode of transportation for urban living.

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Built to Suit

Stephen Bilenky works on a bike at his shop Bilenky Cycle Works. | Photo courtesy Bilenky Cycle Works

Custom bike building sees a resurgence in Philadelphia

While all bikes are good, some are extra special. At Firth & Wilson, the Spring Garden bike shop Simon Firth co-owns with David Wilson, the two will happily fix a flat, adjust a derailleur or upgrade a set of handlebars. Under the name Hanford Cycles, Firth also builds custom bikes, and is one member of a growing community of craftspeople doing so here in Philadelphia.

Custom bike-building, like fitting a suit, begins with a person and a specific set of measurements. While standard bikes are built to bear the weight of the heaviest potential person the manufacturer anticipates will ride them, Mark Weaver, of Weaver Cycles in Collingswood, New Jersey, says that he, and other bike builders, take into consideration a person’s height and weight, as well as the length of their torso, arms and inseam to determine frame shape and size, and the gauge of the tubing for the frame, whether it be steel, aluminum or titanium. Some materials are lighter, some heavier, but just as a suit can be made of wool or linen, “it’s all about the fit,” according to Weaver.

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Baby on Board

Most cyclists prefer to have their children in a rear bike seat but a growing number of people are keeping their children in front, as shown. | Photo by Joanna Goddard

Kidical Mass gives families biking in Philadelphia a boost

For parents in the city who can’t drive, or avoid driving as much as possible, transportation can be tricky. How do you get your brood and all their belongings to and from places outside of your neighborhood? A growing community of families in Philadelphia are answering that question by turning to bicycles.

Dena Driscoll and Marni Duffy both bike frequently, placing their kids at the front of their family cargo bikes. Driscoll, 30, a mother of a 3-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter, commutes into Center City most days from Manayunk to her son’s preschool. Duffy, 31, a Fishtown resident, has ridden as far as Chestnut Hill with her three kids (ages 3, 6 and 8). Hauling their kids around via bike isn’t always easy, but, according to Driscoll, “If you’re in a car, you’re part of the pollution problem.” Duffy adds that for her, there’s a self-care aspect, too. “When we’re in the car, I’m miserable and the kids are miserable. I just feel so much better on the bike.”

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Bee Afraid

Philadelphia author educates and entertains with his latest eco-thriller, Deadout

Too often, the message of sustainability is delivered in a heavy-handed and humorless way. That’s why Jon McGoran’s delightful books with doomsday plots are so welcomed. Drift and Deadout, the first two books in a trilogy about the adventures of Doyle Carrick, a good-hearted but reckless detective, fall under the category of “eco-thriller.” At their core, the books offer the pure entertainment of a “good guys vs. bad guys” story, but McGoran manages to introduce ideas about food safety and sovereignty in a gentle way, and from the differing perspectives of fully-fleshed characters. In Deadout, released in August by Forge Books, the plot revolves around the disappearance of native honey bees, and a corporation with a genetically modified bee ready to come to the rescue. Grid caught up with our former editor in chief to discuss his latest work. 

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Plugged In

Mark McGee organizes electronics recycling events several times a year. | Photo by Megan Matuzak

Mark McGee, Kensington's undisputed electronics recycling champion 

The average American throws away approximately 62 pounds of electronics a year, says Kensington resident Mark McGee, citing a WHYY podcast on electronics waste. “I don’t think people realize there is a lot of toxic stuff out there when they throw a TV away,” McGee says.

McGee helps promote electronics recycling in Kensington, an area he's lived in for over 50 years, through his volunteer work with Sustainable 19125 & 19134. The resident-driven organization was created by the local Neighborhood Advisory Committee (NAC) and the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) with the support of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) to promote sustainability, and aims to make the two zip codes the greenest in the city.

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Drinking It In

The marshy middle basin provides a hunting spot for herons and foxes. | Photos by Christian Hunold

The East Park Reservoir provides home for birds,
and in 2017, a nature center

The pied-billed grebe flying south along the Atlantic Flyway can see the water in the East Park Reservoir right away, but you, looking at the embankments from the ground, could be forgiven for thinking it was all just a forested hill in Fairmount Park. But then you might notice that the sides of the hill are straight lines, and that off of Reservoir Drive, a blue brick road cuts into the woods, blocked by a Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) gate.

Back when the East Park Reservoir was built in the late 1800s, its four basins held only water, and its embankments were covered in blue brick—sterile and uninviting to any but engineers. Over time, woods took over where they could. Philadelphia’s population shrank and stopped using three of the basins, which over 200 species of birds have been happy to take over. 

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Bank On It

Photo by Raffi Berberian

Walkers, runners and cyclists can now add a new path to their outings: the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk. The $18 million, 2,000 foot-long concrete structure runs parallel to the eastern shore of the river from Locust Street to the new stair tower at the South Street Bridge, and extends the Schuylkill River Trail.

As part of The Circuit—300 miles of multi-use network of trails throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania with 50 miles in progress and more planned—the Boardwalk provides more direct access to the Trail for residents in South and West Philadelphia. The Boardwalk sits about 50 feet from the shore and its 15-foot wide pathway has four widened overlooks to allow people to rest, fish and take in the Center City and University City views without blocking the main drag.

The entire path is supplemented with solar-powered overhead lights for evening runs and rides. The project was built by Crossing Construction, Weeks Marine Construction, Nucero Electric and All Seasons Landscaping. Boardwalk design and engineering was funded by the City of Philadelphia, and was completed by URS, Pennoni Associates and CH Planning. Ramp design was executed by Michael Baker Engineers. The Boardwalk is part of the Schuylkill River Development Corporation’s plan to connect the Trail on the Schuylkill Banks from the Water Works to Bartram’s Garden by 2016. 

A Man for All Seasons

Illustration by Laura Weiszer

A cyclist's commitment to all-weather commuting

Last October I got serious about biking. I know it was October because that’s when I ordered a pair of waterproof pants from Amazon. I had already been biking mostly everywhere for just over half a decade, but I had made a conscious decision to only bike, regardless of the weather. So I already had slightly leaky rain boots and a rain jacket, and the only missing component to biking through a downpour was rain pants. Before buying those pants, it was far too easy for a rainy day to force me onto the trolley, but since then I really had no excuse but to bike to work.

My partner Nikki and I shared a car, using it maybe once a week, but when we moved to West Philadelphia, I wanted to prove to myself that I could eliminate even those occasional weekly trips. With the exception of occasional family visits to western Pennsylvania, I wanted to be car-free.

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Keeping Culture Alive

Probiotics are available on their own as supplements, but these don’t have the potency to fend off something like salmonella or ulcers. For that, you need fermented food. | Photos by Gene Smirnov

A dedicated community in Philadelphia
revives the lost art of fermentation

Seven thousand years ago, a thirsty Neolithic Iranian watched Eurasian grapes ferment into two and a half gallons of wine. He may not have known at the time that it was wine, or that he was Iranian, or that one day, his jar would be on display at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. He likely attributed the process he witnessed to something that made sense to him, like magic, or perhaps the intervention of a decent god.

Whatever it was, it didn’t scare him off, nor the next few millennia of fermenters. But with  the relatively recent advent of processed foods, the number of fermenters dwindled. Now, a renaissance of the practice is afoot, led by both food activists wishing to control food production and the health conscious who read studies about the positive effects that “good” bacteria found in fermented food can carry. Today, it exists in the form of what Carly and David Dougherty hand me—a bottle of apple and hibiscus kombucha—across the table of a coffee shop.

With an excited squeak, the container is uncorked. Inside is a sparkling, harmonious draught of sweet tea cultured with yeast and bacteria, bursting with life after several months sealed tightly on a shelf. Fermentation eats up nothing more than it does time; kombucha can take anywhere from a week to a month, with a lengthier brew leading to more sugars being consumed.

 “We’re pretty patient people,” Carly says, adding that perhaps the waiting is the hardest part. “If you can follow a basic recipe, then you can make a ferment.”

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