Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Of Bollards, Derechos, and the Intersection of Doom

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  Since I last posted on this blog, I was nearly killed by a car in the Intersection of Doom, Little Nellie has been utterly transformed, my blog was cited by local bicycle advocacy organizations in a frontal assault against the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Bollard Farm (now capitalized since it is almost certainly destined for national monument status), and I have learned, rather uncomfortably, what derecho means.

Intersection of Doom: For those of you who don’t know about it, the Intersection of Doom is located in Rosslyn, Virginia at the meeting of Lynn Street, Lee Highway, the I-66 off ramp near the Key Bridge, and the Capital Crescent Trail.  I ride up the hill from the Mount Vernon Trail to the IoD every morning and take a left in the crosswalk on Lynn Street to go to my office.  (Normally, I don’t ride on crosswalks but I’d have to go through 4 lights and even more of the IoD to get there on the streets.) The crosswalk crosses the three-lane off ramp from I-66.  The people in the cars waiting at this particular light are antsy since they’ve been going 60 miles per hour and have grown accustomed to high g-forces.  Once they reach the IoD their frustration amps up as they have to wait for cyclists and pedestrians crossing through the IoD before turning right toward the Key Bridge and DC.  Right on red is allowed here, but it is not allowed from the center lane, of course. About a month ago, a pickup truck almost picked me off as I was riding across the ramp on Big Nellie.  Last week, it was a black sedan (piloted by a friendly stranger, no doubt).  I was on Little Nellie which is taller than Big Nellie. I watch as the driver blew through the red light without any apparent attempt at braking while talking to someone on her cell phone.  I hope she arrived at her destination in time.  She must be a very important person, because she thinks one minute of her time is worth the rest of my life.  You have to wonder how many cyclists and pedestrians will be mowed down before either a traffic cop is placed at the intersection or the intersection is re-designed.

Bike Transformed: Since I put a Brooks Flyer saddle on Little Nellie last week, the bike has transformed itself from a snail into a galloping platypus. Like a platypus, it’s still kind of funny to look at with all its pivots and levers and little wheels, but it really is riding like a regular bike now.  I keep tweaking the saddle position to dial in the best tilt/height/fore-aft orientation. No matter what I do both my back and my knees are more comfortable than they were with the previous saddle, a Brooks B67.  (That saddle was wider and springier.)  Little Nellie even made a guest appearance in @commute_by_bike’s blog out of Flagstaff AZ.   How you ask? (I heard you in the back row.)  He was in town and came to Friday Coffee Club last week. He thought my commuting arrangement was overkill, I guess.  My bikes and I do what works for us. So far we’ve managed to pull off the 29 mile commute 68 times this year.  Little Nellie is chuffed. 
Woodrow Wilson Bridge Bollard Farm: I was shocked to see that the Washington Area Bicyclists Association posted an account written by Jonathan Krall of the Alexandria Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee of their WABA/BPAC meeting with the officials in charge of the Wilson Bridge Bollard Farm.  Long story short, it doesn’t look like much will be done in the short term to remove the bollards, but I am still really happy to see WABA and BPAC  go to bat for the Mount Vernon Trail users who have been putting up with unsafe conditions at the bridge underpass for years.  Special thanks to Jonathan (who is also a Bike Friday owner) and Greg from BPAC and Shane Farthing from WABA for enduring searing heat (over 100 degrees) to walk transportation officials through the various problems with the site.  Also, thanks to Mark Blacknell of WABA for his involvement. 

Derecho: I took seven and a half years of foreign language between 8th grade and my freshman year in college.  Sadly, not one bit of it was in Spanish. French, it turns out, is useful when ordering fromage et crepes and Latin comes in handy when involved in heated discussions of Caesar’s Gallic Wars.  (“All of Gaul is divided into three parts…” That’s all I remember, sorry. I don’t even remember the parts other than Hellevicia which has since become a font.)  So I paid no mind to the warnings that the line of thunderstorms appearing on Weatherunderground was a derecho.  I mean, derechos sound like an excellent, if unhealthy, snack food. My family and I were spending a nice summer evening in the Starship Rootchopper, enjoying the icebox conditions that Mrs. Rootchopper prefers from April to October thanks to our Warp-drive powered air conditioner.  Then, faster than you can say “Que Pasa?” the derecho hit. The whole damned ship shook. Stuff was banging against the exterior walls, or was that thunder? Lightning or maybe something else was flashing nearly continuously. I called down to engineering to direct more power to the shields.  They responded in an imitation Scottish brogue that “we can’t take much more of this!!!” The interior lights flashed a few times and the warp drive left us adrift in the eerie calm of Hades on the Potomac.  In Hades, no one can hear you sweat.  (I’ll take the Tholian web any day over this.) For five days we were without power.  The temperature in our ground floor living room rose to a toasty 93 degrees.  I took to sleeping outside with a million of my insect friends where it was considerably cooler after sundown. My son deserted us for his friends’ air conditioning.  My wife and daughter both attended more movies than Siskel and Ebert. I hung out reading my book about the sex life of H. G. Wells. (I am not making this up.)

This morning a phalanx (learned that word in Latin class) of utility trucks pulled up in front of the drifting hulk the Starship.  After several more hours of sweaty waiting and reading, we lit out in our shuttle craft for food, cell phone charging and air conditioning. (I wonder how many newborns will be given the name A. C. this week.)  When we returned the extension cords that our neighbor cleverly ran across the street were gone.  We were saved. I sure hope we don’t have to endure a sequel anytime soon.  Rootchopper II: The Wrath of Derecho.  (Is Ricardo Montalban still alive?)


  1. Yea!!!!! You have A/C back!!!!!!!!! :) :) :)

  2. Glad you finally regained power, Captain.

    That intersection of death is aptly named. I lived in Rosslyn in the late 90s and walked or biked to work across the Key Bridge. That intersection is where I learned that it is usually SAFER to cross against the light than with it.

  3. Phalanx is latin? I thought that its origin was Greek. It was their military formation.

    Oh well ... without a doubt, the Romans must have grabbed it from the Greeks.

    1. You are correct, IH. Phalanx was a tactic invented by the Greeks but they failed to patent it and the Romans ripped them off. Never trust a guy who drinks lustily from a cup made of lead.