Friday, May 26, 2017

Upon a bright and breezy day
When May was young, ah pleasant May! (Christina Rossetti)

This was Tuesday -- a perfect "bright and breezy" May day. The flowers along the shared pathway on 100 Avenue not only look, but smell, heavenly. It was 28 degrees, with not a cloud in the sky.

And then it was Wednesday. Of course the forecast had been posted a couple of days in advance: heavy rain and strong winds. And this time, the forecast was spot-on. The day began with rain and a brisk northerly wind. I drove into the city, to my usual parking spot, and after I'd parked the car, I briefly wondered if I should have driven a bit further in and parked, say, in Crestwood, or even Glenora. But I had already taken the keys out of the ignition and I didn't feel like starting the car again and re-entering the stream of traffic, so I stayed where I was.

My ride downtown actually wasn't too bad until I hit the second shared pathway  -- the new one on 102 Avenue that the city is so proud of. At this point I usually just ride on the road. It is faster and I don't have to worry about those little yield signs and the bumping that occurs at each intersection. But because of the wind and occasional large puddles, I decided to use the pathway. That was a mistake. At each intersection, not only did I have to endure those bumps where the sidewalk meets the pavement, but I also had to ride through big deep puddles. Result: my shoes got wet. Even that might have been okay, however; but when I was crossing the bridge (yes, the one where cyclists are told to dismount) a car passed and splashed me royally. Now my shoes were not wet; they were sodden. I gave up trying to avoid puddles and simply tried to ride as fast as I could the rest of the way. (Fortunately I keep a pair of dry shoes at work.)

After work, I was offered a ride. "No, thanks," I said. "I don't mind riding in the rain."  Ah yes, but what about 100 km/hour winds?

I set off, wearing my still-soaking shoes from the morning. Again, I didn't worry about pointless things like avoiding puddles; I just pedaled like mad, trying to make the best time possible riding into the wind. When I saw the first downed branch, the thought crossed my mind -- I sure hope one of those doesn't come down on me. But by that time I was committed, so I kept going. 

When I reached 102 Avenue, I briefly considered taking a bus. But then I remembered the reaction of Edmonton bus drivers to the sight of a bicycle, and I decided I would rather bear the wrath of the storm than the wrath of a bus driver. I once again opted for the shared pathway and persevered, sparing but quick glances for an uprooted tree or two and multitudinous branches. 

As I approached the point where 102 Avenue meets Stony Plain Road, I saw the most disturbing sight yet -- a felled 4-meter tall evergreen, completely covering the sidewalk and lying on top of a power line. There was even a little box with some wires and stuff hanging out. I steered clear of that and continued on my way, fighting the crosswinds which were threatening to cast me into the traffic lanes. Fortunately, traffic was light, so I was able to make my way unhindered to the bridge that leads to 148 Street. From there, it is about 2.5 km to my parking spot, mostly on the flower-lined shared pathway, so I felt safe enough and finally arrived at my van, drenched but otherwise unharmed. 

A 7.8 km bike ride in a once-every-decade storm!

Incidentally, this time as I rode past the flowering trees, the line of poetry that came to mind was from a Shakespearean sonnet: "Rough winds doth shake the darling buds of May..."  Those buds were shaking big time!

I'm not sure that riding in that type of a storm was the smartest thing to do, but I don't regret it. My only regret is that I didn't have my GoPro operating.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Copenhagen Cyclists in the Spring

How Lorne Gunter gets to be a columnist for a major Edmonton newspaper is beyond me. I can only hope it's because he is willing to work for food. Oh wait, maybe it's his ability to overlook the obvious: He claims that on his recent visit to Copenhagen, he didn't see any cyclists in the bike lanes

To put it quite simply: I don't believe him. But wait, maybe that is a tad uncharitable. Maybe he is telling the truth. It's possible that he didn't go outside, since he thought the weather was so formidable. (We're talking 8 degrees Celsius -- that's PLUS 8, not minus 8.) Or maybe he just didn't look around him as he walked along with his jacket's hood obstructing his vision.  

In stating his claim, he is trying to prove a point, summarized in the last line of his op-ed: Spending millions on bicycle infrastructure cannot create a bike culture where Mother Nature rules against it.

Why do I think I know better than an esteemed columnist? I have visited Copenhagen not once, but twice.

The first time was in early March and the first thing I noticed was all the cyclists. I rented a bike and rode along with them, all over the city. It wasn't exactly warm -- about 3 to 5 degrees Celsius during my 3-day visit -- but the cyclists were definitely out there.

This statue of King Christian X was one of the sights I rode past. I also rode to the harbour to visit the Little Mermaid.

The second time I visited Copenhagen was in late April. Again, Mother Nature was doing her best to discourage outdoor activity. It was about 8 degrees, and it was windy and raining rather enthusiastically, which made it feel even colder. But the local cyclists were undaunted. During the morning and afternoon rush hours, the bike lanes were busy, and even in between they were well used.

Not only were there plenty of cyclists out and about, I was struck by the way they were dressed. Some of the women had bare legs or just thin nylons. Some of the riders had bare hands, although most wore what I would consider thin and inadequate gloves. Many had nothing on their heads. Of course, most of them were probably just riding a short distance to work, not spending the whole day riding around, as I was, but still...

So, a word of warning -- just because you read it in the Sun, you shouldn't necessarily believe it. 

Above photo: My rental bike from the Wakeup Hotel in Copenhagen. At first, I was nervous about parking my bike because I thought I might lose it among all the other bikes (hundreds) that were parked nearby. Fortunately, this bike has some identifying marks -- a bright green "wakeup" stamped on the frame, a green "503" on the back fender, and bright orange front forks.

The photos below were all taken on my trips to Copenhagen.

March 5, 2015 - 5 degrees Celsius. You just can't keep those Copenhagen cyclists off the streets!

Oh yes, one more thing... Gunther also discusses Amsterdam. I've been there, too, three or four times, and yes, the first time I inadvertently stepped into a bike lane and received hard stares from passing cyclists. But guess what? That happened to me in Vancouver's Stanley Park, too. As Dr. Suess might say: In cars or on bikes; in the rain, in the snow; people are people wherever you go. A bike lane is for bikes, after all. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Back to work

It was with a sinking heart that I looked at the forecast for Monday, January 9th -- the first day of our winter session. 

Minus 30 windchill. Three to seven centimeters of snow. 

I considered taking the bus instead of my usual park and ride (my bike) commute, but the bus from Spruce Grove to Edmonton isn't exactly a dream come true either, so I chose the bike.

I parked in Crestwood and rode to work without a great deal of difficulty. I must admit, I did use sidewalks in places. If the city ever decides to do proper snow removal, sidewalk riding in winter will not be necessary, but until then I will just have to squash down those feelings of shame and ride with confidence on the sidewalks. I have a speech all ready to go in case I get stopped by a cop with nothing better to do than bother people riding bikes on the sidewalk.

As I said, the morning ride was not bad. I wore gore-tex mitts that I "borrowed" from my third son, along with wool gloves, and I didn't even need hand warmers. 

102 Avenue Multi-use Trail a.k.a. "bike path"

The ride back to the car after work was another story. Normally it takes me less than half an hour, but this time it took almost an hour. I had to walk my bike a good part of the way, through ankle-deep loose snow. (see photo on left)

I was just thankful I had parked in Crestwood and not Glenwood, where I park when the weather is good.

This bridge is troubled waters, so to speak, for cyclists and pedestrians

Tuesday I took the bus, figuring the streets and shared pathways would probably not be cleared yet. 

Wednesday, I rode again. And again, the ride to work was pretty decent. I tried 102 Avenue, and except for the piles of loose snow here and there along the way, that was okay. And a tailwind of 30-50 km/hour is always nice. It was also quite a bit warmer than the previous two days. Ah, but on the way home, that same lovely tailwind was a headwind. And by that time, there was drifted snow in places, making that ride colder and a little less pleasant.

As always, though, I arrived at the car feeling good about the ride.

Thursday, we were back to minus 30 -- or more. Some of the reports said minus 35 to 40. I parked in Glenora, near the ravine this time, feeling uncertain about the cold and the drifted snow. This was a good decision. I used handwarmers inside the mittens, but by the time I got to work, my thumbs were feeling it. I wore my balaclava and my big warm scarf, so my face was OK, but I don't know how it would have been to ride much farther. This time the wind was from the east, so I had the headwind riding to work and a bit of a tailwind most of the way back to the car. And thus ends another week on the bike. 

With warmer days in the forecast and increasing hours of daylight, I'm anticipating some good rides ahead. Now, if only the city would decide to maintain the roads... Maybe someday.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

so far this winter

I haven't been blogging much this year, but now that winter has hit in full force, I have a few photos and thoughts.

This first photo, of Ravine Drive, was taken towards the end of November, the morning after our first real snowfall. It's a bit hard to see, but there were more bike tire tracks than car tire tracks in the fresh snow. 

And on the 100th Avenue shared pathway, the bike tracks mixed with the foot prints show that lots of people were getting to their destination without the aid of cars.

I took these photos when the temperatures were still mild -- in the single digits or low teens. 

Since then, things have changed. Every day last week the temperature was around minus 20 C, with wind chills of -26 to -30 C. 

I continued to ride, although I did park closer in -- in Crestwood instead of Glenwood, which cuts about 2 km off my ride.

With several layers on my body and legs, a balaclava, my lined winter helmet and a warm scarf on top, and two layers of wool socks in my bulky winter boots, I was warm enough, and as always, so happy to be riding instead of driving.  I haven't stopped for photos, but maybe this week I'll try to do that.

We have moved our ESL school to a new location, a little farther away than before, so I've been taking a different route -- along 102 Avenue. Once again I am astonished at the number of stop signs and the long red light on this designated bike route. Is it a deliberate plot to discourage people from cycling? Who knows?

I have noticed that this year there seem to be more winter cyclists than ever. Maybe the mild start to winter made people more interested in continuing to ride? Whatever the reason, it is noteworthy, and we can only hope that the city will notice and respond by maintaining bike routes properly and creating more bike infrastructure.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Be careful with that camera!

In which the poor hare pictured above almost lands me in it.

On my way to work, I saw a bunny behind the fence nibbling on grass and looking pretty adorable. I stopped my bike and took a photo. I did notice that there was a police officer in an unmarked SUV stopped nearby, and he seemed to be eyeing me suspiciously. But I thought I was probably imagining it, so I blithely rode east on 100 Avenue, enjoying the sunshine and balmy temperature.

Crossing 149 Street, I entered the Crestwood neighbourhood and rode towards the little bridge that traverses the ravine. Just as I approached the bridge, a marked EPS SUV drove along the road and honked. At me? Surely not, I thought. There was a guy sitting on the bench, possibly loitering, and I thought maybe the honk was intended for him. Anyway, I told myself, if they are after me, they will come around onto Stony Plain road and find me. 

Ha ha ha, right?

Wrong. Next thing I knew, as I was proceeding west on Stony Plain Road, the marked SUV drove across my path, effectively cutting me off. So, of course I stopped. Two brawny EPS constables debarked and one of them said, "Would you mind stepping off your bike?"

(As if I were planning to use the bike as a getaway vehicle, or perhaps a weapon!)

"What's going on?" I asked, as I obeyed his instructions.

"What's your name, Ma'am?"

Remembering my rights, I demurred. "What's this about?" 

"Do you have ID on you?"

"What's going on?"

Finally he coughed up: "We had a report that a female cyclist was taking photos of police vehicles." 

(Um, yes, the rabbit mentioned above was behind a fence at the police station.)

I'm afraid I laughed. "No," I assured him. "I was taking a picture of a rabbit."

"Rabbits are OK," he said and asked me to show him the photo. I complied. "You can go," he said. "Have a good ride."

As I started on my way again, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the police officer I had seen earlier, in the unmarked SUV, was driving alongside. Apparently he had also been in hot pursuit of the female cyclist. 

I've told a few people about this experience, and everyone has the same reaction: 
What the #@$+^ would be wrong with taking photos of police vehicles??  After all, if I had a GoPro mounted on my bike or a dashcam in the car, I might film a few police cars here and there as I went about my business...

A few theories have been proposed: 1) They thought I was Middle Eastern (when I lived in Turkey, I was often mistaken for a Turk) and hired by a certain organization to take photos which would be used for nefarious purposes. 2) They thought I was a nice-looking woman and wanted to check me out. If so, I hope they were really disappointed when they got a close-up view and realized I was probably old enough to be their mom. 3) They are simply not the brightest bulbs in the EPS chandelier. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Yelled at

I have been commuting by bicycle year-round for 5 years now. Many other urban cyclists complain about drivers yelling rudely at them, but I have been largely spared that indignity.

Last summer, I got yelled at once, when riding on 104 Avenue. It was my sixth week of riding that same route, to my temporary summer teaching assignment near 118 Avenue and 82 Street. I had ridden the same route all six weeks with no complaints from drivers. But apparently this woman was having a bad day. In her defense, there was a truck stopped in the right lane, forcing everyone -- including cyclists -- to go around, and then she came upon me, a cyclist who dared to ride on the road and inconvenience her. She screamed at me: "Get on the sidewalk, you fricking idiot!" I laughed. First of all, she clearly doesn't know the traffic laws, making me smarter than her. And secondly, she couldn't even use a real swear word. 

I have to admit that the very next day I switched my route to 102 Avenue, which is a designated bike route. I know, I know...

Well, last week, I got yelled at again. This was on 103 Avenue, just west of 124 Street. This time a guy called out, "Socialist!" 

Well, now that you mention it...

So, that's it for the yelling. I have had other people speak to me -- most notably, one older man told me he liked my winter helmet; another man said he appreciated my lights -- and of course, there is the occasional wolf whistle. Other than that, I have been allowed to go my way in peace. Nice.

Bike Lane Junior

I didn't know about this Edmonton bike lane until recently. During the winter, it is often too icy/slushy/snowy/unpredictable for my liking in the River Valley, so I ride on the city streets. Of course even on the streets there is plenty of ice, snow, slush and unpredictability, but I figure that if I have a serious crash, at least I am close to help.

Bike Lane Junior
Anyway, so that is how I became acquainted with Bike Lane Junior. Until this year, when I rode from the west end to downtown I used 102 Avenue, which is marked as a bike route. I have never been fond of this route, however, as it has an overabundance of stop signs and, at 116 Street, one of the longest red lights in the city.

One day this winter, I followed another cyclist who took 103 Avenue instead. 

I (and obviously many others) find this a much better route for cycling -- less traffic, fewer stop signs, and no traffic light. In fact at 116 Street, there is a push-button cross walk. No more waiting in the cold for that light to change.

Also on 103 Avenue is this bike lane. Initially I was going to call it Baby Bike Lane, but then I realized that the term "baby" implies that growth is going to occur. I don't think so. Hence, the new improved moniker: Bike Lane Junior. 

The first time I encountered it, I wasn't sure what to think. After riding several blocks along a road with no reference to bicycles, suddenly before me was a sign indicating that a bike lane was beginning. Wow, great, I thought -- a bike lane the rest of the way.  But, um, no. 

The bike lane begins about 15 meters from the corner and ends at the corner. That's right, the entire bike lane is about 15 meters long. 

I know it's a bike lane, though. Not only is there a sign telling me this, but the pavement is just like the normal Edmonton bike lane -- pitted, cracked, sporting potholes. During the winter a large patch of ice covers most of the surface. And now in spring, the coating of gravel on this stretch of road is further confirmation that this is our fine city's idea of a lane just for bikes.