Friday, January 31, 2014

Yes, Virginia, there is a bike lane on 106 Street

In December I agreed to take part in a City of Edmonton survey about the 106 Street bike lanes. I ride on 106 Street between 51 Avenue and Saskatchewan Drive once or twice a month. Unlike some curmudgeonly types, I like the bike lanes. They are not perfectly designed, true. There are some awkward spots along this route, such as the drop-off points for schools and daycare and the Whyte Avenue crossing. But on the whole, the ride is fast and easy and comfortable.

Because I was off for Christmas until the 13th, I didn't end up using 106 Street to commute to work in January. So I actually made a special trip into the city to cycle there. I had some errands to do: Hubby needed some computer parts and I had to return something to The Bay, so I rolled everything into one.

I have to say, if I didn't already know there was a bike lane on this street, I would never have guessed. Of course, there are lots of signs to that effect.

They look like this:
Bike Lane Street Sign
But I rode and rode all the way to Saskatchewan Drive without so much as a glimpse of a bike lane. I turned around and started back, but still no bike lane.

 snow, snow, and more snow where bike lane ought to be...

However, as I continued south, I finally saw this:

Not an actual bike lane, true. But this barely discernible marking on  the pavement indicates that a bike lane is on the horizon and that cyclists who wish to ride in the bike lane should move right. 

And a little farther along, here it is, the bike lane itself. 
Sort of.  

So, you see, Virginia, 
there is indubitably a bike lane on 106 Street.

Winter maintenance is another story. Even this small stretch of seemingly cleared lane is only by accident -- it turns out that at this particular spot on the road, cars drive in the bike lane and have created a snow-free zone. It has nothing to do with the city's snow removal efforts. 

The irony is that it doesn't matter all that much. The traffic lanes are bare and dry, so riding is easy and the ubiquitous bike lane signs assure me that drivers have no reason to complain about a cyclist riding there. As always along this route, it was a pleasant, fast and comfortable ride, bike lane or no bike lane. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

a dark and nippy morning

It was a dark and stormy night nippy morning. Minus 18; windchill -24. On the way into the city, I was treated to the sight of Venus and the crescent moon hanging low in the coal-black eastern sky. When I told my students about it, one guy asked if I had caused an accident. Fortunately not. I did try to take a photo once I reached my parking place, but it was not a huge success. Maybe tomorrow I can get the camera settings ready ahead of time, before I have to stand outside in the cold.
After bundling up, I started riding, but didn't get more than a few hundred meters before I had to stop to re-tie my scarf. When I did so, my glasses fogged up so badly I couldn't see a thing. I took them off and tried to use my mitt to wipe them, but succeeded only in dislodging one lens.

My attempt to reinsert the lens was, as Bertie Wooster would say, bootless, and I was getting mighty cold, so I simply stuffed the glasses and lens into my pocket and kept riding. It took awhile for my eyes to adjust to being without their corrective lenses, and during this adjustment period, I discovered that someone had kindly left a shopping cart on the path. Yikes! Good thing I saw it in time to swerve. And good thing the city of Edmonton had responded to my 311 email and sanded down the icy pathway. Too bad they stopped at 154 Street. Up to this point, I was sailing happily along, thinking good thoughts about the hard-working crew who had spent the weekend improving trail conditions for people like me. After 154 Street, however, there was no time for thoughts of any kind; all my attention was given to watching the road and keeping my balance. I passed another cyclist along this stretch, one who I doubt pays any property tax, but I bade him good morning and wished him a safe journey.

After the 148 Street bridge all was well, my eyes had adjusted to their glassesless state, and I made good time the rest of the way, on clear streets and the Railtown trail. By the time I reached 109 Street, my feet were getting cold and I was glad to be nearing my destination. But all in all it was a good ride. I felt I had conquered not only the elements, but also an enemy in the form of an unprecedented visual impairment. 

Upon arriving at work, I saw that I had an email from the Ward 1 City Councillor, in response to my 311 request. He mentioned that the sanders had been out on the weekend and asked me to report back on the trail conditions. He also explained the city's policy with regard to the 95th Avenue bike lane. I was quite impressed with his diligence. He'd get my vote if I could vote for him.

I wore my pink L.L. Bean riding coat for the first time. I've had it for a couple of months now, but I was sort of afraid to wear it, as I felt like it made me too conspicuous. I was all set to send it back. But last week one of my students drove past me as I was cycling on 102 Avenue, and she said she thought I should wear brighter colours. Well, that was why I'd bought the pink coat, so I decided that I should give it a try. To my surprise I got several compliments on it -- and I definitely felt more visible when riding on the city streets. So, I guess it's a keeper.
will this tree still be here tomorrow?
Heading back to the car after work, I made sure to note 1) the exact location of the fallen tree, as requested by the 311 call centre lady, and 2) the section of path that was still icy, as requested by the City Councillor. As soon as I got home, I sent emails with the information. And things are looking good: when we drove downtown at 6:00 to meet Oldest Son and his girlfriend for dinner, we spotted the sanding truck driving along the pathway, in the exact area where sanding was still needed. I anticipate a good ride on the morrow!
Ice on shared pathway, waiting for the sander

Friday, January 24, 2014

avoiding the ice...

is it possible?

I rode to work every day this week, taking a few different routes in an effort to avoid ice. It didn't work very well. 

The shared pathway along 100 Avenue between 163 and 149 Streets is my first choice for the first part of my ride. It is ice all the way. There is also a downed tree half across the path to add to the excitement. I rode eastward on this path Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Slow and cautious were my watchwords.

On Thursday I went across to Stony Plain Road for my morning ride. Since the road is clear and fairly dry, it was a fast easy ride. I might do this all the time until the pathway is in better shape.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I avoided the shared pathway on my way back to the car and instead rode in the vehicle lane on the other side of the street. This is not ideal, as the single lane is not really wide enough for cars to pass a bike, and there is so much gravel and slush along the curb that a cyclist cannot safely move right. But I still deemed it preferable to the ice-covered pathway. 

On Thursday I decided to ride back to the car on 95 Avenue, which is supposed to have bike lanes. Alas, the once-beautiful lanes are buried in snow and dirt, meaning I had to ride smack-dab in the traffic lane, which in turn meant that cars had to steer around me. That would be OK, except that the centre lane is full of slush and dirt, making it quite unpleasant for drivers. It was an exercise in derring-do, and I felt bad for the drivers, but it was hardly my fault. I did try riding on the sidewalk at one point, but it was too icy for comfort. After 156 Street, I rode in the service road, which was full of large puddles. I arrived back to the car rather wet and mud-spattered. 

I sent an email to 311 about both the shared pathway and 95 Avenue, so we'll see if there are any improvements during the next week. Wouldn't you think that since we've had 3 or 4 weeks without any new snow, the city could do some serious clearing? Apparently not.

As always, however, no matter how bad the riding conditions are, I am happy to be a bicycle commuter!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

front fenders required

I think it's time to install a front fender. I had one put on my bike when I first got it ready for winter, but the Bike Shop Guys didn't quite get the whole ride-your-bike-in-winter thing, and the fender fell off and broke the second time I rode down an icy, bumpy back alley. From that day forward, everything was frozen and white, so that fenders were not an issue. But the recent thawing has changed all that. Enough with the spattered face and glasses. 

Time for a trip to the bike shop to buy a new fender. I'll make sure they put it on properly this time!

Yesterday I rode to the library and then to Superstore. It was a fast ride on mostly clear trails. City streets are still a bit icy, but better than they have been. 

There's nothing quite like Spring in January to make a happy cyclist!

Yesterday I got the Keep Calm and Pedal On T-shirt that Son #4 ordered for me for Christmas, in my favourite pink. Now all I need is a warm sunny day so I can wear it for riding.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Yesterday's ride back to the car was fast and fun, on clear roads and trail.

I'd almost forgotten what it's like to pedal hard and fast, with no worries about ice or slush or mounds of snow. After work, I took the Railtown Trail and 102 Avenue, and it was the winter ride of my dreams. The temperature was about +3, there was only a little wind, and traffic was light and friendly. The 100 Avenue shared pathway I ride for the last couple of kilometers was kind of icy, but that couldn't dampen my spirits.

With the mild temperatures this week, I have been wearing my new-to-me jacket -- from Banana Republic via the thrift shop. It's a cotton-polyester smooth-coated outer layer with polyester lining and a big fur collar. Mud spatters simply wipe off. The length is perfect for cycling and it is comfortable, provides just the right amount of warmth and, with its nipped-in waist, it looks stylish. [I'm afraid that yesterday I even garnered a few wolf whistles from passing vehicles as I waited at red lights. It was that kind of day; guys are obviously getting spring fever.] The jacket also has lots of pockets with snaps and zippers -- gotta love that. I think I paid about $15 for it so, as Paddington would say, it was very good value indeed.

I love shopping for cycling clothing at thrift shops for a few reasons. First and most obviously, the price. Secondly, it allows me to try various styles and determine what works and what doesn't. If something doesn't work out, it's only a few dollars down the tubes. And finally, if something gets irreparably stained or damaged, it is no great loss.

On a sadder note, I also wore my MEC Adanac tights and ripped a tiny hole in one of the legs -- it got caught in the chain as I made a hasty dismount for an unanticipated slush pile. Sigh... the hidden costs of winter commuting. [It's still worth it, though.] 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

even when it's bad, it's good

I now know what it's like to be swept sideways by the wind into a snowbank! 

With winds up to 70 km/hour, today's bicycle commute was... um... interesting. For the first two kilometers I had a tailwind and felt myself pushed along a somewhat icy shared pathway. Scary stuff. If I were more like James Bond, I guess I would have just let the wind take me where it would, but being who I am, I used my brakes a lot.

The shared sidewalks over the 102 Avenue bridges are in pathetic condition -- icy and slushy and downright nasty. At least on a bike I didn't have to stick my feet into the mushy stuff, but I felt sorry for the pedestrians I saw picking their way across.

As I turned onto the 121 Street/100 Avenue bike lane, I thought things looked pretty good, but when I rounded the bend, the wind caught me, sweeping me right into the snowbank. Surprise! It took awhile to regain my composure, but after that it was fine. I was ready for anything! 

At lunch time I went out for a short walk and again was almost blown away; for the first time in my life I actually held onto a pole while I waited for the light to change! 

To my happy surprise, after work the roads were in great shape, even sort of dry, thanks to the powerful wind, and it was a fun, although sometimes difficult, ride against the wind back to the car.

I think some of the people at work are now completely convinced that I am a total looney, as evidenced by the looks on their faces when they saw that I'd ridden my bike today. But that's OK. 

There's a profound bit of truth that they don't know: 
when it comes to a bike ride, 
even when it's bad, it's good!

Monday, January 13, 2014

first commute of 2014

After three weeks of vacation, it was back to work today... and a perfect day for bicycle commuting. At 6 a.m. the temp was already +1 C. Big happy smile!

Yesterday after riding to and from church, I poured a couple of pitchers of hot hot tap water over the really messy parts of my bike -- the derailleurs, the brakes, the hubs, etc. Then I brought the bike into the house, let it dry and put it up on my new Christmas-gift repair stand and cleaned and lubed the chain, to get it ready for a week of riding through slush and gravel and ice and snow. 

Well, it's not clean any more! The a.m. ride was pretty clean -- the paths heading east were covered with a thin layer of fresh snow so there was no spatter, and everything was still fairly dry. A couple of places, in the bike lane and then again on 100 Avenue, were rather wet, but all in all, it wasn't bad. But the p.m. ride -- another story altogether! I took 102 Avenue -- a big mistake, as it is covered in brown sugar-type slushy stuff that was simply impossible to ride through. Lawbreaking in the form of sidewalk riding was required. Even there the snow was kind of unstable and I had to walk a couple of times. After 124 Street, I rode out in the road all the to 149 Street; it was very wet and there were lots of puddles, but otherwise it was decent riding. Not sure if the drivers of the cars that passed me agreed, but it's not too busy at that time anyway. No one honked or made rude sounds or splashed me. I then took the 100 Avenue shared pathway back to my car -- that was also okay, although the snow under my wheels was a bit soft and wobbly. 

A great ride, both ways. My time wasn't even too bad -- 32 minutes there (7.4 km) and 35 minutes back (7.9 km.) Only one small complaint -- I was overdressed. Tomorrow something cooler is in order, as it's supposed to get up to +6. Can't wait!

The first day of class went well. My Korean student told us a funny story. When he first came to Canada 37 years ago, he lived in the small border town of Frontier, Saskatchewan - population 300. He got his driver's license and a good job. On Chinese New Year he took his family, all dressed in their Korean New Year's finery, to the big city of Swift Current - my home town, population 15,000 -- for a party.  He needed gas, so he turned onto the road leading to the gas station and was quite surprised to see flashing lights behind him. He pulled over and the Mountie told him he had been going the wrong way on a one-way street. "Huh...?" he asked. "What's a one-way street?" The Mountie felt sorry for him and kindly escorted him to a gas station and from there to the road he needed to take next. Life is not easy for people like Mr. Kim, who leave their familiar surroundings to come to a completely new country. But he and all my other students are so grateful to be in Canada. And I am grateful for reminders like this of how good life is.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

new job and new socks

I had a meeting today at the library, so of course I rode my bike. I thought I was dressing warmly -- 2 merino wool sweaters (one very thin, the other thicker) and my wool pea coat, 2 scarves, long underwear, jeans and my MEC Adanac tights. And of course my wool gloves inside my trusty Olympic mittens. It was a little colder outside than I thought. Minus 16 with windchill of -24, but today it felt even colder. The wind was downright nasty on the way there. For the first time ever I could feel it blowing through my sleeves, through my leg layers and even through the thick leather of my boots. Ironically, the only thing that didn't feel cold was my face, the lower half of which was swathed in a fleece scarf. But once I got going I quickly warmed up and by the time I reached my destination, I was quite comfy. Too bad I only had to go 3 km! 

The meeting was about my new job -- on January 20 I'll start teaching a local ESL class that meets two evenings a week. I am not sure where this is going to lead, but I am looking forward to learning more about the local ELL community and to seeing whether there are any prospects for something more full-time. 

My new supervisor or client, I guess I should call her as I am working on  a contract, was quite intrigued with my winter cycling habit. She told me about a guy she knows who lives in Spruce Grove but works in Stony Plain and cycles to work almost every day all year round. At least some of my new classes will be held in Stony Plain, so this is something I will have to consider. After all, if that guy can do it, maybe I can too.

On my way home I stopped at Safeway again for some grapefruit and raspberries.

Almost the entire ride (with the exception of a few hundred metres right before the library and the parking lot at Safeway and the mall) was on the multi-use trails, which are so beautifully maintained. It is such a pleasure to ride under those conditions! 

I received my new Fox River "Pippi" merino wool-blend socks in today's mail so I wore those for my bike ride.
They are amazing: not too thick but super warm. And they fit just right. I have kind of short stubby feet and socks often seem too big, but these are perfect. Nice colour and cute name, too.

sunshine on my shoulders...

makes me happy... 
Sunshine almost always makes me high.

I'm just old enough that I can remember that somewhat nauseating song being played ad nauseum on my transistor radio.

Although I can't say I loved the song then or love it now, the words do ring true. Ah, the feeling of sun on my bare (sunscreen-coated) shoulders, especially when it's 25C and I'm riding my bike out in the country. There's nothing quite like it.

But there's something about a winter ride that's almost as good. Yesterday was a beautiful day and I went for not one, but two, rides. In the morning I rode all around the trails, which were cleared of deep snow leaving just a thin layer, perfect for cross-country skiing (which I've done a few times recently) and cycling. It was -12, wind chill -17, so not exactly balmy, but most definitely invigorating. I rode about 18 km before my feet got too cold to ride any more.

That was the sign that it was time to go to Safeway for some groceries and to get warmed up. The trail system leads right to the Safeway crosswalk, so it was a great ride all the way.

(It was too cold to take many photos, but I managed 2 or 3 before desperately pulling my gloves back on.)

After I finished my shopping and loaded up my panniers, I started off for home. As I rode through the parking lot towards the other crosswalk, I noticed a man eyeing me as he walked towards Safeway. He gave me a big smile and thumbs up, saying, "Nicely done." I have no idea what he was talking about or how long he had been watching me, but it was kind of funny.

In the afternoon I went out again for about an hour, riding around on the trails. 

This time around I had a close call at one of the push-button crosswalks. I pushed the button and saw the oncoming cars stopping, so I got ready to cross. As I started, I noticed that the car closest to me wasn't actually stopping, but sliding right on through the crosswalk. He looked so appalled and apologetic that I had to simply smile and wave, acknowledging that in a case like that, it's the thought that counts. (I couldn't help thinking that if he were on a bike, he wouldn't have had that problem!) And I was just glad I wasn't quicker off the mark.
On the trails, I met up with a couple we see frequently. They have two white poodles and their female owner, with her frizzy blonde hair, looks a lot like the dogs. These people do not believe in obeying the "dogs on leash" bylaw. Their dogs are well behaved, so it is no big deal, but they seem to feel guilty about it, because every time we see them, they make some sort of excuse or apology -- always as if they have never seen us before. Today was no different. I know they probably didn't recognize me with my bike helmet, two scarves and sunglasses, but their excuse was about as lame as it could get: "They aren't used to bikes," the man said as I rode past. Right. They've been walking those trails regularly for years, so the dogs have encountered everything from skateboards to roller blades to bikes to homemade motorized contraptions.

A little later a jolly looking man walking his mutt stopped me to ask about my tires. I brushed the snow off the treads and showed him, telling him that  he can get them at our local bike shop. He then proceeded to tell me his sob story: he has a good bike that he uses in warm weather. Not wanting to ruin this bike, he bought a cheap bike to use during the winter. Two days after he bought it, it was stolen -- while parked in an underground parkade! I feel your pain, dude.