Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Communication in traffic pt. II

My daily commuting route partly follows the route of a certain bus line. It's a smallish residential street and if there are passengers getting off and on the bus at each stop, the bus goes at approximately the same average speed as a bicyclist. Sometimes my timetable collides exactly with the timetable of the bus and we both arrive at bus stops in sync. This was one of those days, and as it happens, I got into an argument with the bus driver.

At bus stop A, the bus stopped just in time to unload passengers when I arrived there. Yes, of course, the bus unloads the passengers directly on the bicycle route. It's a common practice in Finland. And, of course, the passengers just jump blindly off the bus. No one ever looks around first. I suppose that to most people, it's unimaginable that a bicyclist might actually ride on the bicycle route. At least in winter.

So, as I slalomed between the human obstacles that just materialized on my pathway, the bus driver honked at me. Ok, I have to admit, perhaps I was going slightly too fast, for demonstrative purposes. You know, in the long run, it's for the good of the passengers. Perhaps the next time they will look around before hopping off the bus.

At bus stop B, again, another herd of blind cattle jumped off the bus just in front of me. This time I rang the bell as I slalomed. The bus driver shouted from the open door: "Is this a bike lane?". "Yeah!", I replied, and proceeded to signal with my hand towards a nearby traffic sign stating that indeed, the area in which the bus stop was situated did represent the monstrosity that is known as a combined sidewalk and bicycle lane.

At bus stop C, as I approached, the bus driver opened the door again and I stopped beside the bus. I was going to say something along the lines of "Do you think I'm riding here for fun?", as I would indeed rather ride on the road, if it were legal, but before I could catch my breath he said "Well, you're required to watch out for bus passengers then", closed the door and drove off.

Well, yes, I am required to watch out for bus passengers when they wander on the bike lane. Also I shouldn't demonstrate. That was childish.

But shouldn't the bus driver also know that the thing beside the road that he drives on each day, that looks just like a sidewalk, is actually also the place where bicyclists are required, by the law, to ride on? Shouldn't the passengers also have some responsibility? Shouldn't the people who put bus stops on the bike lane be kicked in the nuts by some omnipotent authority?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Winter complaints pt. II

I sit by the window in the workplace cubicle farm, so I often get to witness the epitome of futility and a monumental grievance that is the typical way the public bicycling infrastructure is maintained in Helsinki, Finland in wintertime. First, a small vehicle plows the snow off the light traffic pathway. A moment later, two large vehicles plow the snow off the two lanes of the road, hurling it on the light traffic pathway, thus making the pathway unrideable by bicycle again.

If they're able organize the two large vehicles to clear up the road in co-operation, why can't they make the small vehicle follow the two large vehicles, so that the light traffic pathway would also be cleared? It boggles the mind.

So today I commuted back home on mostly unplowed routes, and I'm proud to announce that I'm no longer inexperienced in the esteemed area of bicycling that is falling over on your side with your feet still attached to the clipless pedals. I did that twice today. There is a type of wet snow, I'm pretty sure Eskimos have a word for it, in which the bicycle tends to suddenly swerve sideways. Especially if some areas of the snowy surface are softer than others. As I experienced, there isn't much time to detach the feet from the pedals when that happens. The previous winter I rode with flat pedals and I didn't fall over once. I guess I'll have to switch back to flat pedals again for the winter.

Surprisingly, falling over on your side with your feet attached to the pedals wasn't that painful. I suppose that it helped that the roads weren't plowed. At least there was lots of comfortable, soft snow to land upon. Actually, it was kind of fun. I definitely can see the humour in that, although at the time, I did curse a lot.

Winter complaints pt. I

As expected, winter totally surprised everyone in Finland once again. Last night, some 15 cm of snow had dropped from the sky on southern Finland. The Public Works Department got yet another chance to show just how good they are at what seems to be their core competency: not plowing the bike lanes. I guess it's up to us bicyclists to do the plowing, one 28 mm (or whatever your tyre width is) slice of bike lane at a time. Now, if we can just organize ourselves to ride in neat straight lines exactly 28 mm apart from each other...

Reason #129 why pedestrians and bicyclists should not have combined lanes: the pedestrians make the roads uneven. It is impossible to ride straight on a path trampled in snow by pedestrians. It is much easier to ride in 15 cm (or more) of untouched snow.

Even though bicycling in an unmaintained infrastructure is hard, I'm not even considering to switching to commuting by bus or car. Co-workers often seem to think that bicycling in winter is extreme. It may be extreme in the sense that riding in the snow is heavy and you have to either strain yourself or go really slow, but at least commuting by bicycle is reliable. The duration of my commute may be two (or even three) times longer in the winter than it is in the summer, but it is highly probable that I get to the destination in the estimated timeframe.

In my opinion, commuting by train or bus in the winter is extreme in the sense that their reliability has not proven to be that good. In fact, the reliability of the railroad system in wintertime has, in recent years, proven to be a joke. Buses may be more reliable than trains in the sense that they usually get to the destination, if you actually manage to get on the bus, but in my experience their schedules seem to be relatively unreliable. It is not that rare to have to wait on the bus stop for a shift that never comes.
And, of course, commuting by your own personal automobile is extreme in the sense that it is, at least in my case, slow, stressful and stupid. Also, it is unreliable, because I can never rely on finding a parking space near the workplace, and the duration of the commute depends on the heaviness of traffic. At times of heavy traffic the cars crawl slowly in queues. This has never happened on bike lanes, as far as I know.
BTW, bicycling in the snow is good exercise. Last winter my thigh muscles became larger in diameter approximately 15%. If this trend continues, next spring I'll have to don silly looking pants:

Speaking of silly garments, winter seems to have surprised, despite people, also my shoe protectors, that until now have functioned exceptionally well. This morning they apparently got scared of the snow, curled upwards and refused to cover my toes. So perhaps, come spring, this is what I'll look like:

Actually, this costume seems well suited for bicycling. The shoe protectors seem large enough to cover size 45 cycling shoes. The pants are comfortable and spacious enough to accommodate my enormous thigh musculature. The feathered hat can be worn as a helmet cover.

But then again, cyclists often wear clothes that are too soft and not sufficiently awe-inspiring to ensure their safety. I mean, car drivers avoid collisions with other cars because they know that their precious cars would be badly damaged if they hit another car. If they hit a bicyclist, perhaps the dust might be wiped off the car, but the car would most likely remain intact. But what if bicyclists started dressing up like Dimmu Borgir? No Mercedes Benz driver wants to have Shagrath sliding over their bonnet: