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.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Cyclist to Emulate

One of my Facebook friends (an old friend from university days) recently posted this story from Pakistan. As soon as I saw him riding his bike, my interest was piqued. Now, of course I know he probably cycles out of necessity, not as a choice, but he makes it look like a perfectly normal mode of transportation -- which, duh, it is.

The Al-Jazeera story about this man, Master Ayub, is so inspiring.

I think my favourite line from the story is this one: “My family were staying in the village and I was here in the city alone, so I wanted to do something in my spare time that would be of some use,” Ayub told Al Jazeera.

Too many men on their own in the big city would find other ways to pass the time; this guy starts a school for poor children. Awesome!!

a hare-owing experience

It has been a while since I last posted. The winter just ended was so mild and the riding was so (relatively) easy that there was not a lot to brag or complain about! Thus ends my 5th year of winter bicycle commuting.

And now... it is spring! The grass is greener every day, and every morning on my way to work I see at least one jack rabbit?... snowshoe hare?  I have been told authoritatively by various people that they are one or the other, so I'm not sure which, but to merge accuracy and simplicity, I will henceforth refer to the creatures as "hares."

I love seeing these animals! It thrills me to know that a not particularly intelligent wild animal has figured out how to co-exist with people in a big city. I have actually seen a hare stop and look both ways before crossing a busy street!

At this time of year, these bunnies are not exactly Easter-card perfect in appearance. Their pristine white winter coats have given way to a patchwork of greyish-brown and a sort of dirty yellowish-white. Even so, they are as cheerful and adventurous and delightful as ever.

But on Thursday morning I had a less than pleasant encounter with a hare.  I was riding along the shared pathway on 100th Avenue when I spooked a hare that had been lurking in the bushes. It jumped out onto the pathway, panicked when it saw my bike (even though I slowed down dramatically to allow it to get out of the way) and ran into the road, where it immediately got hit by a car. 

It was horrible and much more disturbing than I could have imagined. I went through the day knowing I had been an unwitting accessory to murder.