Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Segregated bikeways in the winter

Segregated bikeways are important for safety and comfort of the cyclists. Physical separation from the evil cars make us feel safer, and the noise level is lower. They are even more important in the winter.

The cars are weird vehicles. On gravel road their tires clear the road from loose gravel, and during the winter they try to do the same with the snow. The problem is they will only clear two tracks on the road, leaving rest of the snow and ice on the road. In the picture you can see the clear tracks and about 5 cm of packed snow and ice on other parts of the road. Now this is early in the winter, and we get three more months of snow here in Oulu. What happens is that later on, those cleared tracks will become narrower and narrower or maybe even fill up. If you cycle in the tracks, getting away from them will be difficult. If you cycle on the shoulder... umm, where is it anyway? Find the shoulder in the picture:
Well maintained road early in the winter.
Road maintenance crews remove the excess ice from the road every now and then, but they can't get it all away. The road surface will be uneven, with some parts of 5 or 10 cm higher (thicker layer of ice on it) than others. This is not a good surface to cycle on.

Compare this to a well maintained bikeway below. Snow is removed, some gritting and there you go. It does not matter much that there is ice under your tires. If it is even and gritted, you can cycle on it. Cold, dry ice is not even very slippery. That's because the surface is not smooth and the tires can get a grip on it. If the ice melts during the day and freezes every night, it becomes very smooth and slippery.

Well maintained bikeway early in the winter.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cycling down 7% in 20 years

I wrote about the Regional travel study earlier. What is sad that cycling is losing it's share. In 1989 cycling had 28% share, 2009 it was only 21%. Some was lost to walking and cars and teenagers using mopeds. More families have a car or two. People are getting lazy!

The city had an economic boom and has rapidly grown from 100k to 140k inhabitants and new suburbs have been built on the edges of the town. So the distance to downtown or work or where ever the people are going gets longer. Long distances make cycling lose it's advantages over cars.

Recently the city council approved plans to build a parking garage for a thousand cars under the pedestrian street in down town. It's a part of their 2020-plan. They want to revive the businesses downtown.

The budget was 30 million two years ago, now it is 60 million Euros. That is 60000€ for each parking place. It will be interesting to see how much it will actually cost. Is 100 million enough?

There were promises to make more streets pedestianised and improvements to the bike routes after the garage is completed, but we'll see if that happens. What is certain though that this will get more trips done by cars when the parking is made easier. Will it bring the economic boost to the downtown area businesses? Well, the hypermarkets at the edges of the town get lots of customers by car. So having more cars must mean more customers to the downtown area, too?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Very, very northern Florida

I live in Oulu, Finland. 65 degrees north, 25.4 degrees east, about 200 km south of the Arctic Circle. Luckily the Gulf stream brings warm sea water (from Florida :-) to Scandinavia, so our climate is not quite as cold as one might imagine. Typical monthly average in January in Oulu is slightly below -10C or so. Coldest monthly average is -21C from 1985. Compared to Toronto's record monthly average of -9C, we win!

We get some snow in late October or early November, but usually it melts away because it's not cold enough yet. When the ground has frozen, the snow does not melt away anymore. Usually we get permanent snow in late November and it stays till April.

A 2009 study said 21% (or 22%, depending which page of the report you read) of all trips in Oulu are made by bicycle. I think it was 18% of commuters. That is all year average, including winter. The winter cycling is about 1/4 of summer cycling. Considering how long our winter is, we'd have rather impressive statistics if we did not have winter to ruin our year. Not as good as the dutch, though.

About half of the trips made are 5 km or less. On trips shorter than 2,5 km about two thirds are made by walking or by bike (32%). On trips between  2,5-5 km cycling has 28% share. Kids, teenagers and young adults use the cycle a lot, with boys being a little more active. Cycling is at it's lowest for 30-44 year olds. But it's worth noting that 45-54 year old women cycle almost three times more often than men of the same age, and they keep cycling. The "old women" are not known as risk takers, so that's proof why safe, segregated bikeways work. I'll post later why they are even more important in winter.

Most winter cyclists will cycle if it's not colder than -20C, after that they change to walking, bus or car. There are several reasons why. It's harder to protect face from the windchill effect, and keep your fingers and toes warm. It can be done, but then you get the problem of sweating because you have too much clothes on. Not to mention that tires are made of rubber and they lose their elastic properties in cold, causing lots of rolling friction. It gets so bad I have to keep pedaling to keep the bike moving downhill. You see what I mean when I talk about sweating?

On a good winter day of -10C in January, you can see more cyclists than on a sunny +1C day in March. Does that sound weird? It's not. Cyclists can cope with weather easily, but in slippery, wet ice and slush are harder to deal with. In the spring the snow/ice covering the bikeways starts to melt and freezes during the night. The conditions can get bad. I'll take some photos in March if I remember.