Monday, January 30, 2012

I had two (2) thoughts today

At first I thought there wouldn't be many people on bikes today because it was -20C, but I was wrong. In front of this grocery store there was about ten bikes, which is high in my opinion, considering the time of day and the weather. But maybe it was because this is one of the early voting sites.

In the first round two weeks ago no presidential candidate had more than 50% of votes, so two with most votes goes to round 2. It'll be interesting to see who'll win, as one candidate is a "conservative banker" and the other one is a "green gay".

The Green League is one of the smaller big parties, it got about 10% of votes on last parliamentary elections. National Coalition Party is one of the big parties with about 20% of votes. So based on votes from their own parties one of them is a clear favorite, but there are all the votes (about 45%) from other candidates now available. We'll see.

The other thought I had was that people are very, very afraid of heights. The height difference between the street and the bikeway is what, 5 inches? People don't go near the edge, they don't want to fall off. Or maybe they are afraid of the door zone?

The path is wide enough for 4 people to pass. On the left you see how cyclists are fine riding next to clumps of ice. On the other side, there's one meter of almost unused path. It's a way to make riding nicer, by getting just a little further away from lorries and buses. People don't want to ride on it unless they are passing someone. Sort of like those striped buffers for on street bike lanes I've seen on photos from other countries.
All this thinking has made me exhausted, so I'll take a break from thinking for a week.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Car Centric Toys

At some car-free blog (can't remember which one) someone had tried to find bicycle toys for their kids. Today I browsed at the second hand store and saw gazillion car toys, motorcycles, steering wheel toys etc. No bicycle toys. Just some tiny bicycles. I guess there's no point giving a toy bicycle for the kids when they can have real bicycles.

Then I saw this:
A nice (could use new paint) articulated tram. Public transport toys for the win! Hmm, I'll have to go back and check if they have trains, too... just for research purposes only, you see...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Tractor Out On The Ice

In the afternoon (close to 6pm) I spotted this hooligan on the sports field, driving around in circles. There's fence around the field, and a road and a row of trees between the fence and the bikeway, so I was pretty far. Very bright lights on the field wash out the photo.
I went closer, and now the tractor is easier to see. The trailer is a water tank, spraying a thin layer of water on the field. I wonder whether they used tap water or did they fill it from the river. With -15C to -20C temperatures continuing at least until next week, I think the ice will freeze well.

Another alternative would be to pump the water from the river. Or from a fire hydrant inside the swimming hall seen on the background. You'd just need 200 meters of hose and somehow get it across the streets. Once finished hurry up and hope you can roll up the hose before if freezes :-)

Monday, January 16, 2012

No need for bollards or cattle fences

Today I stopped at traffic lights and spotted this natural protection barrier between the cars and the MUP. Although there is a curb to keep the cars away, a meter high and wide snow pile will slow down cars effectively. Right turning cars certainly won't be invading the bikeway when turning! And what's even better, it was made by the city workers (or contractors for the city) unlike the trash lane so it might stay there for a few days. :-D

It snowed an inch or two today, so the snow plow contractors will be busy plowing, and transporting the snow piles away will be a little lower priority. I'm not sure they'd put that snow pile first in the to-do list, as there seems to be enough room for it to stay for a while.

 In the afternoon the snowing turned into supercooled mist. Or maybe it was just fog pushing in from the sea freezing on everything. Anyway, my coat got a new windproof coating, and my glasses were getting hard to see through. Really nasty non-surprise was the rim brakes losing all their power, I had to put a foot down on the ground to stop myself going straight into an intersection.

Rim brakes are not good when you bring the bike from a warm garage outside in to the snow. Any snow on the rims will get to the brake pads and melt/freeze on the rim and the pads, but braking a little will clean the surfaces and you'll have some stopping power. With this icy rain/fog on the rims it was almost like I had no brakes at all. Slowing down from 20km/h takes more than 20 meters, huh?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Some pictures from the past week

Early week we had two or three days when it snowed. It kept the snow plow contractors happy, as they had plenty of work to do. For cyclists that meant difficult conditions on the streets.

The street below is is narrow and has no through traffic.  In the dutch classification it is a local access road (street) serving the housing along the street. It doesn't need segregated bike facilities, but sometimes they'd be good to have. If you look closely, you might see an inch of snow over inch of half-packed snow, and ice under all of that. The half-packed snow is snow that cars have squeezed tight, but it hasn't turned into ice yet. It has a fantastic tendency to crack under a bicycle wheel, and as it is not homogenous it doesn't crack evenly, but more to one side than the other side. In effect, it throws the wheels left or right a little, and makes me wobble. Not very nice to ride in.

On the bikeways there was some loose snow, but in general the conditions were good. The snow was so fluffy that the wind blew it around even after the rain had stopped. Here's a 3,5 meter wide bikeway and almost half of it was full of drift snow.
The pavement in front of the City Hall has heating, and it seemed to be mostly snow free, so the politicians can be happy that the who knows how many millions they spent on the prettifying project seem to be good enough to let them walk in without bringing in the snow on their shoes.

The pedestrian street Rotuaari has also heating under the pavement, but at least there were people milling about. We're choosing a new president in a few weeks- actually, the first round is next week! The campaigning is going hot, and all the candidates had booths in the square. The candidates themselves weren't there, just some poor volunteers or members of the campaign machines. So you might just vote for me, as I was there.
This street has bollards to stop cars using it as a through route. The almost knee high snow behind the bollards stopped most of the people using the street as a short cut. They had to resort using the sidewalks to get pass the snow piles.
A view from the opposite direction, two blocks closer to the sea. Actually this is taken at the market square which is right next to the sea. The street has been calmed by forbidding motorized through traffic. Although I've got video of this street from the New Year's eve, after the fireworks when all the streets were full of people leaving the Market Square. The street was full of cars ignoring the traffic sign and using it as a rat run. Including a police car! :-)

I seem to have forgotten to write about the News Year's Eve. But here goes: there was some music and fireworks at the market square. So a lot of people were about, and those who couldn't be bothered to go downtown to see them closer went for a walk e.g. on the paths north side of the river. The view was good from there and the bangs weren't so loud. After the fireworks was over, I decided to ride downtown to see what was happening there. The MUPs were full of people leaving the Market Square, and the streets were clogged with traffic. Half an hour later, the pedestrians and cyclists were gone, but the streets were still clogged with last of the cars leaving the scene. Nice. :-)

On a normal day there's only a few parked cars, so the snow plow men decided it was a good place to pile some snow.

And who needs street side parking, when the street can be used to pile snow! I also saw a car parked on a street, blocked in by the snow piled by the snow plows. That's why we don't have much street side parking.

The last few days have been more like January should be. A nice -10°C weather and white snow every where. :-)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Image manipulations for Shared Space post

'As Easy As Riding A Bike' had a long, great article about some of the problems with the shared space and implementing it. His post has a picture on it, showing how, according to the shared space advocates, the traffic engineering and rules make the streetscape cluttered, unpleasant and ugly:

Sure, that picture drives it home there's a lot of signs, paint, bollards, traffic islands and fences. But after a quick edit with Gimp the picture paints a lot different picture:

A little fading on the traffic signs and some hiviz on the cars shifts the attention. That's a lot of cars clogging the streets. And wasn't all these traffic signs etc put there to control cars?  So the problem isn't the traffic signs, they're just a symptom.

Another version of the picture shows the people walking and cycling, just for symmetry. They're the ones who should dominate the shared space.

Yeah, I'll admit it. I just wanted to flood fill the cars. Flood fill is just so cool.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Local Newspaper: Not cold enough

An article in the local newspaper tells us that skating conditions in the town are lousy. The indoor ice for skating is obviously in good shape, but it hasn't been cold enough for the outdoor skating rinks on the various fields around town. On warm days the ice has melted away. And the lakes, rivers and the sea has not frozen properly either. The storm broke the ice and pushed it into pack ice, which is impossible to skate on.
Ice on the river at the dam bridge

On the other side of the ice things are going pretty much as usual. See these videos on vimeo: Ice Fishing and Human balloon. Not something you see every day? Apparently these videos are were made by a bunch of local divers, which got them mentioned in the local newspaper.

See how they are wearing expensive special gear for cycling diving. Why are they overcomplicating things? I mean why didn't they just dive wearing their normal swimming clothes? I swim every summer wearing just swimming trunks, or less. And all that scuba gear! I can dive without scuba gear just fine, for about 10 seconds. And even the swimmers are not without their infrastructure: they've got all kinds of swimming pools and stuff.

But here's the catch: In the summer swimmers can be everywhere. I very rarely see swimmers outside during the winter. The only places I've seen them is when someone has cut a hole in the ice for them. Just like cyclists, they benefit from infrastructure, and in the winter the benefit is exponentially increased and might be the only thing that makes swimming or cycling possible.
The ice swimming hole is kept open by the bubbles/ water jets.
See the ice swimming hole in the above photo. A nice platform with ladders in the far end to get in and out of the water easily. It's very difficult to get out of the hole without ladders, and the beach will freeze up so you can't just walk out. On the day of the photo was taken, there were notes telling people to not use it due to the danger of getting hit by fast moving vehicles getting squeezed by floes getting loose from the packs of ice upstream. Once the river freezes or the ice floats have passed it'll be opened again.

The platform is at the beach pretty much in the middle of the city. In the sunny days in the summer, the beach is crowded. In the winter, there wouldn't be anyone swimming if it wasn't for the platform. Likewise, bikeways are essential for winter cycling!

Yes, this post was made to promote those videos. :-)

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

12c increase in Diesel Fuel taxes

With the new year came some changes in regulations and taxes. In the news the most attention has been given to the change in car taxes. The government hiked up the taxes of diesel fuel about 13 cents. This will bring the price at pump close to 95E10, although it will still be a few cents cheaper. A web site following fuel prices at service stations says yesterdays average prices were 1.569€/L for 95E10 and 1.519€/L for diesel. That's in US prices about $7,69/gal and $7,44/gal. Oh, and the 95E10 got 2 or 3 cents more on taxes, but that gets hardly mentioned.

It used to be that those who drive a little were better off with a petrol engine. With diesel you paid the diesel tax (which petrol cars don't have) upfront but the cheaper diesel fuel made if cheaper, if you drove enough. Which one was cheaper, depended on the model and make of the car, but you needed to drive about 15000km or 20000km per year to get even, and more than that to make up the difference in the price of the cars as diesel cars are a bit more expensive.

This new tax hike brings the fuel prices almost even and all previous calculations are useless. It's not all doom and gloom for diesel owners, though. The diesel cars have a 'diesel tax' on them, and this tax was cut by 18%. In effect, the base cost of operating a diesel car goes down, but the cost of fuel goes up. People who drive less will save money, and those who drive a lot will pay more.

The new changes will move the equilibrium a bit, making the diesels more competitive earlier. People might buy a bit more fuel efficient diesel instead of petrol car, even though they aren't driving a lot. On the other hand it makes them less cheap to drive for those who drive a lot and they might cut some excess driving. Energy will get saved on both ends of the scale. Sounds good!

Of course, the government doesn't mind the tax money coming in. :-D

Edit: Taxes on new cars will change in April. A little lower taxes (a few hundred €) on low-emission cars, but the taxes on a big high-emission car might go up a few thousand euros. Some big-ass SUV's might get 10k€ increase in taxes.