Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Two years of VNFC

A few weeks ago I checked when was the very first post on the Very Northern Florida Cycling Blog: 28th of November, two years ago. I thought I might also be able to spam some posts to get the 200th post to coincide. I didn't spam enough, so this is only post 193 including the drafts that were not published.

The blog has some 5000 page views . Top countries on the list are USA, Russia and Finland. Ukraine, UK, Canada, Germany, Latvia and Estonia also are on three digits. Nowhere on the list is the Netherlands- obviously they don't read cycling blogs. :-)

Most popular post has been the pileups in southern Finland last year. (Oh, by the way: there's a blizzard on Friday so there might be a re-run.) After that there are several Autumn Posts (browse the sidebar to find them, I'm not adding them all here), Car Centric Toys, the image manipulations for shared space  and of course the EST safety system for winter cycling. EST seemed to work fine today, even though it was only -10°C.

The most popular search term to reach the site (beside the name) has been "aura-auto" (with both correct and incorrect spellings) aka "snow plow truck", "green scenery" and "shared space". With google referring  to this site I guess I'm an authority on the shared space now, so: dear traffic planners and architects, shared space only works if there are only very few cars! Not on streets with through traffic! :-)

What's on the future? Will there be a third year of VNFC? Maybe. At least with the KiviSydän (StoneHeart), the underground parking garage also known as the Big Dig will be providing me material for photos and videos as the construction goes on. Only it'll be underground so what's there to see?

Happy Cycling!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Bridge Too Far

I'd read on the local newspaper that a new bridge has been opened for traffic. The bridge was built connect one of the islands at the mouth of the river to the mainland.The bridge is where the green smudge is on the map below.
Oh, wait! What's that thing on the right? It's the old bridge, and it's pretty much on the desire line of people going east towards downtown or pretty much anywhere in Oulu. So why was the new bridge built? The distance between the old bridge and the new one is about 500 meters, so the savings in time and vehicle kilometers are minimal. For pedestrians, saving a kilometer or two is huge. But for a 20km/h cyclist that 2 km is a only 6 minutes saved. They should have built a bike/ped bridge and let the motorists drive.

Well, people north of the water wanted a shorter trip to Nallikari (camping and swimming area etc) and people on the south wanted a shorter route to shops north of the river. Lots of new housing has been built on the island lately, and construction on the north side is going on.

And when there is some big event with loads of car traffic on the island the only bridge will get jammed. Now the car drivers have a new rat run. There has already been complaints that the bridge is too narrow for HGV's and that the pedestrian/cycle space is too wide. :-)

So, I got curious and decided to go and see the bridge for myself. Rather than looking at the map or reading the newspapers more carefully to see where exactly this new bridge was, I decided to just hop on the bike and try to find it by guessing. The maps at the beginning of the post were made after the ride, when I started writing this.

My first guess where the  bridge was that it would be somewhere behind the power station. It seemed logical: the route would continue straight across the bay, without any turns.

 But what the heck, they've blocked the street and built a fence.

Looks like that was not the route to the new bridge. As I knew there already was one bridge to the island, I thought it might be further to the west, closer to the sea. It wouldn't make any sense to build them too close to each other, would it? After riding on soggy gravel paths through thickets I finally came to a clearing where I could see where I was.
 Now, that tiny thing in the middle of the picture looks like the sightseeing tower on the beach of Nallikari, also seen before on this blog and on my YT videos. It's on the west coast and the island ends there, so I must have gone a bit too far west. As there was nothing but bushes between this spot and and the power plant, the bridge must be on the other side of the power plant.

After retracing my steps and trying another route I finally found myself behind that big red building.

Here's a video of the ride from there to here and then back over the bridge. I'd say a lot more people than normally would see on a bridge, so they were sightseeing too.

The bridge from the side. Not very spectacular. Just across the harbor canal.

At one end of the bridge there is this nasty gap, a movement seam I guess.

For some reason they couldn't make it smooth. Both sides of the seam are level, but the seam is in a depression. It is definitely notable while riding and you can see it on the video too. Well, I guess it is better than having the edges of the seam protruding out of the asphalt. (Maybe the snow plow will not catch it now?)

The new bridge looks good, and I'll be monitoring the newspaper to see how long it'll take until there will be complaints of increased traffic on the new rat runs. As both motorist bridges are on the same end of the island it is kind of a dead end for motorists. But more of the traffic shifts to new streets with the new bridge.

The only through traffic they get is a few bicycles and maybe some people on foot too. The island has a bike/ped bridge in the east, and before the new bridge the island has not been the shortest route anywhere. Now there will be new routes available. Even I will be using it on my trips to the Nallikari beach. Now that I have found it!

Nice, Ice!

There was some black ice on the bikeways. The ruts look so shiny. All the snow has once again melted due to the warmer days and rain.
And here's a video from Saturday. I was trying to go to the bridge, but my video equipment had problems again. So this was about the only footage I got from my ride.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Freezing rain,

It was really fun to ride today. The temperature was about 0C, gentle drizzle and cloudy skies. On the first one hundred meters I had the read wheel slip twice. After that I knew there was black ice everywhere, and rode on the gritting rather than on the grit free 'paths' (made by bike wheels ) on the bikeways. The local newspaper already has reports of people (pedestrians and cyclists, people stepping out of bus) falling. Looks like it'll be a busy weekend for the emergency rooms. :-/

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Big Dig and The Improvement

The Big Dig entrance in the street has now a fence made of steel posts:

In the "Improvement or not" roundabout I noticed that three of the legs had crossings over them, even though they seemed useless. See, the path ends after 10 meters. What was the point? Erm, maybe the bus stop? Just on the other side of the street. And they might continue the path another 200 meters, as this could provide an alternate route with less steep uphills. But I don't think they will, it's just a spaceholder.

I must say I really like the lighting of this new roundabout. Somehow it's very well lit without glaring lights. And it just looks good. Well done! If only I could take good pictures of it. (How fast was the cyclist going? Exposure time was 2 seconds.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

They know it's a busy street

Today I read an interesting-ish article in the local newspaper. The article was about how one street south of the river was getting congested and dangerous when the rush hour hits. The street is marked with the black dots below, and that's where I tried to get video. My crappy camera kept being crappy and kept shutting down so I only got two short clips before I called it quits and just rode home.

Anyway, bottom left is the downtown of Oulu, as you can see by the grid streets. The yellow roads are bigger streets and the green road in the middle is the former Europa 4 highway going all the way to Spain. Now it's just Highway 4. Visible in the picture are the 4 bridges crossing the river.

Someone coming downtown from the suburbs in the east or northeast is very likely to use the yellow roads. And on this problematic road or nearby there are also a lot of destinations  for pedestrians and cyclists: a couple of schools ranging from primary to vocational schools. And I'd guess about half of them are on the wrong side of the street so people will be crossing the road. And as the road goes west-east it's also a barrier for anyone cycling to school or work in the north-south or south-north direction. So there's also a lot of cycle traffic. Just above the black dots you'll see a thin line crossing the river: that is the dam bridge. A lot of people use it to get across the river instead of the yellow roads. And there is also a lot of other thin white lines: they're bikeways. You could actually avoid the problematic spot by riding on the bikeways next to the river, but that would make the journey longer.

In the article they wrote about how there was a lot of car traffic just going through, and to the schools in the area. They wrote about jaywalking and pedestrians and cyclists not having reflectors and/or lights. They wrote how parents bring the smaller kids to school as the traffic is so heavy, but did they mention that the school run is part of the problem? I don't think so.

To make things worse, there's also construction going on in the area. Even one of the schools is actually closed for repairs. The kids come to the school in the morning, but they're taken to another school by buses. So there's a few school buses waiting on the street. And HGVs and lorries might be bringing deliveries to the construction sites or they just had to park some big machines in the street. And so they had to block the sidewalk.

Some "road safety organization" expert is moaning that many cyclists do not cross the road to ride on the MUP on the other side of the road as the signs suggest they do. Instead they opt to riding on the street. The law says they "usually" should use the MUP, but when it's on the wrong side of the street I don't think you'll get a ticket very easily for riding on the street. Especially for a short stretch like this.

What makes me laugh at his comments is the earlier part of the article, where they talk about pedestrians trying to get across the road at zebras and waiting and waiting for a gap in the traffic. In busy rush hour traffic, that wait might be a long one.

At first they write about how hard it is to get across the road, and then they want cyclists to cross the street twice (if their destination is on the same side as they were originally). Well, I suppose the safety expert guy didn't know what was going to be written just above his comments.

Does the road at the end of the video look wide enough to have a protected on-street bikeway? It certainly looks like it to me. So why did they do this "cross the street twice" nonsense?

Maybe they want to park the HGVs right next to the construction site. Maybe they need huge machines to blow holes in to the wall of the building so they need access every day and it's just not possible. Maybe they didn't know better.

But I'm feeling charitable today so I say I think the real reason is they know winter is coming. Making an on-street bikeway around the site is easy, but how do you it gritted and plowed? After all, this isn't Amsterdam!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The motorist-pedestrian

The construction of the underground parking garage have continued. One street has been cut from motor traffic, as they're digging up the sewers and water pipes and what not to make room for another entrance to the garage. This street is blocked for through traffic except for pedestrians and cyclists.

Obviously blocking streets will cause chaos and confusion among the drivers, as they have to change their routes. I never expected them to be so confused they would think themselves as pedestrians, though.

The situation starts as the dark car reverses back out of the dead-end. Maybe it was parked there, or had tried to find a space for parking on the central reserve but lucked out. There should be parking restrictions on a spot or two so cars could drive over the reserve to the other side of the street but apparently parking is more important than convenience and safety.
Well, the blue car blocks the way out so the dark car goes pedestrian and uses the pedestrian crossing as the route to get away.
Now the blue car wants to try it's luck finding a parking place.
And what do you know, this seems familiar. Now the blue car is blocked...
As amusing as watching drivers do stupid things is, I decided to carry on. The construction site blocked the street,
but the sidewalks (not a MUP, this time, so ride on the street, please) were open. I'm not sure if they're  going to close them when they start digging the entrance. If they're using explosives I would think so. :-)

Scenes after warmer days

After a few colder days on the weekend we had some warmer weather. On Tuesday we had temperatures around zero Celsius and some rain and sleet. The snow on the trees melted. Picture from Tuesday 30th Oct.

Yesterday the day had highs a few degrees above freezing but in the evening it colder and the bikeways were nice and crispy and crunchy, as the slosh refrose. Today it was another warm day so the bikeways had rutted ice and slosh.

Interestingly, one fork of the river below the dam was partially frozen already. A bit further out the waves keep the ice from forming. It's warmer under the bikeway bridge so the cut off point seems to be there.

The forecast for the next few days has above freezing temperatures and rain, so the snow will be gone, but there will probably be black ice if it gets cold enough during the nights.