Friday, December 21, 2012

Left Or Right? Not In the Middle, please!

In the latest post in Thinking About Cycling's series Cycling Struggles the subject was pavement cycling. There was one quote which immediately struck a chord. He interviewed Sheila, who said

“Now, when you get bicycles coming down there, it’s such a wide area and they’re going anywhere and you’ve no idea where they’re going. Even if you can see them coming towards you, you don’t know whether they’re going to the left of you, the right of you."

That last part sounds very familiar: I've read it on the local newspaper's internet forum several times. Even if the forum has moderation to cut the spamming and trolling, plenty of those messages get through. Often they refer to Rotuaari (the pedestrian street downtown Oulu) or just to the pavement MUPs that are common in Finland.

Just a few days ago I uploaded a youtube video of a ride through the Rotuaari. I uploaded just to show what it'd looked like before christmas on a quiet afternoon. And to show the taxi revving like it was escaping a crime scene.

On the later part of the video, beginning at about 0:40, you'll see a woman carrying a bag coming towards me, drifting slightly right to left. So it looks like there will be a gap where I will be able to pass. Then she changes her mind and three steps later is going 90 degrees to the previous direction, straight into the gap that was there. Suddenly I had to change my direction. My camera couldn't keep up with my quick movements and skipped a few frames.

So to mis-quote: “Now, when you get pedestrians coming down there, it’s such a wide area and they’re going anywhere and you’ve no idea where they’re going. Even if you can see them coming towards you, you don’t know whether they’re going to the left of you, the right of you."

That video shows the other side of the coin: pedestrians are even more difficult to predict than cyclists. In just three steps they might have stopped or be going in the opposite direction. And the woman in the video saw me coming. What about those who I approach from behind?

My strategy for cycling in crowds is kind of same as if I was a faster downhill skier. The faster skier is uphill and behind the slower skier who can't see him. So it's the faster skier's duty to avoid collision. So even if there was a blind or deaf person among the crowd, in theory, he would be just another person and I should be able to avoid crashing into him, if he moved in a predictable way.

But it's the "you don’t know whether they’re going to the left of you, the right of you" part that gets mentioned most often in the local newspaper. If you think that through, if we are talking about pedestrians and cyclists on sidewalk MUPs, there is a clear admission of wrongdoing by the pedestrian.

The Finnish law says the pedestrian should use either side of the MUP. If you're walking your dog or pushing the pram with a baby, you'll probably want to walk on the side away from the traffic, so you're allowed to walk on both sides. It doesn't matter which side you walk on, the cyclists should have plenty of room to pass you safely.
Two bad options vs one good?
If you say you don't know which side they are going to pass you, that means you are "in the middle of the road!" The cyclist has two options: left or right of you. And approaching from behind, he doesn't knows which way you might move to make more room when he rings the bell. This is not the place to "take the road". Walk clearly on one side, and he has only one option to choose from. And he has more room to pass, too.

Of course, this doesn't help in cases where the paths cross and you'll be in the middle of the path anyway.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Crazy World: No Cycling In Snow!

I usually check the 'crazy world' section on the tabloid papers to see what crazy things has happened around the world. Like a town banning dying, because the cemetery is full. Or the Norwegian fox who stole a phone and sent a text message to the owner. Or the nest of unicorns found in North Korea.

I just read that according to cyclists in Bologna, Italy will be fined for cycling after snowfall during the winter. The same rule also applies to other two wheelers like scooters. The fine is the same size as for car drivers don't have snow chains or winter tyres during the winter. (I wonder if they'd fine cyclists with studded tyres?)

Now, winter tyres are mandatory for cars also here in Finland. Either studded tyres or 'friction tyres' without studs. But there is no reason for us to ban cycling in the winter. After all, snow and "unpolished" ice is not too slippery to ride on, and with a little maintenance the bikeways can be kept rideable nearly all year around even with regular summer tyres, let alone with studded tyres. Just get some lights and ride. Simple as that.

We have  a lot of winter cycling. The Italian blogger says it's 12% of all trips during the winter, which may be true. I've seen some published research which gives the all year share 21% and it is lower in the winter. It's only on very slippery days or on very cold days when the rates really plummet.

And that post also tells me that apparently there's going to be some winter cycling congress here in Oulu. I read about that from a foreign blog... does that mean I'm out of touch of local cycle events? :-P

Friday, December 07, 2012

Today I saw a car in the ditch. How it got there? Maybe the driver was speeding and lost control in the curve and the car ended 15 meters away from the street. Or he was taking an illegal shortcut driving on the bikeway, lost control of the vehicle and ended in the ditch. Makes me think if this was drunk driving or a stolen vehicle? Lousy driving, anyway.
Later in the ride I went downtown to the Rotuaari (a pedestrian street) to see the new lights, and then I rode downhill to see the construction site. There was so much traffic that at one intersection I got to filter! The right turning lane was full and some cars were stuck in the middle of the intersection. And there were queues of cars around the Rotuaari, too. Lots of people shopping for Christmas and/or Friday afternoon rush hour?

The camera kept crashing and making empty files so I didn't get them on the video, but that's not so interesting anyway.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Winter photo 5th Dec

After the days of -20°C or below the -11°C we had felt balmy. And the warmer weather brought a little of fresh snow with it.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Winter pictures

I guess this qualifies as a proper winter. Sunset at 14:20 (2:20PM). Snow on the ground...

and ice on the river. That thing in the front is a sheet of ice left ashore when the winds changed direction. In long and narrow seas like the Gulf of Bothnia the wind can drive the water up into the bay or out. Here the sea level dropped by a meter in a week.

A bunch of bikes at one of the entrances. Only two rows of bike parking today. Monday and -18°C temperatures might have something to do with it. Even long johns and jeans are a bit chilly for long rides as they are not windproof.

Monkey business

Someone was saved from going ape shit by a simple A4.

"I think a monkey has been given a driver's license."  :-D

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Latest on anti-slip tyres

When I tried to start riding today my bike started to make horrible grinding sounds (in addition to the normal sounds :-) and I had to stop and see what was going on. The bike seemed fine, but every time I pushed the bike forward the noise was there. It didn't take me long to figure out where the sound came from: the rear tyre.

Take a bike from a warm bike garage and ride on some snow and gritting sand. The warm tyre melts some of the snow, and the cold gritting sand re-freezes it, in effect glueing the sand to the tyre. Now I got gritted rear tyre for free! :-) The only problem is that the fender is so close fit that the gritting sand granules are grinding it to pieces. I'll have to unscrew the fender and do some "precision mechanics" with a hammer to make the gap a bit bigger.

And there is something wrong with the chain/rear sprocket, too. I changed a new chain last week and now it makes a sound. I guess the rear sprocket is too worn and the new chain is not properly seated in the teeth. But I can't ride to the bike shop to buy a new one if I take the old out...
Yesterday the snow storm hit southern Finland. According to the meteorological institute, the spot with most deep layer of snow (47cm) is now in Hanko, as far south as you can get in Finland. Helsinki has 37 cm is fourth on the list. But due to the storm the results are not reliable, as the wind makes "dunes" which are much higher than the average. I'm guessing 20 cm from the pictures.

But still, there were problems. The hard wind fell some trees on power lines, trams were derailed when the tracks (or rather the grooves in the tracks?) were filled with snow. The ferries (to/from Estonia and Sweden) and trains were running late and car traffic was chaotic. To top of that, the (over/underground train) Metro was installing new control systems as scheduled this weekend and some trains were replaced with buses. But today everything should be back to normal.