Sunday, January 25, 2009

Riding in Snow

People are generally shocked that I ride through the winter. It is simply the most practical option for me: I am not willing to undertake the financial or environmental impact of driving, which I also hate. I don't mind taking transit, but there are not always good connections and I don't like timing myself by someone else's schedule. I also had a demanding schedule as I am a full-time grad student in addition to working a total of 37 hours per week, which is split between three locations. The beauty of cycling is that my commute, rather than being dead time, is part of my fitness regime. It is also the most enjoyable way of getting around, for me, and saves me money.

Anyway, yeah, cycling in winter in Ottawa. There is a lot of snow. The good thing is that there is so much snow that the city has to remove it efficently, or no one would ever leave their homes. It is also cold, but the thing is that cycling keeps me warming than waiting for the bus or walking the several blocks that would seperate me from my downtown work location and the nearest available parking spot. I tend to be impatient with people who say they could not do it because of the cold. I'm from Vancouver Island and only just adapted to the climate in Ottawa.

The other reaction I get is that it must be very dangerous due to ice and snow. Well, we have already established that the roads are ploughed. I also use these studded snow tires on a cheap bike that I don't mine getting rusted from the road salt. They did cost me roughly $100, but that is less than three months of bus passes at a student price and less than two at a full price.

I lived in Kiel, Germany for a year between my undergrad and my MA. My heartly, old sailor roommate had worked on submarines during his mandatory military service. He shared a saying to me that is appropriate here. It translates, "there is no bad weather, only innapropriate clothing."

Friday, January 9, 2009

Ottawa Transit Strike: Day 30

The transit strike in Ottawa has not effected me that much. The roads are more conjested, but I can still pass the lines of backed up cars as long as there is not too much snow. Hearing about coworkers carpooling to work at 6:00am and students paying $30 for cab rides to class makes me really grateful to have equipped my bicycle for winter.

The one thing that I find most frustrating is the number of subburban drivers coming into downtown and bringing their suburban or small town driving habits with them. I got clipped last night by some one who did not shoulder check before pulling out of the parking lane on a busy road. He would have hit a car if I had not been there, because at 19:30 it was the tail end of rush hour. The car had a license plate from a small feeder community outside of Ottawa and I am willing to bet that this person is not used to parell parking on busy streets and would typically be able to park in boxmart lots.

The conditions around Carleton have been some of the worst. The strike started December 10, which was five days after the end of classes and six days before the end of exams. Most students were largely unaffected for the rest of the month, at least as far as getting the campus. Carleton is also popular with local students from the affluent suburbs in that part of town, so I am willing to bet that many of them are able to borrow cars or get rides from their parents now. The roads leading to campus have been a terrible mess of illegal three point turns and shaky attempts to parellel park in residential spots. On Monday some students got angry at having to yield to me when turning on one of the roads into campus and with the fact that I outpaced them when they were stuck in gridlock. They eventually caught up and the front passenger tried to door me, but she misjudged the angle. I ended up running into her even though I was attempting to brake. I am confident that they are not used to seeing cyclists on the road and feel that we have no place there.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Summer Commute

There is a wind chill of -30 outside right now. I have not been cycling very much for fun, and rarely at night. The snow narrows the streets, traffic is worsened by the transit strike, and I am stuck at home with a thesis to write. When I do get out, it is usually to work #1 in the government sector across the Canal, to work #2 in an other government area of Sussex Drive, or to Carleton University. In the fall I would sometimes change my route to school by taking the multi-use path along the Canal, but I have been staying on main streets since those have the best snow removal.

I am missing my summer commute. I live in Lower Town and was working in a non-profit social services agency in Hintonburg (apparently the next "big" place in Ottawa). I was able to cycle along the Ottawa River along with many other cyclists and walkers. This route took my through some of the most scenic and famous parks of Ottawa: Byward Market, Rideau Canal, Parliament of Canada, Canadian War Museum and gave me a lovely view across the river to Quebec.

It's not all sceneic. When I tell people that I commute by bike, the first thing I hear is the danger. It's true:

Sometimes there are goose traffic jams! I thought it would be interesting to show a map of my summer route. I also took a French class in the south end of Ottawa during the summer, mostly because Carleton did not offer anything at my (extreamly low) level, and it was cheap. Free for non-citizens, but also cheap for Canadians.
The blue line is the route I took along the Ottawa River between home and work. This was back when I was still shelling out for a transit pass, so I would take my bike on the local light-rail service (marked by Google with train tracks) from very close to my work, through Carleton, and all the way south to the end station. This saved me time and allowed me to avoid the most congested areas of the city during rush hour. Then I had a short ride through a suburb, surprisingly with a bike lane. That's the green line. After French class I would ride home along Altavista, which also has a bike lane, connect to the Rideau River pathway (different river than before), cross it and loop back onto the little cul-de-sac that I live on. It totally about two hours round-trip, though I never did it at once since I would ride to my job, work, ride/rail to class, attempt to learn French and then ride home. And collapse.

I doubt I will be cycling as far any time soon. I work downtown now and can take French classes through my new job. I do look forward to more lazy, evening rides along the river in the Ottawa humidity. Picking up speed is the only way to cope with the heat.