Monday, January 12, 2015

My kingdom for clean pavement

I was a bit of a mess when I made it to my friend's house on Saturday night.

I had left the Centretown BUZZ office as soon as humanly possible (about an hour later than I'd intended to). Several deadlines breathing down my neck, and I guess I wasn't in a great mood when I left, because I knew I was running later than I'd planned.

This was my verdict on the ride home.

Aside from the cold wind in my face, and the usual distrust of people coming in through intersections, and the disturbingly large number of people who made high-speed, stupid maneuvers past me on the south end of Bank, it was the ice.

It had snowed, then rained ice, then frozen hard, then snowed again. This isn't all that unusual in Ottawa. In fact, I saw someone recently propose "freezing drizzle" as the official precipitation of Ottawa, and I was in full agreement (although I might also argue that the official precipitation should be "snow, followed by rain, followed by more snow, then two days of freezing rain, causing an unbreakable layer of rock-hard ice on anything solid").

What this meant was that the snow, cleared away from the cars' tracks by traffic, then scraped down to a centimetre-thick layer by the snowplows, had then been rained on and hardened into a solid layer of ice, about a centimetre thick, extending across the outer foot to foot-and-a-half of the street. Where bikes travel. 

The ice layer comes and goes, of course, depending on traffic. But for some reason, it also seems to melt and dissolve away right next to the curb (sun warming the concrete maybe?), leaving bare pavement right next to the curb, then a strip of bumpy ice, then bare pavement right out in the lane. 

And I know: I know I should take the lane anyway. But though the spirit is willing . . . sometimes the flesh is scared of riding as far out as I should. Because cars are still trying, at the Lansdowne Bridge, to pass you two abreast. So I would find myself with my tires on the outer side of that strip of ice, really close to the curb, and then the bare pavement would run out and I'd have to try to cross the ice - remember, it's a good half inch thick at least - back to the clear pavement. And out into the lane.

In Old Ottawa South, the ice layer actually claims one whole lane out of two for about a block, going by Trinity Church, because that lane is parked up during the day and so ice builds up. (So, if you're driving down Bank Street wondering why that cyclist is in the middle of the inside lane, that's why.)

Gah. Between that, and drivers not compensating for the crap road quality by giving me enough clearance, and a cold wind making visibility just a little worse, what with the blinking and the tearing up, it was a rough ride. (I don't suppose I can blame the drivers: they probably don't know about and haven't noticed the ice and sludge at the side of the road.)

But it was better the next day, when it was a little warmer and the traffic was a little less heavy and I was under less pressure, and I really enjoyed my ride home that night, and now it's -2 and I know that the ice is melting, slowly, and I'll probably enjoy the ride to the office this afternoon. 

Mostly, I like riding in the winter. But that confluence of conditions, making the edge of the road so terrible, is pretty common in this town. I don't know how it could be helped: ensuring the plows go right to the curb instead of leaving a foot and a half of snow? Salting the edges of the road? On official bike routes (South Bank Street was one, last time I checked, and it does have sharrows and actual bike lanes in spots), running one of those little sidewalk plows along the bike space, late at night when it's safer to do that? There are probably things that could be done to clear a little more space for us bikes. Question is, how much would that cost and would the City think it's worth it?

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