Sunday, January 3, 2010

Hobbling into the New Year

It's been more than a month since my last post and, not coincidentally, several weeks since my last bike ride. In early December, during the single spell of truly wintry weather that we've had this season, I made an ill-advised ride down an ice-encrusted bike path and had a painful fall. I ended up re-injuring a knee that was not entirely recovered from a ski accident several years ago and so, for the past several weeks, I've been hobbling around on foot and experiencing winter cycling culture vicariously from the sidewalks.

When I had the crack up, I knew straightaway what reaction to expect from friends and colleagues: "What the Hell were you doing riding a bike in a sub-freezing temperatures on an icy path?" The short answer was, "going to work". Of course, I also have the option of taking BKV, but relying on BKV for my entire commute adds approximately 30 minutes to the journey each way. That's why I use my bike for commuting when it's at all possible.

I recognise that snow and ice can make cycling dangerous and that we all have individual responsibility to protect ourselves. However, it's also true that cities are responsible for ensuring the safety of their roads. In northern Europe, where snow and slush confront millions of urban cyclists all winter long and not for just a few weeks each season, cities don't discriminate between bike tracks and roads -- they keep everything clear. In some cities (allegedly) the bike paths are cleared BEFORE the motor routes. I know that in Göteborg, Sweden, city policy calls for the plowing of all bike paths within 12 hours of snowfall.

Not to sell Budapest entirely short: some of the shared bike/pedestrian paths get cleared and/or salted after snowfall. But the path I was on, on the Buda quay north of Margit Bridge, there's never any attempt to clear it, whether of snow, dirt or, lately, with the Csepel Sziget sewerage project going on, of construction detritus. A prime example of the path's neglect happened this past fall when a tree fell across it during a windstorm. I was riding around the tree for a week or so and at one point contemplated removing it myself. I thought the fastest way to get a street crew onto the job would be to drag it onto the adjacent roadway. Unfortunately, it was too heavy to budge and the tree remained for a few weeks longer.

One hopeful development for this path is that it will soon be connected to the portion south of the bridge via a new tunnel under the renovated Margit Bridge. Once it becomes a contiguous extension of Buda korzó, perhaps maintenance crews will also begin treating it with the same care as the rest of the path.

4 comments:

anna said...

Oh, it's really a shame that such paths are not maintained well. I often have similar problems in Vienna, mostly when it snows and all the snow from the "real road" is shuffled on the bike lane (because only crazy people cycle in that weather?!). However, this winter it has not snow so much, and I'm happy about that. Although, generally I love snow, just not piles of it on the bike paths. Currently we only have problems with icy sections. At night they are almost impossible to spot early enough, so one has to go at a very slow pace...

I hope you will recover soon and not be influenced by such bad events. Rather use them to post complains to the authority...

Greg Spencer said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Anna! Ride safe!

Steven said...

Glad to hear that the bike path under Margaret Bridge will be re-routed so that the two sides directly connect with each other. It's so annoying that the bike path goes through the commuter rail station and we have to dodge foot traffic (I know we're supposed to get off and walk our bikes through that area, but have you ever seen anyone do that?)

As for blockage of the bike path, I've seen that lots of times in this city, even on that stretch of area you saw it. I think that's an easily-ignored area because it's wedged between the commuter rail tracks and the riverbank road. Still no excuse for not clearing it in a timely manner, but probably explains the neglect...

botanicalowl said...

A friend sent me a link to a video (lost the link sadly) of bike snowploughs in Copenhagen, which scoop the snow into the road rather than onto pavements. It can be done!

I've just arrived in Budapest, and treating the icy roads with extreme care. Although Britain (my home) has had an extreme winter, we're generally not used to cycling on ice. Wish me luck.