Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Under the Influence

Poppies, May 29, about a kilometre north of Budakalasz on the bike path next to Route 11.
Sometimes in this crazy, herky-jerky world of ours, you need to -- as the old folk wisdom goes -- stop and make a jpeg of the flowers. That's what I did on yesterday's morning commute to Szentendre.

I first came across this sight last Thursday. It seemed like practically overnight the grassy overgrowth lining the bike path north of Budakalasz had burst into colour.

Apparently from Papaver somniferum's point of view, this spring has provided an optimal balance of warm sunny days and cool rainy ones. I'd never seen so many poppies with such huge blooms. When I first noticed the spectacle last week, I didn't have my camera. I made a note to bring it on my next commute, although I didn't have big hopes of catching them again. It was just before the weekend, and the durations of these phases of spring splendour seem to be in inverse proportion to their beauty. However, when I returned with camera in hand, the scene was not diminished. Just as gorgeous as before.

Taken with a Canon PowerShot SD1300 IS (nothing fancy, but sometimes makes a nice shot).
I tried to make a video to give an impression of the experience of riding through the long allée of blooms. Unfortunately, my little Canon point-and-shoot did not produce Hollywood results. The path is riven with cracks and holes, and my one-hand-on-the-handle-bars-one-hand-holding-the-camera technique didn't help. But I've included the video here anyway.

The stills came out well, and they give their own sort of visual pleasure. But I reckon no digital facsimile can match the real-life experience of riding your bike through a field of poppies in full bloom. It's a real treat and -- now for the inevitable editorial -- not something you're going to get commuting by car.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Rant on ranking

When Sequoia heard Budapest was ranked the no. 13 cycling city in the world, she just laughed.
Budapest ranked no. 13 in the recently published Copenhagenize Index of best cycling cities in the world. This year the index covers an expanded list of 150 cities.
My first reaction at seeing this? You've got to be kidding! Budapest, Hungary?! Where I was nearly decapitated by a hedge after riding into a pothole the size of Kim Kardashian's butt? Where they won't allow cyclists on the main streets in the city because there's no room?? Where the name of the much anticipated public bike system is a homonym for the mildly vulgar English term for a woman's breast??

Who are the idiots who make these listings, anyway?

Then I remembered it was me. Or at least partly me. The Copenhagenize Index is a sort-of "group-source" thing relying on some 400 local yokels who do self-evaluations of their own cities. They don't compare and contrast cities, but just rate their own scene, albeit according to standardized criteria given by Copenhagenize. Each city is supposed to be evaluated by multiple volunteers, so there's some triangulation. You can look over the index questions and methodology yourself.

Although memory doesn't serve as well as it used to, I don't think I gushed about Budapest in my own evaluation. I remember being generally critical. But I may have let some local pride skew my score upward. Or maybe it was another Budapest local who exaggerated the city's virtues. 

In any case, no. 13 in the world seems like an AWFULLY high rating for Budapest. That puts us one step ahead of Paris, which back in 2005, I proposed as a good model for Budapest. Have the tables turned since then? I don't believe they have. Velib has been expanding since its launch in 2007, while Bubi is already two years past  the originally announced roll out. Meanwhile, the Paris Respire and Plage schemes, where streets are closed to motor traffic every weekend of the summer, help promote active transport and better quality of life. Budapest has had only occasional one-off street closures -- usually on European Mobility Week.

Or take London, which didn't even crack the Index's top 20. I was in London last fall, and tried out the Boris Bikes and Barclay's Cycle Superhighways -- impressive investments that had been implemented in the previous couple years. Budapest cycling investment during the same period paled by comparison.

Of course, Budapest does have its good points. They're pretty much the same now as they were in 2011, when Budapest was ranked no.11 in the Copenhagenize Index. No other city beats Budapest Critical Mass. And largely because of the local CM, there is today a large, enthusiastic population of citizen cyclists who are out braving Budapest traffic everyday despite potholes the size of Kim Kardashian's butt. As the Index explains, "Budapest is a regional leader in bicycle culture but without political will and a modern desire for mobility change, their role will be overtaken by others." Amen to that!