Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bikes are back in Helsinki

The snow is almost all gone. There was still of scum of ice left on the harbour bays this morning down town as I rode to work, but a brisk wind had broken much of it up by home time.

The first flowers are out in my garden. The grass is still brown having emerged from under the snow, but nature is pregnant with that feeling of spring about to burst into forth from all directions.

The street sweepers have been out getting rid of a winter's worth of gravel, dust, litter and now unfrozen dog turds.

I've had my summer tyres back on for the last 100 or so kms and everything is running smooth and sweet, after 700 kms of studded-tyre chatter since the end of November.

The sun shone and Helsinki actually looked pretty scenic in the bright light.

But what does this mean? It means suddenly I have to share the cycle paths again with more than about four other bikers. With fast cyclists, slow cyclists, wobbly cyclists - that's all good. But I do get annoyed by pedestrians who seem too stupid to work out what a big painted picture of bike on path might mean, and even worse with dog walkers and their death trap extendable (and invisible from a distance) leads. These idiot devices allow Fido to stroll along on the far side of the cycle path, sniffing for interesting dog piss in the bushes, whilst his master walks on the pedestrian side and in effect stretching a garotte across the cycle path between them. I hate dog walkers with extendible leads. So you ring your bell or shout a warning and they have the temerity to look fucking shocked that there might be a cyclist coming down the cycle path that they have just stretched a trip line across. Perhaps pet shops only sell extendible leads to stupid people? Or does somehow just using one, make people stupid?

Oh well, in New York people use the cycle lanes to walk their dogs (scroll down) as well. But it is not just the dog walkers...

In Helsinki some people think that cycle paths are good place for a truck stop. In fact I've seen the tosser in the photo snapped from the bus above parked in exactly the same place before - not only blocking half of the pavement that is the cycle path, but also the other half for pedestrians. When I had to bunny hop into the road to get round him the last time he had parked there, I watched a mother have to push her pram into the same busy road to get around the thoughtless wanker. If I had been a metropolitan police officer I might have told him to "go away" in a very certain manner, which probably makes it good thing that I'm not.

I took this pic late at night last week. The car had been parked there when I was going to work about 12 hours earlier and was still there at night, with no parking ticket on it. Fair enough - cars break down, but there's an empty area just out of sight on the left of the photo where they could have left it with with out it blocking walkers or cyclists. An American cycling adovocate recently visited Helsinki to compare cycling provision here to Washington DC where he is from. Helsingin Sanomat's report had the 'good news' headline of "American pedal-pusher sees Helsinki as a good biking city" although if you read Eric Gilliland's blog about the trip, it is much more interesting - and he clearly know what he is talking about as identifies virtually all the problems with the Helsinki cycle path system very quickly. For example: "in the US, cyclists are accomodated on the road and are treated as slow cars, whereas in Europe (and certainly in Helsinki) cyclists are accomodated on the sidewalks with cycle tracks and are treated as fast pedestrians. I think, and Petri and Marek also think, that the true answer lies somewhere in the middle."

I was going to make fun of Finland's seemingly new found fixie culture having seen a sudden burst of down-town fixie hipsterdom in the last two weeks - but I'll have to leave that for another post. But if you are out and about in Helsinki - just keep an eye out for this sort of chap (or his female counter part):

(Via, and big-up, the Get Outdoors blog)
And you'll know who I'm talking about as they all look the same. :-)

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