Mar 11, 2012

Making a safe ride

March, I love it! In Seattle cherry blossom is sprinkling the city with pink clouds. In Umeå the 1,5 foot of heavy snow is finally sliding from the roofs, collapsing from trees in loud splashes. The landscape has been frozen since Christmas, it was a very white and serious winter, and now it’s loosing its grip. The cramp is releasing, we can breath again!

When I was a little girl riding my bike wasn’t allowed until the streets were dry, no melting water anywhere. Bikes were a summer tool for fun and transportation. Oh, what a wait. At this latitude mostly until May.

Umeå is a big biking town, the Beijing of Scandinavia. During spring, summer and fall, the residents of Umeå move in fast wheeling crowds across the vast and mostly flat city. Twenty years ago we allowed the bike its winter break when the first snow fell in November, stored in garage or basements until streets were dry and safe again. Those were the days. Today those poor things are equipped with winter tires having to carry us around in feet of hardly passable white stuff. And this time of year as the winter road melts during the day and then freezes again during night, we slide around on black ice, and yes, the ER is full of broken wrists and ankles.

The typical bicycle rider in Umeå on a regular day is transporting him/herself on a regular bike in regular clothes, briefcase or groceries in a bicycle basket in front of the handle bar or in the back. Kind of very casual, straight up sitting, mostly without helmet, the bike like a comfortable extension of the body.

The bike rider in Seattle on the other hand, well that’s a completely different ball game, as my 80 + friend Helen would have expressed it. Here is a person lying over the racing bike, calves pumping in slim biking clothes, water bottle attached to bicycle frame, streamlined helmet matching the slim outfit. Riding the bike in Seattle is serious business, an aggressive art. And it has to; Seattleites are competing with cars on regular streets with highly aggressive traffic. And yes, the ERs are highly frequented by cyclists.

Both cities are working on being more bicycle-friendly and safe though. Every neighborhood in Umeå built from the 60ies and forward is equipped with bicycle lanes separated from the streets. You can actually move across town without having to interfere with cars. Seattle is planning on “urban greenways”, designated streets often parallel to arterials but much quieter — that offer everyone from cyclists to pedestrians and people in wheelchairs safer ways to get around without having to drive. But Seattle is a big city and this is a big undertaking. In Umeå, we just have to wait until May for the bike lanes to be dry and comfortable. In Seattle it will take years to create a safe bicycle environment. But it’s worth waiting for. Until then, have a safe ride!

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