jeudi 14 février 2013

Cycling Woes

I could see it coming. I knew it when I saw her. She was standing at the corner of the road, her arms flapping around, waiting for the red light to change to green so she could cross the street with her father. As I approached the intersection, my apprehension increased with each passing second. The father saw me coming and stared intently at me. The girl started dancing beside her father, all the while oblivious to the fact that I was quickly approaching. With my fingers curled around my brakes, I crossed the intersection, reducing my speed. The father said something to his daughter but nothing so important to make her turn around to acknowledge me. She continued dancing and chattering away. I was almost upon them. So close. 

I slamed on the brakes.

This is my cycling life in Bordeaux.

I am probably one of the world's most nervous drivers. I hate it with every fibre of my being. And I am cheap too; I always love a good deal. And let's face it, I do need the exercise. So that's why I cycle instead of driving or taking the bus. Even though I have accepted that cycling is not a foolproof means of transportation, there are things about it that really bother me.

In Bordeaux you have to watch out for other drivers. You do have to watch out for other cyclists and pedestrians, but you really have to know how to handle bad drivers. For me that means just letting them go and always assuming that they will abuse your right of way. If they want to turn when I obviously have the right of way, I slow down and let them turn. Maybe I am a wimp, but I prefer to let them go than risk my life. Cyclists are killed by cars. I always, always ride with my fingers wrapped around the brakes, ready to squeal to a stop if need be. Just like with my example above. 

In Copenhagen the situation, I feel, is better. Of course I don't have that much experience cycling here, but I have been out a few times already so I have a feel for the cycling scene here. Let's start off with the cycling paths. 

There are always cycling paths on the main roads. How many times in Bordeaux have I cycled past a parked car and seen the driver or a passenger sitting there and thought, "Have they seen me?" I always wonder if they are going to open their door or pull out of their spot and hit me. There have been a couple of close calls. Once I was going home at night and I saw the driver looking at his phone. I rode past, and of course the door opened and nearly hit me. What got to me was when I saw the driver looking at me in shock. And I thought, "Of course you didn't see me, don't look so shocked, you were paying more attention to your phone then the road." If I had been there one second before, just one second...

And then there was the time another cyclist got hit by an ambulance. I kid you not, by an ambulance! I was cycling away, minding my own business in the lane for the buses and bikes (rare, but they exist sometimes). Another cyclist overtakes me and starts to gain on me. An ambulance overtakes me and then, I couldn't believe it, hits the other cyclist and she falls over. I slam on my brakes. And no, the ambulance did not have an emergency situation, its lights were not flashing and its siren was not ringing. 

My bicycle in Christianshavn. Author of photo: Dennation.

I would be naïve if I said that there weren't any risks here too. A car could skid on some ice or slide in the rain and hit me. The cycle path, however, is the forbidden zone, where nobody is allowed but bikes. On the left side are the cars and on the other side is the pedestrian pathway. The drivers know we are there. Often there is a what I call a buffer zone between the cars and the cyclists. So there is less chance that a driver would pull out and hit you or open a door and knock you over. In France on one side you have cars, and on the other side you also have cars and many drivers like to think we don't exist or think they have the right of way. 

Yes, here we have the right of way over the cars (unless, of course, there is a red light)! I am riding away here and I see a car approaching in the other direction, getting ready to turn left in front of me. As I have been conditioned by France, I stop immediately. Imagine my shock when I realise that he has no intention of turning and is obviously waiting for me. In France if you stop they would usually turn. Not here. I can see the driver looking at me and I instantly know what he is thinking by the look on his face, "what are doing, why have you stopped, you know you have the right of way, why are aren't you continuing, what's wrong with you?" 

And then there is all the glass. I do support drinking in public, the kind where you want to have a picnic in the park with your friends, but I do not support drunk people smashing their bottles on the street. Because then I have to deal with the consequences, not them. I have had so many flat tyres that I have lost count. My local cycle repairman knows me so well that sometimes when I go past his shop and he sees me through the window I can see him tensing up. If I enter he says, "Oh no, not you again!" Sometimes I don't let him talk, I just say, "It's me, I'm back!" and he says, "Just great!" I've considered asking him if we could just tutoie each other. I have the feeling here that there is a lot less glass around on the ground. Of course I know that if I go into the centre of Copenhagen on a Friday or Saturday night that I will definitely encounter glass, but it's all cleaned up the next morning. In France it feels like it's permanently there. Anyway, the cycle paths are so well-trodden here that glass doesn't stick around for long.

This doesn't mean I'm saying that everything is perfect in Copenhagen because it's not. There are bad drivers everywhere and you do have to watch out for other impatient cyclists. The pedestrians are a problem as well - they often stop off their pathway and onto the cyclists' pathway. Also, while there are many cycle paths, they are not everywhere. The main streets have cycle paths, but the side streets do not and some streets in the centre don't have separate lanes for bicycles either.

I hope you have enjoyed my cycling stories. Maybe I will think of other things to talk about and create a part 2. I'll definitely talk about this again in a few months time right before leaving to see if my feelings or observations have changed.

6 commentaires:

  1. I'm kind of scared to bike here in Canada, it's a car culture and I don't even always feel safe as pedestrian!

    1. Hi Zhu,

      Thanks for reading my blog. I've been reading your blog for a few years now and I must say, I am happy to see someone like Ottawa as much as you do. I've heard a lot of bad press about Ottawa, both here and from my fellow Ottawans. I actually really like Ottawa; its clean, safe and great for families. I also like the calmness of my hometown. I especially enjoy all the pictures you take in Ottawa; I know your exact location in some of the pictures. I actually grew up not too far from where you are living now! It's fun to see which pictures I can recognise or not.

      I agree about cycling in Canada. Ottawans are not used to seeing bikes on the road, that's for sure. And the snow doesn't make things easier. I do find, however, that people are safer drivers in Canada than in France. And there is more room. How many times have I said to myself here when passing a car, "I'm not going to make it, there's not enough room for the two of us, I'm going to scratch this car!" Haha.

      I'm surprised to see you reading my blog actually. I know I really should make it look more interesting - I remember your post on what makes a good blog! Your post is actually why I've put pictures on here! Once I get my head around Picasso, I'll work on the other points in your post. I should go and have a look at it again...

    2. I agree with you, Ottawa is far less boring than people make it sound! I don't really understand the stereotypes actually. It's a nice city, still affordable and there is plenty going on.

      I always check out the blogs from people who leave comments and your caught my eyes because I'm very curious about other expats and I don't know much about Denmark. I noticed you had just started the blog, so I caught up with a few articles and enjoyed your writing style. So here I am, again :-)

      The look of a blog is somewhat secondary if your articles are interesting and, well, you clearly know how to express yourself :-)

    3. You like my writing style! Really? I have never had anybody say that to me. Actually, my teachers in high school all told me I was a terrible writer. I thought I would never go to university because of their remarks. I decided to forge on despite their remarks, and become a language professional. One of the reasons I read blogs is to learn vocabulary and study punctuation (your blog has also taught me some English vocabulary), but I decided I needed to write my own blog, not only because I wanted to connect with people, but because I need to improve my writing. Working in this profession, good writing skills are primordial.

      I'll definitely keep enjoying your Ottawa pictures!

  2. Another Canadian checking in here! I used to cycle in London (Ontario) while I was in uni and never had any problems. But I think it's only because I am such a paranoid cycler (and driver) that I tend to assume the worst and cycle very cautiously as a result.

    I've never ridden a bike here in France. My husband (who was a cop in Paris at one point) would always tell me horror stories of people renting those Velib bikes and getting hit by cars or hitting pedestrians who run out into the middle of roads. I walked everywhere in Paris and never once rode a bike or drove my car.

    Now that I live in the Alps, I think I'm ready to get a bike. There are a ton of beautiful bike paths far from the roads, and it seems that everyone cycles around here. I'd love to get a bike with a basket in the front to take Pinch along, but I think he'd jump out the first chance he got and send me crashing!

    1. I'm too nervous to cycle in Paris too. There are so many cars there and it feels like bumper cars. I'm way too wimpy to drive there either. I have enjoyed cycling around the Alps - often there are cycle paths around rivers and lakes and there are few cars to deal with.