Building a Better Bike Map

27 07 2012

This week, I attended a feedback session on the City of Edmonton’s bike map. Maps fascinate me. All you have to do to keep me occupied for hours is give me a some maps or an atlas, especially of places I plan on going. I’m sure the amount of time I’ve spent looking at E-Ville bike maps over the years amounts to days or weeks.

Scrutinizing the City of Edmonton bike map.

Last year, I waited with baited breath for the new edition to come out, but when I finally got my hands on one, it was a huge disappointment. While it was nice to have an updated map of the new infrastructure, the new style with it’s barely visible roads and dearth of street names compromised its overall usefulness.

Participants in the session checked out bike maps from 6 different cities (including E-Ville) and gave feedback on what they liked and didn’t like about them via post-it notes and a written survey. I wasn’t the only one who found lots of room for improvement for Edmonton’s version.

The E-Ville map had the most post-its by far. Click on picture to zoom in to read some of them.

Because there weren’t very many people there, and because I have so many strong opinions on the subject, I spent the better part of 2 hours making detailed comments on everything (and apparently riling up some of the other participants).

Even though this was the only physical session, you can still give feedback online via this survey:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/C7H8Y8L

Afterwards, I talked to one of the consultants who’s working on the new map. They are well aware that the current map needs improvement, and is a step down from previous editions. The current map was produced with different software than before which apparently is much more limited. They also confirmed something I’d always suspected, that there weren’t any pre-press samples to detect the misprint that made all the non-bike lane streets nearly invisible.

Advertisements




June Critical Mass

20 07 2012

As June is Bike Month in E-Ville, June Critical Mass is usually the the most well attended of the year. I don’t know what it is this year, but Critical Mass seems to have lost momentum. Maybe it’s because some of the folks who’ve been putting most of the effort into promoting it have had other commitments lately. But, promotion or not, we know the time and place. and we still ride.

Rubber to the asphalt.

The High Level Bridge is always a highlight.

Rollin’ down Whyte Ave.

It’s the Bikewriter himself!

Brian and a particularly triumphant bike lift.

Last Friday of the month, 5:30pm, City Hall (fountain side).

Be there or be a square wheel.

 

 

 





Midnight Ride to Bike Town

19 07 2012

To put this story into perspective, we’ll start with a simple vegan chocolate cupcake.

About to enjoy a vegan cupcake with Marjory.

There’s another story I’m not going to bother with here that ends with me becoming so sensitive to caffeine that even the modest amount in a chocolate cupcake (with non-chocolate icing) is enough to keep me up all night. But I really wanted a cupcake, and at Flirt only the chocolate cake is vegan, so I decided to hop down the rabbit hole. I tell you this story not only as an excuse to post food porn but also to help explain why I decided to do what I did next.

I’ve been researching neighbouring communities, looking for destinations for cycling day trips, and discovered that the nearby town of Devon had declared itself “Bike Town Alberta,” where, according to their website, “cycling is the new golf.” I was intrigued at the thought of this little oil town turning around and embracing the bike, but something wasn’t right. The website talks more about branding than it does about bicycles, and the whole thing reeks of not quite getting it.

Case in point – this promotional video. Warning: you will not get the next two minutes of your life back if you watch this video, but if you still choose to, make it fun by being on the lookout for models wearing helmets backwards, under inflated tires, and dudes riding bikes that look like they would’ve fit them when they were 12.

So, on a hot summer night with a bee under my saddle and a little too much energy, I decided I needed to check out Bike Town firsthand.

As I was gathering supplies at the grocery store, I got a call from Geneva.

“What are you doing tonight?”

“Riding to Devon.”

“Can I join you.”

“Sure.”

Truth be told, there was a little more discussion than that, but the plan was hatched before I made it to the checkout. We’d hop on our bikes and head south, knowing full well that we’d be highway riding with only the midnight twilight of midsummer in E-Ville.

The sun hung low as we made our way towards city limits. Our first challenge came as we crossed the Henday, where Geneva got a flat.

Geneva fixes a flat in the blink of an eye.

But we were undeterred. She fixed the flat and we were back on our way.

Sunset and Devon’s still a ways to go. Note that, of all my bikes, I took Marjory for this ride.

This is the part of the ride that it started getting tough. Off the paved side roads and onto the highway, I kept pushing forward with the hope that I would be rewarded with a photo next to a sign that said “Bike Town.”

Almost there!

With the promising light of civilization on the horizon, we got our photo op.

In retrospect, I should have framed the photo to say “DEVO.” That would’ve been way cooler.

As we began to explore the sleepy streets, we found lots of evidence of the town’s history related to the oil industry, but no evidence that it was “Bike Town.” The paved path that roughly followed the top of the valley was nothing special, and we weren’t about to explore the mountain bike paths this place is known for on road bikes, in the dark.

Our first stop was to refuel.

Even the convenience store was oil industry themed.

As we had a break took turns going in to refill our bottles and get snacks, a woman approached us.

“Were you the ones I saw out cycling on the highway just now?”

“Probably.”

“Why did you do that? It’s so unsafe. How will anyone see you? All the drivers out there are drunk.” She was genuinely concerned.

We just sort of shrugged. I wanted to say “well you saw us, right?’ but was polite and told her not to worry.

A couple of minutes later I went into the store, and as I was about to go to the cashier, a man stumbled in and screamed incoherently, and then stumbled around some more. Disconcerted, I quickly cashed out and went back to meet Geneva.

“I can’t believe how drunk that guy is.” She said. It was at that moment I noticed a minivan that hadn’t been there before.

“Wait a minute, did he drive here?”

We exchanged “oh shit”  looks and decided to get out of there before the drunk dude got out of the store.

A little bit shaken by the timing of that meeting, we roamed the town, trying to decide whether to head back immediately or wait until dawn. On a whim, I said let’s look in some dumpsters (small town dumpsters have a reputation). There were no snacks, but I did pull out a perfectly good orange reflective vest. I already had my reflective hoodie on so I asked Geneva if she wanted it.

So that is how we ended up riding til the crack of dawn when we returned home, with Geneva wearing a vest we’d just pulled out of a dumpster. The roads were mostly quiet and we didn’t have any scary moments. The only regret I have is that I didn’t bring a lock, so that we could have checked out the only lively place this late at night – the hotel/bar where there was some country karaoke going down.

As for “Bike Town,” I wasn’t expecting much but was still underwhelmed. I’ll go back in the day sometime to check out the river valley and to see if there’s bicycle friendly camping. It seems their idea of cycling is recreation, not transportation, and the goal they’re working towards is to get more people to drive their bikes in from the city. It’s really too bad, because there is such a dearth of facilities for transportation cyclists and cycle tourists around E-Ville, and it’s close enough to be a relatively easy day trip. I hear they’re trying to trademark “Bike Town,” so I hope they get a clue about people who actually lead a cycling lifestyle before they monopolize that moniker.





A Soggy S24O

5 07 2012

Sometimes, I just have to be outside. And with summer underway, I want to savour every moment, including the warm summer rain. On this evening, all I wanted was to sleep in the forest away from other humanity and let the gentle percussion of rain drops on the fly of my hammock lull me to sleep. So with little daylight left, and a brief break in the rain, I headed out to a little place I know that’s off the map but not too far from home.

In the home of the deer & coyotes.

Part of the reason I wanted to go was that I wanted to test out my gear in the rain before heading out on a longer trip, and I knew that the destination I selected would allow me to head home without too much trouble if anything failed.

My wet camp in the misty woods.

Getting there wasn’t as simple as I thought. There once was a gravel road leading into the area, but all the gravel has been removed and only the clay road base remains. I suppose this was to aid in the “naturalization” process and keep domesticated animals (specifically humans & dogs) from bothering the local wildlife, and it wouldn’t have been a problem if it hadn’t already turned into a soupy, slippery mess from the day’s rains. As I powered through the mud on my fully loaded bike, the clay just stuck to it, enveloping my brakes, clogging my fenders, plastering the backsides of my panniers.

This is what my bike looked like after riding through a quarter section of hay fields and another section of game trails in the bush, which was my strategy for trying to knock the muck off.

I ended up having to drag my bike through some of the mud, and had to grab sticks to poke out the mud & rocks that were preventing my wheels from moving. After finally passing the horrible used-to-be-road, it started to rain again, and I realized that I’d passed the point of no return. I managed to set up camp and retreat to my hammock with, literally, seconds to spare before the sky completely opened up. Dry and cozy, I curled up and listened to the rain and thunder and the runoff rushing underneath while gently swaying with the trees. And between showers, I could hear the coyotes howling and slinking through the forest.

While my stay was refreshing, it wasn’t exactly restful, and I was up (for me) freakishly early. Eager for a hot drink and to try out my new toy, I broke out the Trangia to make some tea.

A Trangia is a super lightweight alcohol fueled camp stove. It took a few minutes to boil 2 cups of water.

The rain stopped just long enough for me to have some breakfast & break camp, and I was re-energized by the hot drink & fuel. After trying to poke what mud I could out of my wheels, I started the return journey. Unfortunately, the only way in or out of this place with a loaded bike is the non-road that I took on the way in. Because it had been raining all night, it was even more of a mess.

I would ride until my wheels wouldn’t turn (about 10-50 feet) and then poke out as much clay as I could with a stick and try again. I’d get off the bike and drag it, all the time barely keeping my own footing in the greasy mud. By the time I made it through that half mile of hell, I was exhausted and felt like I didn’t save any energy by not going much further afield.

Nearing home. To quote a friend, “at least my skin is waterproof.”

My upper body was sore for days after, but the worst casualty of the day was my bike. A couple of days later, when I took the Globe to EBC to chisel off the caked on mud remains, it took me 5 hours to clean it, and when I swept up the pile of dried mud under the bike stand it weighed more than 3 pounds. Come to think about it, I still haven’t cleaned the mud off of the backs of my front panniers – better get on that before the next trip.