Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Functional Blizzard

Yesterday's blizzard delivered even heavier snowfall than the first one we had, but our neighbourhood was a lot more functional and lively this time.

The Co-Habitant cycled to work as usual, but I set off on foot. Upon reaching the main road, I was surprised to see many other pedestrians trekking along it. There are some small grocery stores and restaurants along this street, so the trekkers must have been heading to and from these establishments. 

This particular place of business was especially popular! 

Lots of bikes buried in the snow, but I saw only two on the roads.

Mountain bikes are useful in these conditions - though the Co-Habitant says his Pashley handled fine as well. Apparently people photographed and videotaped him as he cycled to work.

Given the conditions outdoors, I was truly impressed with the relative normality of everything. Many businesses and institutions were open, people were out and about, and fewer things were cancelled than last time. In the morning, the electricity went out on our street for a few minutes, but then came right back on. And the lock on the outside door was frozen when I came home, so I had to work on it for a while before I could fit the key in. But other than that, we had no blizzard-related disturbances.

It is fascinating to me, that after only a few weeks of heavy snowfall my neighbourhood has already adapted to the new circumstances and normalised them - human beings are resilient! The atmosphere felt relaxed and not at all apocalyptic; it was a functional blizzard. And if this sort of thing continues, I will have to reconsider snow tires: Even the plowed parts of the roads were covered with at least a thin layer of snow. Turning the bike lanes into ski lanes would also work for me, but somehow I don't see that happening quite yet.

41 comments:

  1. http://www.dutchbikeco.com/_blog/Dutch_Bike_Co_Weblog/post/Seattle_Snowpocalypse/

    Not lovely, but DIY and very functional

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  2. I wonder if people will adapt as quickly and efficiently if the price of gasoline increases 90 or 100% this summer. The extreme weather we've had here in Virginia over the last 2 winters have made people look at some of their transportation issues with a little more clarity, but I wonder if we will be willing to see high fuel costs as a similar call for pragmatic action or if we'll just stand up and scream for "someone to do something!".

    A friend of mine is parking his 4 wheel drive SUV at the end of his longish, hilly driveway because of the ice that builds up in the shade under the trees. He's pragmatic and matter of fact about this because it's just inevitable, but when gas was $3.60 a gallon 2 years ago he was ON FIRE that the government needed to DO SOMETHING about how much it was costing him to drive his giant 8 passenger 16 mpg Toyota. You guys in Boston are shedding a little ray of hope...

    Spindizzy

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  3. thankfully a "snow day" was called for my office and I did not have to go out into Snowzilla, The Blizzasaurus ... but parking bans being still in effect this morning made for a very smooth commute (no one was parked in the bike-lanes :P ), considering the narrowing of the roads from all the snow. I concerned that this evening will be a bit more "congested".

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  4. There are places in the world where traffic grinds to a halt and people have to adapt to the new conditions when the snow goes away.

    People are not only resilient, they are highly adaptable and after having made an adaptation tend to internalize the new condition as normal and any further change as impending catastrophe.

    Cities look pretty in the snow. Still, they look pretty in daffodils and tulips as well and I'm ready and willing to accept change and deal with whatever negative consequences might befall.

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  5. I rode my Cannondale with Schwalbe "Land Cruiser" 26x2.0 wide mtb tires through the aftermath of the blizzard, and did just fine. They're not studded, but performed fabulously in the slush and snow-- far better than the Schwalbe Marathons I used last winter. If it were icy, I suppose studded tires would be called for, but for days like yesterday and today, the Land Cruisers are perfect.

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  6. Very similar circumstances prevailed in our December snows here in Britain where families went out walking to the shops and strangers were actually smiling and saying hello to each other in passing - as opposed to the usual brusque mannerisms and cold shoulders. It was nice. But then the good old Gulfstream brought in the warmer air from the south, and as the ground thawed the faces froze over again and it was back to business as usual.

    I'm hoping for more snow.

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  7. One of the many reasons I love this blog is that I lived in Cambridge during 5 years of graduate school. I enjoy seeing pictures of familiar places and remembering my time there. I had forgotten about The Wine and Cheese Cask until seeing your picture of it today. Now there will be one more thing I can miss about my old city. Although I'm not sure I'd move back there given the chance, I did have a great time and enjoy visiting whenever I can.

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  8. As crazy as it may sound bikes on the road (properly equipped) handle better than many cars do in the snow. Just watch those ice ruts on the roads!!

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  9. The ice ruts really rattle me when I am riding to work. It's pretty out and I am not really noticing the tiny brown road-coloured bumps until *bump* *bump* *bump*, uh. Maybe I should let some air out of my front wheel.

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  10. Spindizzy - My feeling is that people would adapt to the price of gasoline in a similar manner. They will not necessarily move into the direction of bikes. But maybe the "village" structure will return to the suburbs, with General Stores re-appearng in every town in leu of the gigantic grocery and W-mart type stores that take a while to drive to. Even with the gas price increase over the past years, I have noticed a difference among friends: those who live sufficiently close to the city so that a commuter rail is available, use that instead of the car, whereas several years ago they didn't like the idea of that.

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  11. Man, all the pretty snow pictures make me miss New England for a minute! Right now I'll have to be satisfied with 57F here in Portland.

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  12. Karen - the area has changed considerably over the past years, even since the time we moved here a few years ago. Cambridge and Somerville have done a lot to encourage pedestrians and cyclists and to support small businesses in the area. They've also planted trees, installed more streetlights, and improved crosswalks. It's been exciting to watch the transformation.

    We never intended to stay here for as long as we already have, and I still don't envision myself living here in the long term. But I am slowly beginning to feel more connected with the area, and the improvements have certainly helped.

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  13. kfg said...
    There are places in the world where traffic grinds to a halt and people have to adapt to the new conditions when the snow goes away.


    Really! Like where? I'd love to buy me a Pugsley and move there!

    somervillain - Do you mean that you cycled yesterday (Wednesday) or today? I did not feel comfortable doing it either day, but hopefully tomorrow the streets will be clearer.

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  14. Do you mean that you cycled yesterday (Wednesday) or today? I did not feel comfortable doing it either day, but hopefully tomorrow the streets will be clearer.

    Just today I rode. Yesterday I walked. Somerville did a much better job plowing than Cambridge, and as a result, their streets have only some wet slush left and riding didn't feel much different than it does in rain. But in Cambridge, the ice ruts are horrible, and they don't look like they're going away soon! I just dropped the tire pressure in my fat ol' Land Cruisers to 35 lb to help soften the ride over those bone-shaking ice bumps!

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  15. Darn. I need to go to the Lechmere area and that's not exactly walkable. What scares me about those ice bumps, is that I wonder whether they are more than just boneshaking: Can they make your tire slip and the bike slide out sideways?

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  16. "Like where?"

    Where there are seasons named The Long Sleep, Mud and Black Fly.

    I cycled yesterday and today. Today was a piece of cake, even on roads that relied mostly on traffic to clear them, but yesterday makes me think those Land Cruisers might be worth a try next year. Shame they don't come in S7.

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  17. Veloria, I work across the street from Lechmere. At 11:30ish today I had no problem doing Davis (Elm) through Union and taking a right at Target.
    Behind Twin City is where it sucked. I got off after the railroad tracks and walked one block to Cambridge St. and road to the office. I just have regular 700c at the moment.
    For me, going home will be interesting. I usually go down Cambridge St. and cut through Inman to Beacon. I may cut back to Target and Union though.
    FWIW, 87 and 88 have bike racks if you need to bail.

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  18. Well to me, the interesting thing here are the pictures. The snow makes the photo look like a B&W pic with the things that show color being painted on. Very neat!

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  19. Anon 6:08 - Oh, I see. I've never cycled through that area. I live off of Beacon, so I go via Beacon until Inman Sq, then Cambridge St all the way. The Union Sq/ Target area scares the hell out of me, so I try to avoid it - but maybe in the winter they do a better job of clearing snow!

    Oh and I am pretty sure no bus rack will accommodate my 55lb+ Gazelle! : )

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  20. re: cycling to work yesterday & today.

    Today was absolutely fine both ways, and so was yesterday coming home, but yesterday morning, I had to stop a few times (I mean literally, stop, lift the front wheel, hobble a few steps, start again) because snow ruts (even after being blowed) were thick enough on Somerville Ave to swallow my wheel up to the axle. These were sections where cars couldn't traverse, obviously.

    I also saw a couple official 4wd vehicles traveling faster than I can imagine they would ever be able to alter their speed, or steer anywhere but straight, let alone stop. Scary. I guess their dimly blinking blue lights soften the impact against something they can't yet see since it's snowing so hard.

    I got behind a snow plow once I got to Elm Street, and my impression was that Cambridge/Somerville both did an excellent job of plowing around Davis Square.

    re: slippery conditions

    The slipping that happens in the thick snow and slush is a bit at slow motion, so you have plenty of warning to try and control it, or feel for when it's about to stall and you ought to lift up from the saddle and step down. Having a tripod with the two wheels and your one leg is more stable than walking. It's not much _faster_ than walking sometimes, but it's certainly safe enough.

    Bare ice at night can be scary, I imagine. And fast to bring one down, too, no stall warning there.

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  21. I meant, uh, "plowed" above. :)

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  22. V -- there were a few rutted ice sheets anmd mini-bergs on Broadway this morning and in general it was fine since they were also sanded and tires had decent traction on them The only serious hazard that I had was while drifting laterally. Having the side of one's tire hit the sheet will deflect your wheel and likely cause a spill. If you've ever switched lane across the Green Line streetcar tracks, it's best to treat these banks like those and just try to turn into them rather than drift over.

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  23. So did you make it to Lechmere? I left work around 6:30pm. Traffic on Cambridge Street was seriously backed up so I walked the bike up a few blocks then road a few blocks and then bailed when I could see the roadway was even less clear than when I can in. I walked a few back streets to the Target then picked up Washington through Union to Bow/Somerville Ave/Mass. Ave. No problems and most drivers nice until I crossed route 16 into Arlington. Someone in Arlington in a crappy car always has to tell you to get off the road even if you aren't impeding them in any way :)
    Anyway, I'm currently riding a Trek Earl singlespeed with regular 700c tires. Most of the walking I did was because I didn't trust the drivers on those particular roads, so I'm still on the fence about trying show tires. I do think having the singlespeed helped in that I have no fear at all of the gear slipping.
    BTW, last year I'd never do the route through Union, only Cambridge Street/Beacon in both directions. I just got more comfortable riding in the area and finally started doing the Union/Target route on the way in but its still too much of a hassle on the way home.
    As for the bus racks, you should give it a try unless its the lifting that's the problem for you. I got my heavy commuter with porteur rack on no problem last Fall (got a flat in Harvard Square at 11:30 at night). The hard part was the embarrassment factor. The driver watched me as I loaded the bike backwards the first time, had to take it down, and reload. Then I had to unload at my stop. It felt like it took me hours to do it but probably on 5 minutes at the most.
    ---julie (aka anon 6:03)

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  24. Whenever you mysteriously get a flat parked outside, it could be someone trying to steal your bike--so never leave it there overnight and go home by public transit or cab. Always take the bike with a flat with you or move it to a secure spot.

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  25. julie - Will give it a try tomorrow. I often go through Arlington on Mass Ave as well, and it's not my favourite route. But I am still more uneasy in Somerville, past Union Square. I live literally on the Somerville/Cambridge line, and most of my daily destinations are in Cambridge, Boston, and Lexington, so I actually have no reason to be on the Somerville side of things other than occasionally on Somerville Ave between Davis & Union. But once in a while I'd like to go to AC Moore (which is where the Home Depot is) or some other supply store in that area, and I'm still not quite comfortable with that whole area near the highways. My type of bike def won't fit on the buses; others have tried it. But I also just don't take buses, as I get motion sick on them - I walk everywhere when I don't cycle (yes, even Lechmere!).

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  26. PS - sorry about your flat!

    MDI - Are you serious about that? How would it be caused by theft; do you mean that they'd deflate the tires in order to make removing the lock easier?

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  27. The thinking is they immobilize the bike by deflating or puncturing the tube, hoping you leave it there overnight and they get some alone time with your lock when all the good citizens go to sleep.

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  28. Veloria: yes, the ruts do make you slip sideways. I suppose this is one of those conditions where studs would help, but I still don't like the idea of riding on studs the entire winter when there's really only going to be a handful of days (hopefully!) like this.

    KFG: What are you using now for tires? I'd say that the Land Cruisers are great for any type of slop other than ice, when obviously you would want studded tires. But I'm glad that I didn't get studded tires this year because if I had, I would have gotten Marathons, which don't have a very aggressive tread. Not knowing better, I had never ridden in winter with an aggressive knobby tread, and realized after today that the aggressive tread is *so* much better in snow than a regular city-type tread like that found on a Marathon. Now I know that if I ever do get studded tires, they will be on a model with an aggressive tread pattern.

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  29. MDI- did you figure out what caused the flat?

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  30. Somervillain--I didn't get a flat. I was saying that people who come back to a flat on a bike locked in public should consider what I said earlier. I was prompted by someone saying they got a flat late at night in H Sq.

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  31. It was mayamocha/ julie who got a flat/

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  32. Somervillain - Michigan 1.75's (don't bother looking for them, you won't find them) with a sand racing tread. They work great in lose snow, but when it starts to get sloppy and the air is cold like it's been they pack and freeze before they can throw the crap out. Not enough space between the lugs. At that point they're a bit worse than slicks.

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  33. FWIW, I've heard about the flat tire trick to steal a bike. In this case I was pretty sure the flat was a slow leak. I didn't realize when I left for the evening, I had just pumped up both tires because the back looked a little low. I assumed when I returned and saw the rear tire pretty flabby looking that I had a slow leak somewhere. The next day the mechanic found a small piece of glass had wedged itself between 2 treads.
    BTW, I've always been paranoid about leaving a bike outside overnight in Cambridge. I even use to bring my old beater into the office if I had to take a cab home. However, the only time I ever had to deal with bike theft was when 2 were taken from the basement of my house after someone had left the door unlocked.

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  34. Cool photos! I know snow causes so many problems, but I still think it's beautiful and fun. Glad to see that the city and its citizens are functioning okay over there. :) And major props to the C-H.

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  35. Velouria-

    One of my favorite things about this blog is the excellent quality of the photography, as I am a photographer myself. To that end, let me pass along a small tip that might come in handy for you while photographing your current 'snowpocalypse.'

    Because most camera light meters assume that everything is a sort of middle grey, your camera's light meter lies to you when it is trying to give a reading when you are taking a picture of a snowy scene. Hence, you have to overexpose by a stop or two in order to get snow to come out white instead of grey.

    I don't say that to be critical of your and the co-habitant's work, I merely mention it because I thought it might be helpful.

    Keep up the fantastic work!

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  36. Finley - I (partly) agree about the snow exposure, but please don't think that I am presenting the pictures I post here as professional work. If I scrutinised them with that in mind, it would either take me 10 times as long to prepare each post or I would make considerably fewer posts. Overall, I would say that maybe 5-10% of the pictures I post here are taken with the degree of care and intentionality that would put them in the category of "photography". The rest (including the ones here) are casual snapshots, and I need to keep it that way in order for this blog to remain feasible. I hope you understand!

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  37. Finley - Understood. But, as I said earlier I Like the way the pictures look. They have an eerie B&W appearance with color painted on top. Very nice!

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  38. The thing about photography (and again, I am not speaking of these pictures per se), is that there is really no such thing as correct, in my view. It's more about the intent of the photographer and whether that intent was successfully achieved. It is not uncommon to expose unconventionally or even improperly in order to achieve a specific mood or effect.

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  39. Peppy (the amazing autofocusing cat)January 14, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    Personally, I prefer to expose with the lens cap still on for a very specific, intentional look.

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  40. "kfg said...
    There are places in the world where traffic grinds to a halt and people have to adapt to the new conditions when the snow goes away.

    Really! Like where? I'd love to buy me a Pugsley and move there!"

    I can just imagine the conversation between you and ANT Bike Mike, Velouria...

    Can you picture an ANT truss frame with Large Marge tires and disc brakes?

    Here, no snow. Just Damp. Deep Sogginess. I might like snow better, all things considered.

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  41. Back in the day we didn't have no fancy "lens caps."

    We knew how to use our thumbs.

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