Sunday, January 3, 2016

In Which Bike Commuting Must Await a Thaw

My bike, parked at St. Pius X for Sunday afternoon concert.

Well, today I rode my bike 2 ½ miles to a concert I played bells in, for a 5-mile round trip.

How was it?

Either not a problem or terrifying, depending on which moment of the journey you visited me during. I rode up the sidewalk on C Avenue, which was not perfect, but mostly bare pavement. I walked Francis on half of the C Avenue Bridge because half of it has not been cleared (I think some neighborhood teen boys cleared that half that is clear on a voluntary basis—and bravo to them, because the half that is not clear is 10 inches of very densely packed, heavy snow, including not just what fell from the sky, but also what was plowed onto the bridge from C Avenue). And I had to walk my bike for a bit by Road Ranger because Road Ranger’s idea of clearing snow from their sidewalk is a pathetic joke—but, whatever, I rode most of that C Avenue stretch. I then crossed at the Blair’s Ferry Road light and rode to the C Avenue-Rockwell-Collins pedestrian crossing light.

Snow clearance at Rockwell-Collins parking lots wasn’t perfect, either, but not terrible. There were a few icy patches where I deployed my feet, but otherwise the route was adequate for slow, careful winter biking.

And then I got to F Avenue. City of Cedar Rapids, your idea of “snow removal” on residential streets is even more of a joke than Road Ranger’s idea of sidewalk snow removal. The terrible white icy glaze is back—it’s what happens when snow is compacted on a road for days rather than plowed off of it. The quiet residential streets I rode on were a nightmare of either slick ice, or powdery, sand-like loose snow on top of a white icy glaze.

St. Pius X did a decent job of snow removal, but had a few patches like this. On CR streets, patches like this are 3-4 inches thick and go on for block after block. Try driving on Regal behind the middle school, for example.

Not cool. I understand why, after a snowfall, the main drags are the priority to plow, but I fail to understand why it seems at about the 48 hour mark after any snowfall, the city just tosses up its hands or plows and says “meh” about all the back streets that have not been cleared. It’s very odd how every residential street in Marion or Hiawatha will be OK 48 hours after a snowfall, but residential streets in the neighborhood south of Collins Road and Rockwell-Collins, or in the Kenwood School area, will be a white icy messes with little to no evidence of city snow clearing.

Mayor Corbett, if we’re a city that’s open for business, it might be nice if our streets were also passable six days after a snowstorm.

Bah, humbug. Many of you are probably saying “you don’t have to ride a bicycle,” and you’re correct, but on the other hand, driving on those icy streets in a car (or walking, many of unplowed streets don’t have sidewalks) isn’t exactly a picnic, either.

Anyway, there is also a terrible inconsistency to all of this. The Parks and Recs Department does a good job clearing snow on the main sidewalk crossing Noelridge Park. Chance are, the Cedar River Trail is in decent shape—in past winters, P and R kept it pretty clear. But, with the Street Department giving up on quiet side streets, how is a biker or walker to get to park or trail?

Still, I was OK on today’s ride. I expected conditions to be terrible, and rode slowly and carefully, walking when I needed to. It’s a bit of a toss-up whether it’s more terrifying sliding down a bit of an incline on ice, or powering up a hill through powdery snow, but I guess I’m living proof it can be done without injury.

Still, the five-mile ride convinced me of one thing. If I rode a bike to work, it would be an 8-mile round trip, with half of it necessarily in the dark. Even if I had a mountain bike that was ridable (sadly, I have two mountain bikes and neither is ridable), I would not be ready for bike commuting right now, with the streets in the sad shape they are in. So, until warmer weather melts that horrible street glaze, I’m off of two wheels.

And it does bug me, I’ll admit. The sidewalk in front of my house is nice, clean, bare pavement, and was within 24 hours of the snowfall, due to my own labor. I’ll conceded that there are too many miles of streets for CR to get them all cleared in the first 24 hours after a snow, and again, I understand the main drags being the priority in that timeframe.

But six days later and so many streets are glazed over in thick ice? There has got to be a better system.

Sunset at Noelridge Park, on my ride home. Park sidewalk was well cleared.

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