Friday, October 5, 2012

Fall time's fall time


This is the pothole the morning after it caught me by surprise.
Looks conspicuous now, but the night before, it was under a pond of water!
It's fall time in Hungary, and the elements are conspiring to weed out fair-weathered cyclists. On Tuesday, they nearly weeded out me.

On the way home Tuesday, I was cruising down Kiralyok utja, a fairly busy artery running through the Romai part neighbourhood of Obuda. It was cloudy, the light was dim and droplets from a drizzling rain were beading up on my glasses. Despite this raft of visual handicaps, my mind was musing on some abstract point about cycling infrastructure as I casually slalomed between puddles and storm detritus. Then suddenly, a more concrete aspect of infrastructure intruded on my reverie. BAM! My front tire fell into a gaping pothole, and at least one of my hands slipped off the handles. I skittered off the road and careered right for a hedge. In the helpless moment before impact, I thrust my right arm toward what I thought would be a solid fence underlying the greenery. Luckily there was none. I penetrated the hedge and fell down half way through. On the ground with a throbbing pain in my shin but no apparent bones broken, I disentangled my legs from the bushes and pushed myself to my feet.

A tight shot on the enemy pothole -- warts and all.
As one car after the other splashed by without acknowledging my plight, I cussed the motoring public. However, a boy about seven or eight years old walked by just then and, with an embarrassed grin, asked me if I was ok. I was too shaken to acknowledge the comedy of it just then, but by now, I can see that it must have been hard for him to suppress a cackle after seeing an adult bike straight off the road into a hedge for no apparent reason. Still, he must have recognised trauma on my face, and it was sweet of him to inquire about my well-being -- and to refrain from actually cackling.

Thankfully, I came through with nothing more than bruised bones. It reminded me of the hazards of riding in less than ideal conditions on roads that are less than forgiving. For a car, cracks and holes in the paving barely transmit through the suspension. But for cyclists, they're a real hazard. Every time I have an accident like this, it happens in the cold, dark period between now and April, when visibility declines and holes in the paving are concealed under mud puddles or glazed with ice.

This is the hedge I ran into. Didn't destroy it, but I did give it something to think about.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to check out exemplary cycling infrastructure in the town of Zwolle, Netherlands. All the roads there are like new, exceptionally well maintained, the cycle tracks amazingly well designed, the street lighting bright and clear.

It's not an original thought, but the point it underscores for me is that the test of good road infrastructure is not how well it serves at high noon on a sunny summer day, but how well it works in the rain, after dark for a bike commuter on the verge of the road.

Of course, we live in Budapest, and when we hit the streets we make allowances for the surprise pothole and the gaping seam in the tarmac. For the sake of our own hides, we adapt to it, but that doesn't mean we should accept it.

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