a Monday in Hell

Not much bicycle riding in the last few days as I had to stay home with a sick child and the only cycling in the saddle activity I managed to squeeze in was a round trip to the Bicycle Film Festival Greatest Hits on Friday evening. Upon arrival at Arkitektur- och designcentrum I was greeted by an american man smoking a cigarette just outside the building. “Hi, what’s your name?” – “I’m Pierre.” – “Where are you from?” – “I’m from France.” – “Where in France?” – “I was born in Roubaix but…” – “Really? I’m working on a film about Paris-Roubaix. My name is Brendt Barbur by the way. Founder of the Bicycle Film Festival”.

We talked for a while and when Brendt asked me, the amateur cyclist born in Roubaix, whether I had watched a Sunday in Hell or not, I did not really know how to answer and after something like “euhhh…. yes… maybe… no” I had to admit to being a bad student coming to the festival rather unprepared.

I had seen some of the movies of the greatest hits already but some were new to me and the two hour program felt way shorter than it was. The evening ended with Lucas Brunelle’s Off The Grid but even though I know he’s a regular contributor to the Bicycle Film Festival (I respect that) and his movies quiet exciting to watch I still don’t see the point of glorifying reckless riding and, furthermore, still don’t understand the whole meditation and metaphysical bullshit the guy can come up with for a full 20 minutes.

I rode home through hipstermalm and somehow managed to stay on the bike despite all the drunks and taxis using the bike lane for everything but cycling and suddenly it’s Monday. I have the whole day for myself and decide it’s time to work on the fundamentals. I have to watch a Sunday in Hell or I can’t keep blogging about cycling and tell people I’m from Roubaix each time the Queen of the Classics pops up in a discussion. And so I did just that. I just enjoyed a Monday in Hell.

Stockholm Hipster School of Economics

If Stockholm School of Economics goes down the cycling-is-cool-so-we-are-cool route (like in the commercial video published this week) they should as well – in my opinion – change name to Stockholm Hipster School of Economics.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWKLqD3CLHA

The video contains pretty much all the ingredients you would expect from a documentary titled, let’s say, “living the hipster life”: a 30+ year old student finishing a master degree, living on Södermalm (the organic fed wannabe artists/creators district), riding a shiny pseudo-vintage bike and wearing woodcutter shirts.

SSE’s idea of cycling and cyclists in this film is quite flawed if not completely disconnected from the day to day life of a regular Stockholmer, riding a regular bike to a regular job and I just wonder whether the brains behind the script actually live in the same city as I do. Or maybe SSE people really think they are different (every single school and company out there think they are different so who could blame them) and the programs they offer are for hipsters only.

Nice commercial anyhow and no offense to Andrew (the student) who is working on an interesting project. I’ll visit for sure.

Stockholm Critical Mess

The first critical mass of the year was held on Friday last week and as an avid cyclist who had never attended such an event before I thought it would be nice to ride around town with a group of people who have a common enthusiasm and love for cycling. I decided to give it a try and even managed to bring two friends along.

Stockholm Critical Mess

Almost 1,500 people got the Facebook invitation to the ride: 88 replied they were going, 90 said they were maybe going (meaning they declined but did not want to offend their friends) and the rest just ignored the invitation as people often do with public spams on Facebook.

So it’s 17:30 and I’m 30 minutes away from my first critical mass. The ride will start at 18:00 from Medborgarplatsen on Södermalm and as I sit on a bench waiting for my friends I can hear from the small gathering that the fun has already begun. Not the kind of fun I was expecting though since people are arguing whether anti-nuclear activists can hijack the ride with two meter high Smiling Sun flags or not. They finally take the flags down and the rather small group is good to go.

Still, I must ask: if those hippies represent the opinion of so many thousands – so they claim – of supporters, why don’t they organize their own ride or demonstration instead of sneaking in events that have nothing to do with the subject?

The ride begins and I quite enjoy it at first. We cycle the right lane on the four-lane Folkungagatan leaving one lane for cars to overtake us. But as we make a left turn on to Renstiernas gata things get hairy: we (25 cyclists) occupy the whole road and furious honking drivers don’t hesitate to cross the solid white line to travel past the group at light speed.

As we continue our promenade it turns out some riders are not in for critical mass cycling but are demonstrating and shout so to angry drivers who don’t seem to agree with 25 bikes taking up all the space: “We live in a democracy! This is a demonstration! Town without cars! Town without cars!”

As much as like the idea of towns and city centers without cars I also do believe this was definitely not the way to behave. Critical mass is all about power in numbers and there is no power in 25. Not even enough power to fully utilize the cycling tracks along the same very roads we were riding. The critical mass turned into a critical mess.

Critical Mass participants have insisted that these events should be viewed as “celebrations” and spontaneous gatherings, and not as protests or organized demonstrations. – Wikipedia

The quote above summarizes what I think a critical mass ought to be: a celebration and not a demonstration. Last Friday was no celebration in my opinion and me and my friends quickly left the group and headed to the pub instead. That probably was a pale move from me as I could have met with the “organizers” in the end and tell them what I just wrote but I did not feel like riding in that kind of ambiance any longer.

Criticism is easy, art is difficult. I know and I would still like to thank people who get involved and make such events happen. I just don’t think I’d be part of future rides until it gets what a critical mass is supposed to be: a celebration, in great numbers. Meanwhile I’ll just do what I do every day: ride my bike and have fun.

cyclists under police watch

Stockholm riders can expect more police controls at traffic lights during spring – Peter Ågren, Södermalm police.

Last Tuesday Stockholm’s police began with a series of controls targeting cyclists at the intersection Götgatan – Hornsgatan. According to an article published today on mitt i (in Swedish) 17 cyclists rode through red light and were fined 1500 SEK ($230) that morning.

Red light

While I totally agree with police making sure cyclists follow traffic laws for their own safety and the safety of pedestrians (I don’t think the safety of drivers is at risk here) I also wonder if police attention is in sync with all the political communication, programs and concrete plans for a more livable, greener & cleaner Stockholm (projects for better public transit, bigger and safer bicycle network are making headlines pretty much every week).

In 2010 Stockholm was given the first European Green Capital Award but it does not mean things are perfect and we can all sit back and relax. One of the issues central Stockholm is facing (in winter mainly) is poor air quality with higher levels of PM10 particles than in Los Angeles: studded tyres blamed for poor Stockholm air. In response to these high levels of particles the city of Stockholm introduced a ban on the use of studded tires on Hornsgatan, the very same street I mention at the beginning of this post.

And here is the thing. As I was riding on Hornsgatan the other day I decided to stop for a minute and listen. I don’t remember the exact number (I would gladly stop for another count if I need to show proof) but I know for sure I could hear the obvious sound of studs against asphalt for more than 50% of all cars that passed by during that minute (and trust me we’re closer to 75% than 50%). I ride that street twice a day all year round (not on weekends I have to admit) and I have never ever seen a police control targeting motorists who still use studded tires.

Yes it is a good thing that cyclists follow the rules and police should send strong signals to unsafe riders but what’s the point in keeping cyclists from dying in a crash now if they’re going to die from lung cancer later? Is this an evidence of short instead of long term thinking? Of targeting the minority (cyclists) over the majority (motorists) because it’s just easier?

do as I say and not as I do

I found that picture in the newspaper last Friday but unfortunately could not find the online version on DN.se.

police at work on Södermalm

Tommy Åberg was riding his bike on Blekingegatan (south of Stockholm) when he came to a police car parked on the bike lane. He thought something wrong was going on (like a robbery) at first and decided to have a quick look around. But the emergency seems to have been of a completely different nature: the law enforcers needed a little sugar kick and were just buying some candies.

was Södermalm hit by Sandy?

I’m not sure what’s wrong with Södermalm. Either it’s in a different timezone than the rest of Stockholm and they don’t know we turned back the clock one hour for winter time (and forgot to reprogram the street lights) or the island was hit by Sandy on its way to the US and electricity has not returned yet but on thing is for sure: it’s pitch dark on Hornsgatan between Slussen and Mariatorget after 16:00. Below is what one could see from the saddle yesterday evening. Pretty much.

pitch dark on Hornsgatan, Södermalm