Wednesday 18 August 2010

Cycling in Canada

I have borrowed a mountain bike and been cycling around Albert County, New Brunswick.  There is a mandatory helmet law here for adults as well as children.  I am unable to report on how well respected, or enforced, this law is, as I have not come across another cyclist on my travels (save a few young children riding helmetless on the pavement).  [Postscript: I have now seen a few, but the only adult I have seen wearing a helmet was in the City of Moncton and he was on the pavement].  If the Provincial legislature were serious about promoting cycling they could usefully start by cracking down on the pet dogs that are permitted to roam the rural roads.  Many roads here have virtually no traffic.  The wildlife is generally shy.  Locals tell me they seldom see bears, but I spotted one this afternoon on my ride.  Travelling more slowly and more quietly on a bicycle makes it possible to see a lot that is hidden to the motorist.  At first I thought I saw a very large dog but as I got closer it was clearly a black bear,  I slowed right down, unsure what to do, and was somewhat relieved when a pick up truck coming the other way caused it to spring back into the woods.
Domestic creatures (dogs) are intrigued by the unusual sight of a cyclist and are inclined to give chase; so far I have been able to outsprint them but if I encounter one going uphill a confrontation seems possible.
I am starting to stick to 'busier' roads where the occasional passing car means that owners have trained their pets to stay off the roads and the more dangerous wildlife is likely to be some way back in the woods.
Motorists here are generally highly considerate of cyclists; this may be the opposite of 'safety in numbers'.  I am sufficiently unusual to be noticed and it is easier to give a cyclist plenty of space if nothing else is around and I am probably the only cyclist they pass in a week.
It is good to have challenges that differ so much from those I face on the usual commute into work.
Albert County, New Brunswick...more bears than people

Thursday 12 August 2010

The Mail Must Get Through

My post arrives at home delivered by a postman on a bicycle.  He has always seemed very happy with his job and shows a healthy interest if I happen to be tinkering in the garage with one or other of my bikes on a Saturday morning when he arrives.  Certainly if I were a postman I would very much rather deliver on a bicycle then by van or by cart.  It is a very great shame that the outgoing chief executive of the Post Office, Mr Crozier, called time on the delivering of mail by posties on bicycles.  His replacement, Ms Greene, is under some pressure to reverse this decision.
Ms Greene is moving across the Atlantic having previously headed the Canadian postal service.  I happen to be writing this post in Canada and am having an opportunity to observe first hand a culture more motor-centric even than our own.  Infrastructure is quite unambiguously devoted to the private motor car.  Only the very hardy few cycle here.  Postal delivery through the letterbox has, save perhaps in some city-centres, been abandoned for van drops into multiple mailboxes on street corners, in the suburbs, or has to be collected by the customer (almost invariably by car) from the village post office, in rural areas.  The elderly and disabled are reliant upon friends, neighbours or relatives to go and pick up their post for them.
The internet has of course transformed the postal service everywhere.  It is rare now that I write a letter to a friend or relative or send a cheque through the mail.  E-mail and internet banking have done away with the need for all that.  Instead I order a lot of goods over the internet and rely upon my postie to deliver parcels of books, bike parts and electronics to my door.  This can, though, still be done by bicycle using cargo bikes or even tricycles where necessary.
Mr Crozier has justified his decision by refering to Health and Safety considerations but this is perplexing.  Posties will be healthier delivering on a bicycle and cyclists will be safer with fewer vans on the streets; witness my close shave with a Post Office van last month.
CTC have launched a campaign to seek to persuade Ms Greene to reverse Mr Crozier's decision.  This campaign has my support.
The Canadian postal service is not, I think, one to emulate.