Thursday, January 5, 2012

Oslo's Almost Pedestrian Street

I took my bicycle out to run some errands today. It is the beginning of January and I am in Oslo, but don't imagine that I was braving a blizzard with ice pegs on my tires (I will never be Norwegian enough for this). It has been a surprisingly mild winter this year; a couple icy spots are left over undrained puddles, but  I was more than warm and safe enough to take on the environment after donning just a wool shirt, down vest, and lined leather gloves.

The bizarre part of this story began when, having the luxury of time, I decided to try taking actual bike lanes home. Oslo is not known for being bike-able and it seems to have a surprisingly long way to go compared to other Scandinavian capitals. Drivers are extremely pedestrian careful here, but on a bicycle it is a different story. Bike lanes start and end without reason or warning and cars (and bicyclists) often pretend not to notice their existence. On my (ten minute) detoured ride home, I encountered the following episodes.

 First on Torggata - a street which this year received almost all the makings of a great pedestrian way - I found myself having to swerve twice around the same car who was apparently attempting a three-point U-turn or two and backing up parking-spot-seeking-traffic in several directions. Watching the timid 'pedestrianization' moves of the eastern half of Torggata has been rather excruciating. A few steps forward resulting in several steps back. The two ends of the stretch have been blocked off with bollards and markings for bicycle lanes, but the several blocks between this are basically open to traffic from side streets, loading and parking in particular. If you have ever been a pedestrian or bicyclist walking in a shopping street or parking lot, you may understand how uncomfortable (and actually dangerous) it is to be unsuspectingly adjacent to cars and trucks in the midst of parking maneuvers. Either there is a phase not yet implemented in this project, or this confusing-to-all result has entirely escaped the attention of the street's planners.

Torggata street end "closure" to car traffic, looks like a bike lane.

Pedestrian use of Torggata this summer.

Great pedestrian street elements and... parking?!

Continuing on my bicycle after this street I was continually surprised - turning onto streets that I was certain held bike lanes only to find that the end of the street where I had entered the street indeed did not. At one point  in the middle of a bridge's car lane, I had to challenge a pedestrian carrying a guitar case for position  because the sidewalks were apparently slippery. Finally, on the home stretch I was preparing to take a left onto the last marked bike lane home and I encountered two police women on horseback wearing hijab under reflective safety vests - why didn't I have my camera with me?!

So if I was a bit confused about bicycle etiquette in Oslo before, I was then at a complete loss of how to share the bicycle lane with horses. Instead of attempting to use it and pass them, I remained on the wrong side of the street and defeated-ly rode the final length on the sidewalk. People often ask me what I miss from living in New York, and they probably expect a whole host of answers. My typical (automatic) response is food related, but these days I really wish Oslo had a RideTheCity website!