Sunday, May 06, 2012

Urban cattle and swooping bikes are back!

It's spring and they are back, or have been back for a while – the urban cattle and bike-riders. The former are clogging the sidewalks again, shambling along in small bunches, wandering into traffic, gathering in pedestrian bottleneck and making them worse, or creating bottlenecks where there were none before.
The bike-riders are out in great numbers, often a danger to the urban cattle (they swerve around them), to other pedestrians (zooming by at high speed, no warning) and to themselves (few helmets, bells, reflectors or lights after dark)
Don't get me wrong, I understand the need to ride a bike – it is cheaper than public transport, much cheaper than driving, good for physical fitness, the (urban) environment, etc.etc. All that is correct and I have friends and workmates who ride bikes. But I also see bike-riders in Riga as a hazard. There is no bike-riding culture, one could almost say that Latvia lacks both the infrastructure (bike paths) and the level of civilization to have the same level of urban biking as in Copehagen or Stockholm. Maybe in 25 or 50 years, but not now.
As for urban cattle, they are everywhere, almost a universal phenomenon. There were some in London, shambling along as one tries to purposefully go somewhere. In Stockholm, as I may have written before, the local urban cattle specialize in what I call “ stand and stare” – gathering where others want to pass and simply staring into space or at some signage that normal, conscious people can read in seconds and move on. Tourists are often behaviorally indistinguishable from the local urban cattle, but then again, being a tourist is being – urban cattle in foreign city, moving about in small herds, aimlessly, though not always wandering into traffic or boorishly blocking the movement of those walking with purpose as the local cattle do.
I bear no ill will toward bike-riders as a whole, though I sometimes wish a evil fate on those who narrowly miss me at high speed. There is no reason to zoom down a sidewalk at 40 Kph. However, it seems few urban riders are injured or worse. Most fatal bike accidents occur in the countryside, it seems – shitfaced motorist takes out equally shit-face bike rider, riding as if in the middle of a wartime blackout (no lights, no reflectors, no helmet).
So one faces another summer of trying to walk from point A to point B, getting past or through clumps of urban cattle heading for a point best designated by an imaginary number, and glancing over one's shoulder to see if any bikes are swooping down. Enjoy, I suppose...


Unknown said...

You sound quite cranky, Juri! : ) Just as cranky as a friend of mine was when she called a couple weeks ago to say that she was running late for our appointment, because she was on a curvy back road in Marin County (in California) and couldn’t get past a pack of bike riders. I know the phenomenon well. I’m sure they all were wearing helmets and reflectors, along with their expensive suits and shoes, and were scrupulously obeying all the laws in this enlightened state ……. *except* for the signs that suggested that slower traffic use turnouts. :) It’s amazing how many motorists do so, just to be polite. But, I’ve yet to see a biker pack let traffic pass, alas. Unlike you, though, I bet it won’t be any different “in 25 or 50 years, ” since the bike culture has been well developed out here for decades. :)

Anonymous said...

Juri, beidz izplatit dezinformaciju par savu sencu dzimteni..Ja Tu esi audzis Skandinavija vai ASV, tas Tev nedod tiesibas Sevi uzskatit par vienigo pareizo. Latvija nav "Failed State" - tas ir parliecinos piemers tam, ka Baltu ciltis jau 900 gadus cinas par savu izdzivosanu. Ka makam, ta maunam...

Juris Kaža said...

Anonymous: Latvijas iedzīvotāji, ciltis, whatever, visus šos gadsimtus ir cinījušās pret naidīgu vai nekompetentu pārvaldi - viena vai otra veida "failed state" no iedzīvotāju viedokļa, sākot ar vācu baroniem, cara Krieviju, pašu autoritāro režīmu, padomju okupāciju un 21 gadu gadu pašu (pārsvarā) nejēgu pie varas. 300 000 emigrantu neliecina par "veiksmes valsti", drīzāk pretējo.

Anonymous said...

You're pretty anti social today, Juri. Not everyone is out there to save the world and be a better man on the sidewalk and to paint all of em' with such a wide, distasteful brush, calling them cattle, says a lot about you. Don't get me wrong, I hate those mumbling, stumbling drunk zombies you see once in a while on a street or two, or the good for nothin' youngsters smoking and drinking on some bus stop, but I do not belittle everyone who stands on my way.


Little Oak said...

This blog entry seems to be more respectful than the previous year's one in which you wrote that every time that you read about a biker's fatality on the roads you kind of thought "well, one less". I would like to think that you were trying to be ironic. But as they say in LV, "in every joke there is a little bit of truth". If that was the case, I think you have a problem.

I agree with a lot of things you write in your blog, but I think that you are a little bit aggressive towards bikers in LV and you tend to magnify and overstate the problem. Sure, there are reckless riders who pass by pedestrians really fast. This happens in every city, but I don't think it is such a big problem, and I have never seen a crash or any incident in Riga's streets. Maybe I am a little bit biased, since I am a cyclist myself, but I'm not one of those who appear now in spring and disappear in september. I ride my bike year-round for moving around in the city.

The problems is that now the bike seems to be trendy, and this "hipster" culture that is developing lately in Riga tends to use bikes as fashion statements rather than as means of transportation. So you can see this type of cool young person riding a retarded fixie bike without reflectors or brakes just because it is not stylish or cool. I think it is an mixture of the very ingrained show-off thing that has been (and is) in the latvian soul for ages.

However, shit-faced pedestrians sometimes seem to be too picky with us. You can pass them 2 meters away at 7 kph and they still complain. But I think it is just because latvians don't like anything at all, and this is kind of a novelty for them.

I think Mr. Kaža that you have to get used to it (us riding sometimes on the sidewalks) because we value our physical integrity. And I say this because for us the real problem are those oblivious blondines driving lexus, the shit-faced postsoviet urlas driving BMW´s recklessly and the unbearably noisy motorcyclists that are appearing now in Riga together with the good weather. That seems to be alright for the common shit-faced folk on the streets, but us, cyclists, are less respected than them. Quite interesting.

It is true that there is no bike culture at all, and we don't have here the conditions necessary for that thing, so meanwhile we, respectful bike riders, will continue to survive in this bike-hell called Riga.

Anonymous said...

yes Juri yes, I am at one with you on this one. This strange phenomenon is quite prevalent in many countries not just Latvia, though in Latvia nobody really cares to apologize. In west nobody cares too but people are apologetic because then you are less inclined to sue them and insult others royal excellence. Try to go to a supermarket in west, you will meet many oblivious people there too and you will ponder whether they come from a different planet or yourself. I just can't stand people in public places. Call me a socio path but I'm not, I genuinely care about people but I can't be all cheery nicy nicy fluffy all righty righty etc. with all the superficial people around. They sicken me.

TRex said...

There appear to be mostly two types of bike riders here in Riga and area (more if you count the hipsters and the folks on the bike trails just out for some air or the delivery people etc) but the ones that cause trouble for everyone are the kamikazes who ride on the pedestrian walk ways in the city as though they owned them, not the "serious riders" in full safety kit and biking attire riding on the road or the nature lovers.
I've been working on my peripheral vision because the next anti-social punk who tries to sneak up behind me on the sidewalk at a truly unsafe velocity for the express purpose of swerving around at the last minute to scare the crap out of me is going to get hip checked into a light post or parked car.
Too much you say? These guys (always guys) have territories. I see the same ones in the same neighborhoods and if you pay attention you can actually watch them go around the block in order to come up behind people. That kind of behavior deserves to be rewarded. I am a biker myself after all.
The bovine herds of tourists don’t bother me at all.

TRex said...

I felt compelled to come back and thank Juri for continuing to post about topics that concern him here in Latvia, a thankless task. I left in Aug. 2010 for personal reasons and find myself back and the continuing lack of commentary in English only further serves to isolate this country. I genuinely feel that the worm is turning for Latvia, but people have to develop a social conscience.