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September 18, 2010

Travels with Emily
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:55 PM * 19 comments

To my surprise, it’s been almost exactly a year since a bunch of us photographed our bike commutes for the pleasure and erudition of the assembled commentariat. I had not thought it that long.

I’ve since changed jobs and bikes. So it seemed like a good idea to document my new commute in the same manner as the old: take a photo every 50 pedal strokes. This time I had a camera I could simply hold up and shoot with as I rode, which made the process much easier than when I had to stop and pull the iPhone out for every stage.

As it happens, the route I take runs past several significant spots in recent Making Light history. (I’ve added appropriate links to the descriptions.) Cycling by them gives me a feeling of great comfort, as though I am not, in fact, in a foreign country surrounded by cultural contexts I barely understand. It’s eerily like feeling at home. I could get to like it.

It’s also a rather longer trip than the previous one. It takes me about 45 minutes from unlocking my bike to the seasonal meditations of Vivaldi or the soaring myths of Wagner* to pulling up outside my front door†. I like the feeling of being on a journey that I get from going a little further and for a little longer. The experience of the different stages of the route (from urban council housing, past farmland with goats opposite houseboats and classic Noord-Hollands dike houses, to the safe, familiar road home) imposes a similar set of transitions on my thoughts. By the time I get home, I feel truly removed from my work context, in both time and space. I could take the bus to this job (unlike the last one, where it would have easily quadrupled my travel time), but I get too much out of going by bike to consider it, even in the driving rain.

My one regret about the old commute, to my surprise, is not that I rarely have time to go through the nature reserve. The days have been too wet for that to be a pleasure. But I’ve had to abandon one of my other projects: photographing the same spot every day I commute, so I can watch the change of seasons. I don’t go by that way any more.

* I park my bike in the underground space near my employer, the main branch of the public library, and the Amsterdam conservatory. I suspect the Classical music is due to the last of these; I am certain it’s not the first.
† The photoset stops at the village crossroads. It’s about five shots short of the full journey.

Comments on Travels with Emily:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 08:22 PM:

That's a very interesting commute. It must be less than perfectly pleasant in the wet, I imagine.

#2 ::: Janice in GA ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 08:50 PM:

It looks so.... civilized. And so unlike my local commutes. O_o

Also, flat.

#3 ::: Mark Wise ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2010, 10:30 PM:

Is that the entry way to the floating Chinese restaurant?

#4 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 03:47 AM:

I like the free-standing ice cream cone.

#5 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 05:17 AM:

My commute is on a different conveyance. I really must get a pocket camera so I can stop and take pictures.

That, or a helmet cam.

It's sad that the tree isn't feasible as a project anymore. It was quite the interesting set of photos.

#6 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 05:46 AM:

Be aware that there are some crazy legal interpretations of helmet cam use in the wild.

#7 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 05:58 AM:

yeah, I know. Abuse of law. In that situatin, not a problem in Calif. Public space is public space.

#8 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 06:27 AM:

Mark Wise @3:
Is that the entry way to the floating Chinese restaurant?

It is indeed. I've still never eaten there—it's pretty touristy. One of these days it will be the logical thing to do, and then I will do it.

#9 ::: Mark Wise ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 10:19 AM:

Abi @8:
It is indeed. I've still never eaten thereā€”it's pretty touristy.

Yup. We were tourists headed to NEMO when the menu inspired a sudden craving for dim sum. The upper deck dining room has a nice view of the water.

In retrospect, we wish we'd eaten on the top floor of the library.

Speaking of the library, there's never an evil genius shrink ray around when you need it. I'd love to have slipped that facility into my luggage and brought it home.

#10 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2010, 08:36 PM:

Terry Karney, #5, I have a friend who has a helmet camera (and was missing from bookgroup yesterday because he and his wife were out on a trip) and gets really great pictures from it. He frequently brings us very cool pictures.

#11 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2010, 10:24 AM:

My commute has also changed since those days -- I still have the same job, but it's moved to different premises as a result of changes in the size of the local workforce. Maybe I should do a new commute photoset, too.

(On the other hand, my old photoset still doesn't show up in a general search for the walkcommute tag. I have no idea why.)

#12 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2010, 04:14 PM:

The trees-with-the-seasons is really nice. Pity the set won't be completed. The new commute loks pleasant.

#13 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2010, 04:14 PM:

I should pick a spot along the new commute, perhaps.

#14 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2010, 05:31 PM:

From about the second photo of de Ruyter Kade up until Ot en Sien describes my commute as well, but I come from Central Station and once across the IJ go left over the little sluice and up the road on the other side of the canal. Those five-ten minutes on the bike first thing in the morning always help center me for the rest of the day.

I actually got excited that I recognised the bike park in the second picture; always park mine there when going to the library.

(I take the train to work rather than bike; Sloterdijk is only five minutes by train but half an hour otherwise and while I should bike so much unlike some people I've never learned to read on a bike. Also, for the best part of the year I've also had had to visit VUMC after work, which is on the other side of town entirely..)

#15 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 06:56 PM:

By god, I would do this very thing tomorrow! Were it not for the fact that my son will be born ANY DAY NOW, and I can't risk increasing the amount of time between myself and the Klinikum by half an hour, lest I risk missing something rather important.


#16 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 04:07 AM:

Abi, it looks like you have a lovely commute; thanks for posting the pictures.

Since the thread started I've been considering doing the same thing, but come to the regretful conclusion that it would be just too dangerous for me to stop every 50 strokes. The majority of the time I'm cycling alongside traffic, and there's rarely a trip when something unexpected doesn't happen.

In partial compensation, here's a description:

I like to divide my commute into four "zones"*, running (from work) Urban, Rural, Industrial and Suburban.

The Urban zone is the centre and City of London. It's dense with mostly stationary traffic, but there are useful bus lanes, a couple of good cycle cut-throughs and - most importantly - shoals of cyclists to get lost in the middle of. I find this changes drivers road use, very much for the better from my point of view.
Danger rating: Moderate to High
Particular Hazards: Frustrated drivers. Oblivious pedestrians.

The Rural zone is Victoria Park. This is my relaxing part of the ride - a broad paved road through manicured lawns and ancient trees. I slightly naughtily practise my no-hands riding here, which lets me straighten my back and just generally chill.
Danger rating: Low
Particular hazards: Joggers. Branches in the road. Squirrels.

The Industrial zone is past the A12 through Stratford. This is where the Olympic site is currently being built. I share the road with roadworks, trucks and JCBs of all sizes, and the ever-present frustrated commuters. This is where I had a truck mistake the signage and come down the wrong side of the road at me. It's also where I lost my cool and screamed at a car driver for several minutes after he zoomed by too close at 40mph shouing abuse*** before (inevitably) pulling up at the traffic lights 200 yards on. I mostly feel sorry for his passenger, whose window I was yelling through.
Danger rating: High
Particular hazards: Large vehicles. Very Large vehicles. No, really, these are vehicles that make the buses nervous. Mud. Grit. Road layout changes. Frustrated commuters.

This fades gently into the suburban zone, which is a line of what used to be villages overtaken by the expansion of London somewhere in the 19th Century. There are bike lanes here (although they're just painted lines along the side of the road), and in case of emergency there are at least three bike shops on my route. I live in one of these ex-villages, just on the edge of Essex.
Danger rating: Low to moderate
Particular hazards: Riding next to parked cars and past stationary traffic (one day, someone will unexpectedly open a door, and that will be it). Oblivious pedestrians are common.

I nevertheless love my commute - sometimes it's the highlight of my work day. I hope I will be able to carry on over winter, as I don't fancy going back to the tube.

* yes, I was a Crystal Maze fan, mostly because of !!Richard O'Brien!! <Squee!>**

** am I allowed to squee here?

*** for impeding him down by riding double, overtaking another bike****

**** this is not illegal in the UK whether you're overtaking or not. As I pointed out several times during the "conversation".

#17 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 12:35 PM:

abi @ 13: Yes, please do.

I'm lucky to avoid commuting much of the time by working from home. When I do commute, the cycling part (after a train ride) is all in central London and really, Charing Cross Station to Camden is not worth taking pictures of.

As Russ says, hazards include oblivious pedestrians*, eyes on their text message, ears blocked by headphones, attention goodness knows where. Also buses, drivers of which delight in overtaking you (too close) in order to slam on the brakes and stop at a bus stop immediately they are past you. A few do have the sense to ease off the accelerator and wait for you to pass the bus stop. For them, I pedal faster, then wave a thank you once I'm past the stop. Other drivers who don't bother to indicate before turning left** in front of a cycle, or who overtake you in order to brake hard and turn left, are also a delight (not).

And yes, like Russ, I'm always worried someone in a stationary car will open the door into me (particularly when cycling near home, where there are lots of parked cars).

But I'd still rather cycle than take the Tube.

*The last time I was knocked off my bike (has occurred very rarely) it was by a pedestrian who stepped out into the road without paying any attention to her surroundings. I slammed the brakes on and tried to go round her and her friend, but at the last moment she noticed me and changed direction, so we collided (by this time I was barely moving forwards). Casualties: minor scrapes and bruises for me, and a dropped mobile 'phone with cracked screen for her. She admitted it was her fault, and apologised. Maybe next time she'll LOOK before crossing the road.

** We drive on the left, remember.

#18 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 03:16 PM:

Russ @16:
shoals of cyclists to get lost in the middle of. I find this changes drivers road use, very much for the better from my point of view

And therein you encapsulate the entire cyclist road safety philosophy of the Netherlands.

am I allowed to squee here?

You can squee for Richard O'Brien anywhere I moderate, dear boy, particularly with reference to the Crystal Maze. I once ran an Amber Diceless Role-Playing game based on it.

#19 ::: janetl says Evangeline Kreck is spam-o-matic ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2011, 12:50 AM:

"Evangeline Kreck" is posting identical text on a bunch of old threads, all today.

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