This week is the official Bike to Work Week and Friday is the Muni-sponsored, official Bike to Work Day. And already it's looking better than last year for one reason. Street Sweeping.
Last year's annual clearing of gravel, dirt and debris from our streets, especially those maintained by the state, was lacking. Terrible. Inches of gravel and dirt covered bike lanes, street-side paths and gutters. People crashed. Their wheels washed out as the gravel acted like ball-bearings under their tires. Bones got broke. The contractor was so far behind what any cyclist would consider a reasonable schedule that they were still clearing gravel from the winter in July!
So this year there was talk and speculation: how long will it take to have the streets swept? Last week, I decided to call the DOT's Anchorage office to get an idea of the timeline. I spoke with Ed on Monday: We start at Dowling and work our way south doing the east-west streets, he told me. Huffman will be done by early June. June? I asked. That's earlier than last year. I know, but lots of people use that road and there are two bike shops in the area. We have loads of bike traffic. It would be great if you could work it up on the schedule...
It was a pleasant conversation. He's doing his job within the constraints of contracts, weather and budgets. I want to commute on cleaner streets because just the day before I'd punctured a tire on the way into work, probably on glass in the gravel (luckily it didn't go flat until after I'd arrived at work). I have friends who've had bad crashes in the layers of road debris that build up over the course of a winter. I didn't want to see that again this year - or be part of the carnage that caused people to lose an entire season of cycling.
For my Tuesday commute, all was the same: lots of gravel. Then, Wednesday evening, Jon told me that Huffman had been swept! In May! This past Saturday morning on my way to work, I biked down Huffman hill toward the Seward Highway overpass, where the gravel had been. The pavement had been swept clear. Curb to curb. Even the half-lane where I like to wait for the green light was swept.
It's a small part of my commute but also the most tense part as I jockey for a position while car drivers are doing the same as they enter and exit the highway. It was just a little bit easier to not have to navigate around the gravel.
I want to think that my conversation with Ed made a difference. Or maybe the sweeping was coming along so quickly that they finished all those routes in record time. Either way, I just want to say thanks to Ed and the crews who are out there this year. I know they get complaints all the time. This weekend, I'm sure lots of people were happy to have a clean street and path. Can repainting the lines be far behind?
ps., even though almost everyone rides in to work every day this time of year, we finally signed on as an official team for Bike to Work Day. Paramount Pedalers will be out in force.