Bicycles as public transit

I wrote about Bicing, Barcelona’s new bicycle-sharing program, a little while ago. It came into effect the day we left Barcelona, back in May, so we didn’t have a chance to use it when we lived there. We finally got a chance to see it in practice when we were there over the Christmas holidays. I’m sold!

The system is simple – for 24 euros/year you can get a card that allows you to check out bicycles from any of the hundreds of spots around the city. The first half an hour is free, then you pay 30 cents for every half an hour up to 2 hours. After that you pay a higher fine. The point is that you shouldn’t need more than half an hour to get from point A to point B, where you can drop off the bike in another bike stand. Joy and Jesús lent us their cards and off we went around the city in our bikes!

Bicing Stands

Taking pictures

We even took a bike to go only 3 blocks!!

To our delight, our other favourite city also started a similar service! Called Velib’, the Parisian system was equally ubiquitous and open to all.  There it costs 29 euros/year or 5 euro/week, 1 euro/day. We saw the bike stands all over the place but didn’t use it because it was a bit too cold when we were there.

Velib Velib


Ice Storm of ’98

This week marks 10 years of the Ice Storm of 1998. To honour the event, I ressurrect a post I wrote a little while back:

“Canadians had never before endured a natural disaster like the ice storm of 1998. A difficult morning of car scraping quickly turned into a state of emergency from eastern Ontario to southern Quebec. Millions huddled in the dark by their fireplaces. Many suffered from hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning. Heavy ice sheets toppled huge power pylons and in just six days an electrical system that took decades to create was razed.”


Hydro towers

The storm started on Monday Jan 5th, and I arrived in Montreal from Brazil on Wednesday, Jan 7th. My flight was one of the last flights in before they shut the airport down. Early Thursday morning Alan woke me up to say that we lost power at some point overnight. I dismissed him and went back to sleep. Coming from a warm country where power failures are common, I failed to realized immediately the seriousness of what happened. Losing power in Brazil is one thing; it’s quite another to have no power in the middle of a Canadian winter!

But it wasn’t so bad. We spent the next few days keeping the fire going in our fireplace, covered with sleeping bags, cooking potatoes on the fire and soups on a fondue pot. At some time on the second night a neighbour knocked on our door to ask if everything was ok and if needed any help. We were fine. The police & firemen were going house by house in Montreal to check safety conditions. Houses deemed unsafe for being too cold were evacuated and people brought to shelters kept warm by generators. Our local aquatic centre, home to Alan’s Master Swim Team, was turned into one such shelters and every morning we would drop by for a hot shower and a free cup of coffee. That was our only opportunity to connect with the neighbouhood and exchange news of what was going on. When we ran out of wood for our fireplace, the old lady living next door offered us some.

I was amazed by the level of organization authorities showed in dealing with the chaotic situation.

Broken treesOn Sunday morning the neighbour across the street knocked on our door to tell us he just got power back and after warming his house for a couple of hours he would be happy to stretch an extension cord across the street to fire up our furnace as well. We were thankful and delighted by the offer. Before he could do it we too got power back. It was my first time in Canada during the winter. What an introduction!

Figures of the Ice Storm

  • 28 ppl died, many from hypothermia
  • 945 people were injured
  • Over 4 million people in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick lost power
  • About 600,000 people had to leave their homes
  • 130 power transmission towers were destroyed and more than 30,000 utility poles fell
  • Millions of trees fell, and more continued to break and fall for the rest of the winter
  • Estimated cost of the ice storm was $5,410,184,000
  • Much of the sugar bush used by Quebec maple syrup producers was permanently destroyed. It was estimated that it would take 30 to 40 years before syrup production could return to normal.

Official site: Ice Storm of ’98

Photos here.