Once you’re used to it, getting up very early isn’t a big deal. In winter, or when the weather is less than optimal, it’s not always that great. But these days, straddling your bike just before dawn is a real treat. In the wee hours of a springtime morning, less than an hour before sunrise you will witness no less than two magnificent experiences. The first one is called the ‘dawn chorus’. It is that time just before dawn when all the birds compete which each other trying to sing and chirp the loudest or the most melodious. Every single bush and tree is a cacophony of birdsong. For some reason, there are hardly any birds flying around. They all must be all sitting on branches to treat each other to the nicest possible concert they can manage. As the sun rises, their songs slowly subside and the fluttering of wings becomes more prominent. Their song finished, they will probably be looking for food or materials to build their nests. The sun rises faster and faster and you will have to keep observing the skies in order not to miss any of the magnificent reds, goldens, yellows, blues and indescribable hues. As you are travelling towards your goal, you will be travelling into the day. My cycling commute takes me more or less into the path of the rising sun. Even if I think I have seen the nicest possible of sunrises, I am often surprised by the huge red orb rising between two freshly green branches, a few buildings, or a weird looking cloud. This is a time to meditate, daydream, or shall we say ‘dawndream‘, to find inner peace, connect with yourself or to simply let go and passively cherish simple moments, just before the start of another ordinary, or not so ordinary, day.
We are privileged in that we are still allowed to cycle; be it in Luxembourg or Belgium. I am privileged in that I am in good health and still allowed to commute to work. As a frontalier I cross the border twice day and have not been stopped doing so. For obvious reasons I shall not elaborate on, my preferred means of transport is cycling. True, it is quite a distance and it can get into your ‘bones’ and gets harder and harder every day of the working week. On the other hand, it definitely keeps you fit and I do hope that this fitness gives me that little extra protection against the virus that threatens us all. I convince myself that being able to commute by bicycle, that it would be extremely unlikely that I am infected. How else would I be able to make the effort? So am I a danger to others? Probably not, but I cannot be 100% sure. Likewise, the joggers I encounter on my trip, they ought to be in good shape, right? Nevertheless, prudence and precautionary principle dictates distance. I am absolutely convinced that the famous metre and a half is NOT insufficient. Especially a slow moving person of a certain age walking her/his dog seems to me to be a vulnerable and suspicious (…) person. So minimum 5 metres it is. Fortunately, as the car traffic has been reduced to trickle, most of the time there is nobody stopping me from riding in the opposite lane; unless there’s another person (on foot or bike) on that side. When that happens, I get the shivers and the obsessive compulsive person surfaces.
So, during my early morning commute, a cyclist or two, a few joggers and dog-walkers is all I have to deal with. There is some car traffic though. Mostly they are the same cars I see every morning. Some are ‘normal’ drivers, and others are their usual self: i.e. they speed and/or close pass as if nothing has changed. The speeding has notably increased. As if speeding in itself isn’t sufficient, the speeding has become excessive. I’m pretty sure, double the allowed speed is not unusual.
As I enter the suburbs, there are empty buses everywhere. [Side note: Seeing this idling ‘Zieha’ (double bus) really annoys me every single morning. Why? Especially now that it isn’t that cold any there is no excuse to keep the engine running for heating the bus. I haven’t found the nerve yet to address the driver(s) about this though].
Clearly, these days, free public transport isn’t enough of an incentive to take it. I myself wouldn’t want to, touching surfaces touched, sneezed or coughed upon by who knows who. Especially now that there are no queues and traffic jams it is so much more tempting and convenient to take your own car, if you have one, that is – but this is Luxembourg after all.
In a way, I suppose the bus drivers must be quite relieved that they are driving mostly empty buses around town. It is laudable that despite the apparent uselessness of driving around empty buses, the authorities have decided to keep the public transport running. Be it at a lower frequency, which is a sensible thing to do.
Given that it is so much quieter on the road, I have the impression that bus drivers are a more relaxed. More than once I had eye contact, or a friendly nod from a bus driver waiting at his stop or for a traffic light. The bus driver who stays behind my at less than 30kmh for several hundred metres, waiting for an opportunity to safely overtake me on a road where in principle I shouldn’t be riding my bicycle (not that’s not true – I am allowed). In my experience, this is something new. Let’s hope this new spirit is there to stay.
In the afternoon, when it is time to commute back home, it is another story. I have really come to loath certain areas of my commute. Even worse so than when there were still too many cars around.
Of course people want to go outside with the perfect weather we are having these days. And there would be nothing wrong with it, if only people respected the distancing etiquette.
A family strolling on the whole width of the bicycle path or sidewalk. A stroller, a few kids zigzagging on their bicycles, the dog, as if they own the place. These are probably the people who also own the roads when they are driving their cars. They will see (or hear) you coming but do not count on them to make available even half a metre to you. They don’t even realise or care that you would come within 1 and a half metres of their breathing space. Very ironic and contradictory.
Two joggers, jogging in the middle of the road, 2 metres apart. Of course they don’t have a choice because of the two couples chatting on the sidewalk. While keeping the recommended metre and a half distance they do not realise they don’t have to do this along the width of the sidewalk. They will not budge or think about standing on the side of the sidewalk. No, it has to be across. They are ‘space owners’.
The elderly couple on their e-bikes. Normally they never ever cycle, but with less traffic, they have decided to ride side by side. Even though they live in the same household, they will keep their shaky three metres of distance. Now, how am I going to overtake them?
It appears to me that the majority of the people are completely oblivious to what they are doing and what goes on around them. They feel they respect the rules but don’t know they are doing that to the exclusion of others. Or maybe they know but just don’t care. It just goes to show what society we live in.
These are the reasons I’d rather put myself in danger from cars and drive on the Route d’Arlon where drivers are speeding but where there are less chances of too close encounters with pedestrians. However, did I mention yet the cabriolet cars or cars with open side windows, passing close by? These are the same people who were previously chatting along the width of the sidewalk on their owned space. So nothing ever changes when it comes to egocentric and motorised behaviours.