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Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Bike Rides

Beth has invested in a recumbent tricycle, and we have recently taken a few rides together. The recumbent design is much more comfortable for Beth than a conventional bike, and we've covered 6-10 miles on each occasion without saddle soreness.

In London we had to deal with road traffic, hills, narrow and obstructed bike lanes (if provided at all), unpredictable and oblivious pedestrians (usually yakking on phones or plugged into iPods), insane bus or taxi drivers, and many other road-based dangers and aggravations. In Eugene, or at least Santa Clara which is our local area, these problems are much reduced and almost non-existant.

On our travels I've recorded three phases of suburban development outside the downtown area. In the first there are no sidewalks, the property lines extending to the roadside as seen above. This is not very pedestrian friendly, and when we were looking for a house we rejected several properties like this. We like to take evening strolls or cycle rides, and we like our sidewalks. My guess is that these areas developed in the 40s to 60s when the car was the new toy, nobody walked anywhere if avoidable, and a sidewalk was an out-dated concept.

In the second phase sidewalks were put in again, contiguous to the pavement (which in the USA means the road). Apart from the style, you can guesstimate the age of the area from the discoloration of the concrete. Both this and the older developments have individual roadside mailboxes, as seen here. I think these sub-divisions were from the 70s and 80s, when a sense of community was resurfacing, and road-traffic increases prompted urban designers to consider children, dog-walkers, and others who did not wish to or could not use a motor vehicle to travel.

The third phase, from the 80s to the present date, features a strip of grass between the sidewalk and the road. The concrete is much cleaner and there are no weeds between the slabs. There are usually trees set into this strip, providing shade, privacy, oxygen and other nice things. I took this particular house to show how wide some of the properties can be, but you may notice that it lacks an upper floor, so the actual square footage may not be huge. The rooflines of American houses are often quite complex, with multiple angles and levels. Much easier to achieve when the house and roof are both timber-framed, and the roofing material is not slate or tile but a modern composite, or occasionally wooden shingles. 

Regardless of the age of the area, all properties are set back at least 40 feet from the roadside, giving ample parking for several vehicles, and keeping the already wide roads mostly uncluttered. New properties generally have smaller plot sizes, less than 0.15 of an acre, sacrificing a decent back garden, and privacy from neighbors. We consider ourselves very lucky to have found the house size we wanted on a plot 1/3 of an acre, so we have a large garden and do not look out of our bathroom window of a morning to see the neighbours staring back at us.

Within any development no two properties are identical. There are at least three houses within walking distance of ours built to the same general floorplan, but with distinct variations. I like this very much, compared to the cookie-cutter houses that populate much of the UK and some regions of the US (and even parts of Eugene).

I had initially been hoping for a house with a Southwest-facing back garden, to take advantage of the evening sun, but we ended up with an East-facing back garden. As it turned out (and Beth predicted), this gives us morning sun on the back of the house and the patio and lawn, while sheltering us from the burning heat of the day, so it is comfortable to sit out at most hours, and we can have a BBQ any Summer evening without sweltering. We have a covered porch in the front, and this was a feature not in the original design, but added (during the original build) by the previous owners.

This handsome three-storied white farmhouse with wrap-around porch is in a semi-rural area between River Road and the Willamette River. The wide eaves and porch shade the windows during the hottest part of the day. I like this building very much.

Apart from admiring the houses and learning our way round the neighbourhood (with GPS assistance), we occasionally come across notable vehicles. This 1929 Model A Ford is in fantastic condition, though it's possible the owners coveted Beth's bike as much as I did their car.

Alas the owner of this 1950's Ford pickup has not been quite so liberal with the turtle wax over the years. We've passed this a few times and it doesn't seem to move, possibly explained by the large bullet hole in the rear window behind the driver's head.  

One road South is another Ford pickup, this F-150 from the late 60s or early 70 (just my guess), that has been kept in tip-top condition and is still used regularly.  

In my 20s I had the opportunity to drive my Grandmother's 1965 Wolseley 1500, and maybe this has helped instil in me an appreciation of veteran cars. I know very little about car engines and less about restoration, but it's nice to have people around who do.

1 comment:

  1. I love reading your take on these American things that I totally take for granted. If I come across an area that doesn't have a sidewalk, I just think "how annoying...better keep the kids well away from the road." It would never occur to me to figure out the reasons why it doesn't have one!