The New Recreation Frontier?
November 23, 2012 3:57 AM   Subscribe

Lets Swim To Work! "Centuries of boat traffic, heavy industry, sewage runoff and toxic dumping have ingrained in us the idea that urban waterways are not places for people. Even as cities have rushed to the water’s edge over the past couple of decades, building elaborate waterfront parks and esplanades, few have taken the next logical step: encouraging residents to dive in."

Swimmable Berlin, a proposal "to transform part of Berlin's Spree River into a natural swimming pool."

Tired of commuting by car? No bike paths or dangerous bike paths? Missing, broken or poorly-run public transit? There are other options...

Kayak commute dream is a citizen-investor idea (though the city, Tampa, is America's Hottest Mess) 2 NJ Men Beat The Morning Rush By Kayak, at least one Londoner commutes via kayak, and the Charles River in Boston is a popular waterway.
posted by the man of twists and turns (42 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Will London Be The First City With Commuter Swim Lanes? - the LidoLine
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:01 AM on November 23, 2012


I know from experience that I'd probably be too much of a wimp to kayak to work (my GOD the currents in the East River get strong) - but I took the East River Ferry a couple times during the immediate Sandy aftermath and that was....almost pleasant. We need to bring more ferryboats back.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:18 AM on November 23, 2012


I would definitely kayak to work if i could paddle down river and grab a bus back up. Great idea!
posted by orme at 4:59 AM on November 23, 2012


Considering that a significant number of the Berlin Wall deaths during the Cold War were actually due to Spree drownings, I find the "swimmable Berlin" idea to be just a poor attempt at hipster humour (Berlin is Hipster Mecca, these days).
Also, taking into account how frikking cold Berlin can be for most of the year, I think that iceskating to work would be a somewhat more practical commute than swimming. (Also, as green commuting alternatives go, a whole lot of people already cycle to work in Berlin these days, anyway. Often on stolen bikes, but that's another matter.)
posted by Skeptic at 5:05 AM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gabe Horchler has been rowing to work along the Anacostia river inDC for 14 years. It's one of the most polluted rivers in america, but still useable for recreation and healthful living.
posted by jmgorman at 5:19 AM on November 23, 2012


Melbourne AU has a small but seemingly content band of kayak commuters. I think a little water time would make one quite pleasant but storage would be a serious barrier.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 5:26 AM on November 23, 2012


The New Recreation Frontier?

Whilst not technically a river, Riddarfjärden which drains lake Mälaren into the Baltic through the center of Stockholm, is clean enough to drink and on those few summer days which are warm enough to permit it everyone goes swimming in it and during the summer there are more sailboats on it than you can shake a stick out.

And it has, to my understanding, always been this way.
posted by three blind mice at 5:32 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


There was a guy in my building that kayak'd to work in pittsburgh. He would hang his kayak out of his office window. It was kinda awesome.
posted by jonbro at 5:58 AM on November 23, 2012


Since 1999, Dane County, Wisconsin's Lakes and Watershed Commission has organized a Paddle to Work Day, encouraging Madisonians to commute to work via canoe or kayak [2 videos] on Lake Mendota and Lake Monona -- part of the larger Take a Stake in the Lakes Days.
posted by dhartung at 6:35 AM on November 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


TNJ, I'd point out that while kayaks are bigger than bicycles, they're smaller than cars. Storage space shouldn't be an issue, just getting an infrastructure into place. Easiest might be simple racks one could lock to, possibly lockers as well.
posted by attercoppe at 6:41 AM on November 23, 2012


I saw kids in Vietnamese floating villages swimming to school (100m or so), it was a little worrying given the volume of boat-traffic!
posted by nfg at 6:48 AM on November 23, 2012


I like the principal, but in practice? Commuting by kayak is barely faster than walking, let along cycling. Most canals have some sort of towpath along them. It'd be a nice thing to do once a month on sunny days, but on a rainy december after a long and stressful day, the idea of having to paddle for an hour to get home would be too much.

I bet the guy in the video above to kayaks to work doesn't do it very often.
posted by leo_r at 6:48 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that iceskating to work would be a somewhat more practical commute than swimming.

In Ottawa that's a pretty common thing - when the Rideau canal freezes it turns into the worlds' longest ice rink, and runs straight downtown.
posted by mhoye at 6:58 AM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've been saying for some time that if I had money to invest, I'd be investing in waterborne transport along the Eastern seaboard - not swimming but ferries. In my twenty or so years of adulthood I've watched water commuting from my hometown in NJ go from zero to two large ferry companies.
posted by Miko at 7:04 AM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


God, I wish this weren't logistically screwed because I'm always looking for more swimming opportunities. The idea of walking a block, jumping in the little river, swimming/coasting 5 miles, and walking 2 blocks to campus is wonderful. Dang the Undertoads, uni-directional current, mini-dams/rapids, and need to carry a satchel of work crap!
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:07 AM on November 23, 2012


People in Toronto won't even go into the water at the beaches, no matter how often they get a clean bill of health. The one time I did, when I told people about it they reacted as if they expected me to stagger out looking like the thug in Robocop who gets a tank of toxic waste dumped on him.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:09 AM on November 23, 2012


People in Toronto won't even go into the water at the beaches, no matter how often they get a clean bill of health.

Swimming pools are so much safer.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:12 AM on November 23, 2012


I've been thinking about swimming some of the major rivers in my area next summer, but one thing holds me up; monofilament fishing line.

It scares the crap out of me. I see the fisher-people near specific places in the river trolling their lines in there every day. I know that there are many lines that have been snagged, cut, and are now drifting in the current waiting to tangle a stroking limb of a swimmer. They're thin and strong enough to cut flesh with enough pressure, and at the end of them is a nice sharp hook, waiting for my flesh if it isn't sunken deep into a something else already.

I don't know if the lines become sediment laden, and sink over time, so there are very few, or if nothing like that happens, and there are areas of the river that closely resemble nets, but I do know that I don't want to find out the hard way.

I debate what I would need to start this venture. A helmet, because the water is so murky I know my head will hit something sooner or later, and I can't afford an LOC. A PFD of some sort, and a massive, serrated knife, probably two massive, serrated knives.
posted by 517 at 7:24 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]



Since 1999, Dane County, Wisconsin's Lakes and Watershed Commission has organized a Paddle to Work Day, encouraging Madisonians to commute to work via canoe or kayak [2 videos] on Lake Mendota and Lake Monona -- part of the larger Take a Stake in the Lakes Days.


All the lakes in southern Wisconsin stink of rotting vegetation whenever they aren't frozen. And all that death means constant e-coli and other disease alerts. Most days, they aren't even safe for your dogs. Lake Winnebago, and Butte de Morts (aptly - "Hill of the dead") are the worst in that regard. Kaukauna has an enormous.

Mostly, it's because of lawn fertilizer runoff - and Dane county banned fertilizers for just that reason. But, you should have heard the howling from the suburban communities - who cares about the lakes, man, we need our green lawns!

In the end, it doesn't matter much. The lakes here are festering stinkholes of death and decay and the only way I'll commute across them is if they build a bridge. One with high walls and a steady supply of air fresheners.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:47 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dane County (of course!) has the right idea. The more people get out (and on) urban waterways, the more they care about water quality. The Charles River here in Boston used to be unswimmable Most of the time, but thanks to a lot of hard work on point and non-point source pollution, it's swimmable a surprising amount of the time, and kayaking keeps growing.

Now folks are interested in replicating Paris' popular swimming docks on the Seine (another former sewer!). Because while the sediments are still polluted, the water is getting better by the year.

At this point in the US everyone wants to cut environmental funding, unless they're directly effected by it. So (because there's still more work to do!) I'm all for people stretching the clean water envelope. It gets more people out moving and interested in clean waterways - win/win!
posted by ldthomps at 8:05 AM on November 23, 2012


I recently learned that the creek, drainage canals, and part of the river around my hometown are STILL contaminated with nuclear waste and heavy metals. And the popular lake in the south part of my state regularly seems to have E. coli alerts. Forgive me if I'm just not so into drinking or even setting foot in the water.
posted by limeonaire at 8:58 AM on November 23, 2012


That's reality in Zürich - the Letten in Zürich is a much loved stretch of the river, just outside of the old-town but still very much urban and central. It's great in the summer. You walk upstream, drop in, swim downstream a bit, then get out and have a beer and dry off in the sun.

As for swimming to work, there was a research centre just outside the city located right by the river, and there was at least one guy would pack all his work things and clothes into a watertight bag, strap it to his stomach, and float face-up downstream to work, then take the bus back at night.
posted by molecicco at 9:23 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I posted a post about traversing the Dallas-area via kayaking the local waterways a couple of years ago. The short of it: it's really fucking dirty.
posted by item at 9:30 AM on November 23, 2012


I have several friends with grandparents who grew up in Baltimore who tell stories of swimming in the harbor in the summertime. That was hard to fathom by the time I was living there -- here's an old story from a kayak commuter that gets into some of the grimy details.

I was amazed, though, visiting Detroit this summer, at the clarity of the Detroit River. I'm completely unaccustomed to urban waterways looking so inviting, and could definitely see using it as a commuting route in good weather.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:42 AM on November 23, 2012


Commuting by kayak is barely faster than walking, let along cycling.

Er, what? I've kayaked alongside people walking and it is hard to paddle that slow and still maintain a consistent course. You spend lot of time leaning on the paddle while they catch up. Even someone unfit (as I am now) can paddle for extended periods at easily more than twice walking pace. Anyone doing it for more than a few weeks could probably sustain that pace for several miles, maybe even faster. It's not as fast as cycling but it is definitely an awful lot faster than walking.

I wish I could kayak to work. Or sail. Or anything water related, really except for swimming.
posted by Brockles at 9:56 AM on November 23, 2012


I've been wondering if it's possible to use the ocean as a travel route, particularly when LA locks up under the sheer weight of auto traffic. LA's "rivers" are pretty clearly not an option, though.
posted by weston at 10:00 AM on November 23, 2012


You take your car to work, I'll take my board

And when you're out of fuel, I'm still afloat
posted by mannequito at 11:15 AM on November 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I bet the guy in the video above to kayaks to work doesn't do it very often.

I'll bet you're wrong. I ride my bike to work and try to do it year-round in Victoria BC. The only time I don't is when there's significant threat of black ice. There are a lot of us who choose to commute alternatively and relish the poor weather. I find it exhilarating, and the worse it gets the less crowded it is out there. I like to think of it as a dividing line between those who are tough and those who just like to think they are.

Really, though, establishing the routine is the tough bit. Once you have correct gear for all situations the problems you encounter are really the ones that physically prevent you from being out there (ie ice) rather than any discomfort you encounter. It's never as bad out there as it looks from the warmth of your lit kitchen.

I run a lot and when I lived in Calgary and the worst days for me in the winter were during the chinooks (warm winds that can turn it from -15C to 10C in less than an hour). The air temperature would be warm, sure, but the ground would still be frozen. It turned everything into a skating rink on the riverside pathways. I'd rather run in bone dry -25 than on slippery, icy pathways.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:38 PM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


According to this year's logs, I paddle about 5-7km/h in flat water with a 5m sea kayak (2-5 hour trips). I walk about 5km/h, and run about 10km/h. I like kayaking a lot, but it is not that much faster than walking. You can carry much more gear, though (50kg easy), and it doesn't slow you down at all.

Small urban waterways are often little used, which is a shame because they offer a completely different, orthogonal view of the city. Apart from the occasional bridge, the urban river is like a private tram line with no stops. You're passing through the city and there's no-one around.
posted by ikalliom at 12:57 PM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would totally do this. All the time. Anywhere I wanted to go.

I love swimming!
posted by Malice at 1:03 PM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Small urban waterways are often little used, which is a shame because they offer a completely different, orthogonal view of the city. Apart from the occasional bridge, the urban river is like a private tram line with no stops. You're passing through the city and there's no-one around.

Many of the major cities in the US developed around waterways and water transport, and later on highways, bridges and rail were shoehorned into the contours and neighborhoods shaped by rivers and the sea.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:09 PM on November 23, 2012


Swim to work? It's not the pollution tha prevents me from commuting via the East River so much as the hypothermia I'd suffer in the winter and the fact tha I'm sure my employer doesn't want to be show up to work wet.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:15 PM on November 23, 2012


I for one would love to canoe from home to work. It would involve putting in at Medford Square on the Mystic River, rowing all the way to the mouth, and then a brief sojourn through the harbor, before entering the Charles and docking at the Back Bay basin.

Swimming, however, seems a little ill thought out. Life guards for a commuter pathway???
posted by ocschwar at 2:17 PM on November 23, 2012


hypothermia I'd suffer in the winter

Wetsuits.
posted by Malice at 5:17 PM on November 23, 2012


I would totally do this. All the time. Anywhere I wanted to go.

I love swimming!


You should move down here to Key West. I commuted to work on the water via swimming, kayaking, boating, windsurfing and inflatable raft for over a decade. People do it all the time. It's great seeing people and saying, "Where you going?" and they say, "I'm jumping in the ocean."
posted by Mike Mongo at 6:42 PM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


My aunt lives across a bay from where her daughter's daycare was located. Her commuting options were 45 minutes around the bay in stop-start traffic; a bus route that required three changes; or put the baby in a kayak and paddle across the bay in about 25 minutes each way (and not need to go to the gym later). She took the kayak option every day except in torrential rain.
posted by lollusc at 7:04 PM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm a little skeptical of the entire idea. My home town, Victoria BC, has worked hard to clean up a tidal waterway (the Gorge) over the past twenty or thirty years, and this past summer there was a community initiative to get people to swim in it.

I myself swam at a beach on the Gorge when I was a kid, but it's not really something I would subject my kids to these days. While the community group took pains to point out that the water is very clean, there were some water samples taken that showed that the muck and sludge contains significant amounts of industrial pollutants, a legacy from heavy industry that was concentrated at one end of the Gorge in the middle of the last century.

Kayaking and rowing in reclaimed waterways is one thing, but swimming?

Some cities have done it, notably Tokyo, which has rebuilt its fish population by cleaning up industry and implementing tertiary sewage treatment.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:05 PM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The incredibly strong currents around NYC are no joke and not at all safe for swimmers, even if the water itself was clean.
posted by emjaybee at 7:20 PM on November 23, 2012


I want something like the Morgantown PRT, but for water. Maybe in the Baltimore Inner Harbor.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:15 PM on November 23, 2012


The incredibly strong currents around NYC are no joke and not at all safe for swimmers, even if the water itself was clean

I and all the other swimmers I did river races with can tell you that's not exactly true. The water is perfectly fine (worst encounter: plastic bag) and the rivers are tidal, so the current varies drastically. I'm not saying YOU have to swim in it, but let's not tell lies.
posted by dame at 1:34 AM on November 24, 2012


"Well, my swimming pool problems are solved. I just found myself miles and miles of open lanes."
"What is that smell?"
"That's East River."
"You're swimming in the East River? The most heavily trafficked, overly contaminated waterway on the eastern seaboard?"
"Technically, Norfolk has more gross tonnage."
"How could you swim in that water?"
"I saw a couple other guys out there."
"Swimming?"
"Well... floating. They weren't moving much, but they were out there."
- Kramer and Jerry, in "The Nap"
posted by blue_beetle at 6:25 AM on November 24, 2012


Although its only a short period where they're warm enough, I swim in the Bow and Elbow rivers in downtown Calgary almost daily from mid July to mid September (photos). Nothing more pleasant than biking home, grabbing the dog and paddling around in the current for a short half hour as an after work routine. We've swum from my house (near the confluence of the rivers, just east of the CBD) downstream for three or so kilometers to get to where the city has fixed the weir that used to claim lives every year and replaced it with an awesome class I/II rapid that makes for a great water slide. Last summer, I kept meaning to bring my trunks to work, since it to is only a block from the river, and the current is fast. It would be faster than walking. Next year.
posted by bumpkin at 7:13 AM on November 24, 2012


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