Monday, October 31, 2005

Critical Mass of One ... Again

Well it seems that fate has dealt another blow to my attempts at amassing critically. Last time I arrived much too late and couldn't find the group at all. This time I arrived just in time to see the blinky lights down the street from the meeting point.

I joined up and was happily riding with the crowd. I looked around for the other people I expected to be there, but didn't see anyone I recognized. I was distracted and self-concious of the fact that I was riding wearing brightly coloured safe cycling gear. I needed something dark and ominous. I pulled over and put on my nun-costume. The outfit's too small and not so practical for cycling, so I hiked up the skirt to allow my bare legs to reach the pedals, then hopped back into the traffic jammed road.

Unfortunately, I was never able to find the crowd again. I rode through Chinatown, through Kensington, down to Queen St, over past the Eaton Centre, up Yonge and across Bloor. I got a few strange looks, some questions, some laughs, and a lot of people who looked at me like they see guys dressed up like nuns on bikes all the time. Eventually I gave up and transformed back into safety-cyclist.

Too bad I didn't get to meet everyone. I was looking forward to it. I'm sure there will be another chance. At least it still ended up being a good time.

Darren J 10/31/2005 11:13:00 a.m. | 1 comments |

Friday, October 28, 2005

Critical Mass tonight

Sometimes it's nice to read articles like this. It makes me think that the day everyone is outside on their bikes is just around the corner.

"The way that we like to describe what's going on is we're calling it a general rediscovery of bicycling"

But I know I'm just dreaming. The article goes on to give an honest assessment of the challenges faced by those encouraging cycling.

In the meantime, this biking remains a solitary affair. Except for tonight. In a few hours, I'll have the opportunity to meet (or at least see) many others who enjoy this mode of transportation, as we coincidentally meet at Bloor and Spadina. (does that pretext even matter anymore? The police even join in the ride). I hope I can get some pictures.

Darren J 10/28/2005 03:01:00 p.m. | 0 comments |

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Can't stop now

Now that the cold weather is here, I get asked by anyone who sees me with my helmet in the office if I'm really biking today. I usually come up with a genius response like: "No, the helmet is to keep me safe from our falling prices!" (I haven't actually said that yet, but I'll use it next time) After the uncontrolled laughing subsides, I point out that it's very warm outside when you're riding a bike and wearing a jacket and gloves. And it really has been. Being the ambassador that I try to be, I don't bother telling them about the runny nose and the riding in the dark each evening.

What do others think of the cold? I usually count the number of other adult cyclists I pass on my morning commute. Over the 55 minute ride, I usually see 6 to 8 other adults riding bikes (there are many more kids). This may sound like a pidley number, and it could be much higher, but don't forget that there are no bike paths or lanes, so there is no concentration of cyclists on any particular route. Back to my point. The number of cyclists I pass has not dropped at all in the past month.

So as surprising as it may be to car commuters, being outside right now is very enjoyable, especially if you're active. Just think about cross-country skiers in January. Those are some happy people. (I think it's because of the clear sinuses) Being on a bike in this fresh air should be just as good.

And as I see the temperatures dropping each day, I remind myself that the later I can keep cycling, the earlier I'll get to start back up when the temperature rises.

Darren J 10/26/2005 05:35:00 p.m. | 11 comments |

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Urban Planning on The Current

If you have a few minutes to listen to some radio, there was an interesting interview on yesterday's edition of The Current on CBC (look for Part 3). It was with a man named Fred Kent who works on creating places that people want to go to and spend time in. The main idea is to manage an area well so that there are 7 to 10 different things people could be doing there (I assume he does not mean "shopping for item 1 or shopping for item 2 or ... item 10").

It was funny to hear how much he hates the modern "icon buildings". I've heard that architects have a code that restricts them from saying anything bad about a colleague's work. Either Kent is not an architect, or he cares very little about that code.

He talks about how there is big growth in interest in this kind of development, and that everyone is starting to realize how much time they spend in their cars. People want change and it's starting to happen.

Darren J 10/25/2005 05:53:00 p.m. | 0 comments |

Monday, October 24, 2005

How-to: Yonge St and Hwy 401 by bike

How to cross Hwy 401 at Yonge St. on a bike

One of the biggest challenges we face as cyclists is crossing major expressways. There are travel lanes that disappear into on-ramps, and off-ramps arriving at your right with vehicles moving still at highway speed. Even if you choose the correct lane (one that doesn't slide off to the right) you're still challenged by cars zipping up behind you trying to figure out what lane they should be in.

Something that took me a while to figure out, and became invaluable once I did, was how to cross the 401 at Yonge St. I don't want to keep this information to myself, so here it is.

Warning: Follow this advice at your own risk. It may help you, but it in no way guarantees your safety. Also, this advice involves riding a bike on a light grey surface that could be mistaken for a sidewalk. The concrete surface is not on the side of anything, so "sidewalk" is a misnomer, but giving way to any pedestrians is crucial to us continuing to use this safe route. As with any cycling route in a busy area, be careful, especially when you are somewhere that will surprise other people (pedestrians and drivers). This route may be better than riding with the cars, but (please!) you still must use caution, in particular when you cross the roads/ramps.

Heading north:
The key is to make use of a pathway that goes to the east of Yonge underneath the 401 in between the off and on ramps.

As I'm heading north on Yonge after passing the last intersection before the highway, I always hop up onto the paved area between the sidewalk and curb. This keeps me away from all the cars shifting around on the road and safely clear from the pedestrians. (This may be frowned upon by hardcore vehicular cyclists, but there are no intersections to cross until I reach the highway and pedestrians are a safe distance away.) This is where the map kicks in:

Northbound Map

Northbound hybrid Google Map (you can actually see a satellite photo of the path)

Make the right turn off of Yonge onto the on-ramp (aka Lord Seaton Rd). You may feel best to transform yourself into a pedestrian at this point and walk your bike on the sidewalk for a few metres. Traffic comes from the left and right here, so it can be a bit hairy. Cross the road and hop on the concrete path north. You'll see the path ahead takes you under the 401. Go slowly since it's dark and there are usually pedestrians and oncoming cyclists. After passing under the 401, you'll see a right turn that pops you out among all the condo towers south-east of Yonge and Sheppard. Life is good!

Heading south:
There are two options heading south. These routes are ideal for people coming from the north-east. First you need to get yourself to the base of the condos on Harrison Garden Blvd. Take the concrete path at the bend in the road (see the map). You'll head towards the highway ramps. Turn left at the T in the conrete path, and follow it under the bridges of the 401.

When you get to the other side, you'll see a fork. This is where the options come in. You can go to the right and follow the path onto a bridge over Yonge St. It will take you right to the southbound lanes of the street, avoiding the hassle of crossing at the traffic lights. This will be a direct and fast route straight down Yonge St., but make sure you look out for people getting off the 401 who will be approaching on your right.

Or you can take a much more leisurely and pleasing ride through the residential area east of Yonge. I highly recommend this for the southbound trip. When you reach the fork in the concrete path, you take a left. Carefully walk your bike across the mess of ramps going in multiple directions. Then head east (left) about 50 metres and turn right on Upper Canada Dr. This will take you to York Mills. And if you want to cross York Mills and head further south, you'll find all the steep downhills and uphills you could dream of in Toronto.

Map of the second southbound option

Southbound hybrid Google Map

* This advice may be very local, but I'm sure other cyclists have figured out similar routes at other intersections. If you have any special tidbits of information that would help out new cyclists (or those new to your area), please share! If you don't have somewhere convenient to share it, feel free to email it to me or post it as a comment here and I'll make sure it's made available on your behalf.

Happy cycling!

Update: I just added links to the google hybrid map showing the path along the concrete paths that are visible from the satellite photos. Hope that makes it a bit clearer.

Darren J 10/24/2005 03:40:00 p.m. | 4 comments |

Friday, October 21, 2005

Bike Video

I just found out about Google Video. All free, of course. Have a look!

Riding in a bike lane in Beijing.

Better not get motion sickness easily for this one.

Darren J 10/21/2005 03:40:00 p.m. | 0 comments |

Thursday, October 20, 2005


One of the great things about a city like Toronto is the number of people interested in making the city better. Some people may have purely selfish interests, like my request to the Prime Minister for a bike bridge that goes directly from Yonge and Lawrence to Hwy 7 and Leslie. Fortunately there are people out there who are looking for improvements to the system that will benefit everyone, like my friend Joe. He has started a program to encourage businesses to offer discounts to metropass holders. (The Metropass is the monthly Toronto Transit pass). This would encourage metropass ownership and give businesses the opportunity to promote themselves as friends of public transit users. The idea is smart and simple, especially as far as anything related to public transit goes. (it is already underway and it hasn't gotten any help from the TTC)

See if you can help, and find out more about The MAP. It's in its initial stages. Like I mentioned in my last post, bikes and transit work well together.

In other news, the cold is here. I like to think of it as free air conditioning. My ride this morning started at 3 degrees C. I wore a fleece under my rain coat and after 10 minutes removed my fleece to keep cool enough.

Darren J 10/20/2005 01:55:00 p.m. | 1 comments |

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

York Region Bike Network?

I have seen bike paths up in Newmarket. And as I mentioned in a previous post, there is the odd (very odd) path here in the south end of York Region. There are no paths to connect any town to any other town, or any consideration for cyclists making safe practical trips involving crossing expressways, etc. If all the roads were cracked farming roads with speed limits of 60 km/h, that would be fine, but those roads are becoming more and more scarce in York Region. Is York Region making some first steps?

Here's a story on the subject from the local paper.

It doesn't sound like anything definitive is happening. The statistics given aren't very meaningful since cycling is combined with walking. (Does the reporter realize that if there were a 7% cycling rate, York Region would be leading Canada?) At least someone is talking. If York Region went ahead with bike paths and lanes connecting the suburban areas, it would be very progressive compared to other areas around here, and it has the potential to create comfortable commuting for 8 or 9 months of the year.

I thought this was a good tidbit of information from Mr. Cheah in the article:
"Mr. Cheah also cited a 1998 Environics study showing 66 per cent of Canadians would cycle 30 minutes or more to work if cycling lanes were available."

And that was in 1998, when gas was practically free.

There is the potential for York Region to be a model of smart transportation. That sounds crazy if you see traffic in the area now. But with the recent investments in public transit combined with a real cycling infrastructure, changes could be dramatic.

If you go to the downtown of Toronto (and other cities), the number of cyclists you see around you goes way up. As well as being an amateur city planner, I'm also an amateur sociologist (who performs no actual studies). My studies prove that the reason there are more cyclists in the core of the cities is because residents have the option to use public transit when cycling isn't practical. This gives them the capability to live without a car very comfortably. So cycling and public transit go hand.

In the case of York Region, further improvements in infrastructure could allow many households to go from 2-car to 1-car. This all depends on a certain amount of density in housing and places of employment. With the right decisions, we could be living in cycling paradise in 5 years. (Or maybe none of this public spending matters.)

Darren J 10/18/2005 12:16:00 p.m. | 14 comments |

Monday, October 17, 2005

Cyclist killed in York Region

It is important that everyone around here knows about this. Here is a press release from the police.

Not only should we be aware of this simply out of respect for a fellow cyclist who was killed, but we should keep track of developments in the investigation. We need to see the outcome of the investigation and an appropriate response from authorities and the driver. I'm sure any one of us would like to see the same done for us.

Why this isn't covered more in the news media, I do not know. I heard about it from a friend last week, then searched the web and couldn't find any details. I read in last Friday's Newmarket Aurora Era Banner that 7% of trips in York Region are made by walking or cycling. That is a significant fraction of the population that would be interested in this story. The first I was able to read of it was through Martino's site. And if the police are trying to find witnesses, I expect they'll have a hard time if no one knows it.

Darren J 10/17/2005 03:26:00 p.m. | 0 comments |

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Toronto Marathon Today!

Darren J 10/16/2005 12:16:00 p.m. | 2 comments |

Friday, October 14, 2005

Close Call

Yesterday morning, during my drizzly ride to work, I was riding on a busy road approaching a driveway into a bank when a guy passed me quickly then braked and started to make a right turn. I threw my anchors overboard, front and rear, but knew there was no hope of me
stopping in time. I was in the right of my lane, so I couldn't pass him on the left. I considered making an emergency hard right turn, but for whatever reason, I didn't feel it was possible. I accepted my fate, aimed for the rear bumper and prepared for a crash.

Don't get the wrong idea. Approaching a state of Nirvana, I was not. Throughout this whole scene, I was yelling as loud as I could at this guy. And eventually he heard me and pulled out of his turn. I zipped up on his right until I slowed down safely.

I then passed him on the left, and he voluntarily would down his window to receive a yelling from me. I was furious and enraged. He was apologetic, and sincerely. I calmed down at the next red light, and we parted peacefully.

I've been riding to work since May now, and this is probably the closest I've come to an accident. It is extremely rare. I probably have more close calls finding the correct lane on the 404 at the 401.

I couldn't help but think afterwards about the CAN-BIKE course and how I have not taken it. I've read about what it covers and felt that I was pretty comfortable with all the topics, except the emergency right turn (see Instaturn G.1.). I've read about it, and thought about it,
but I really need to practice it.

Darren J 10/14/2005 09:49:00 a.m. | 2 comments |

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Saint Clair Street Car? Stop There!

(title must be read with a Newfoundlander's accent. I know it's silly, but I assumed the Sun had already used the title "St. Clair Street-car Derailed". Haven't checked yet.)

Sad news for Toronto. The street car construction on St. Clair has been put on hold because of complaints from local business owners regarding parking. (actually I don't know if that is their current complaint, but it was in the past) I guess they just don't see the potential for future intensity of traffic, pedestrian traffic, that would bring them more customers.

This site looks like it represents or covers the people protesting the street car expansion.

Judging by what I've heard at the bike meetings I've been to in the past month, I would extrapolate that this could be a bad sign for the future of the bike plan. The significance of the cancelled street car plans means that local residents have the ability to override the city's grand plan which looks decades into the future. The same could happen with any of the bike lanes laid out in the Bike Plan.

There is obviously a good side and a bad side to what has happened. Locals (are there any residents or is it just businesses? I don't know.) still have the ability to protest through the courts and have an impact. In this case though, it's not clear that they really represent local interests, as there are a lot of people who live in the many buildings on St. Clair who would probably love to have faster transit service, and avoid owning and parking a car. Hopefully it's just a matter of time before this project and future similar projects get back on track.

I've written way to much on a subject I know little about. I'll stop there.

I just noticed Joe's comments on the matter. Looks like there is some grass-roots momentum growing to support the street car right of way.

Darren J 10/13/2005 12:51:00 p.m. | 1 comments |

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Bill Nye for Governor!

I just saw Bill Nye on Canada AM. He was speaking about hurricanes and natural disasters, reasoning logically through why we should change the way we develop areas. He was particularly interested in the coastal areas, like the sensitive Mississippi delta. He explained why we should use this opportunity to rebuild New Orleans in an intelligent way for a better future. I smell left wing science bias. Where's the "balance"?

Imagine this ballot:

Darren J 10/12/2005 08:06:00 a.m. | 1 comments |

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

On the weekend, I had the chance to ride down to the MEC. Fortunately they sell more than just mountain equipment, as was evidenced by their bustling bicycle accessories section. There were many people there to buy lighting for their bikes, I guess because, like me, they're finding themselves heading home from work in the dark more often now.

Speaking of the approaching darkness (the sun rises here every day in the winter, despite what it may feel like to those in a windowless office): has Canada decided whether or not to follow the US extension to daylight savings time in 2007? The law was passed in the U.S. with the idea that it would save 10000 barrels of oil per day (effectively). That's 0.05% of the U.S. consumption per day, but that number probably hasn't even been right since the air conditioner became popular. Since air conditioners are irrelevant in Canada in October, ... actually this whole debate is irrelevant. We're all going to wake up and turn on lights during November and then we'll get home and turn on the lights. And since when is my 15 watt light bulb the source of anyone's problems? The Energy Hog will probably have a bigger impact.

Back to the co-op. I picked up a couple things to do some ride pimping. The price tag was over $30 including tax. I bought new gloves for this new weather. They're basic black tight-knit synthetic with grippy palms. I was considering something nice with leather palms to handle an accident better, but I decided to wait until it got a bit colder to choose those.

I got some earth-friendly soap since so much of my chain-washing mess ends up in the grass. Really, it isn't the soap that I'm that worried about. The chain oil and road grime that collects on my chain looks like it's much worse for the plants. However, all the road grime would either be on the road still or in some roadside grass, if it wasn't for me riding on top of it. There's not much I can do beyond trying to keep tidy.

And I got a few more flashy lights to put on my rear panniers. MEC has some small keychain sized lights that are prominently displayed all over the store. I decided I would dangle two of them on my left pannier, set them to flash, and set my main rear light to solid. I'm hoping this will do more to catch people's attention when they approach from behind.

Darren J 10/11/2005 04:52:00 p.m. | 0 comments |

Sunday, October 09, 2005

New format

I've been messing around with the format of this site. I thought I'd try out something a little more slick looking. I'm not a pro at this stuff, so if you have an opinion, let me know. I could just as easily switch back or to something else.

Darren J 10/09/2005 10:43:00 p.m. | 4 comments |

Friday, October 07, 2005

Happy Cycling

My bike route is back to its full glory. Construction has been active on a stretch of Maxome south of Cummer, forcing me onto Willowdale, which I really don't like riding on. The construction workers have built a temporary gravel side path for the school kids and me to get passed. And none of the school kids have made fun of me yet. Either grade fours have changed or I've changed.

Willowdale is fine further south, but in this section it has two lanes in each direction, with the lanes being too narrow for a car to pass me. A lot of drivers like to do the fast pass in the right lane. I usually make it obvious that they can't get by safely by "taking the lane", a move that takes a bit of courage on these faster roads, and leads to a lot of shoulder checking.

This returns 2 km of bike-friendly residential streets to my route. I'm left with only about 2 km of major arterial roads on my 19 km commute. It is very good. I thought it would be difficult for me to avoid long-winded rants about drivers in this blog, but in the end I have few problems. Route selection makes all the difference.

Darren J 10/07/2005 10:57:00 a.m. | 0 comments |

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

P.G.W.B. and the S.C.

A teenager returns home from driving his parents car around. He walks in the door and says "Mom, Dad, I smashed up the car pretty bad. It rolled three times and it looks like it'll be a right-off." And the parents respond "Oh my gosh, we're just happy you're alright." Then, the kid clarifies "Actually, I bumped it into my friends car, and it has a dent in the door."

I think most teenagers have tried this before, and it doesn't really get them that far. But it looks like Bush is giving it a try anyways.

Someone with no experience as a judge, he would like to be on the highest court in the country. I'm guessing this nominee will not go through, then everyone is expected to say to the next nominee, "Well at least you have some experience." In the meantime, everyone is supposed to be happy with her because she has never had the opportunity to voice extremely "conservative" views, so there's a chance she is not "conservative".

That said, at least the Americans have a review process for their Supreme Court, allowing some public scrutiny and opportunity for refusal from other democratic institutions.

Darren J 10/04/2005 12:46:00 p.m. | 0 comments |

L'shanah tovah

I wish a good year ahead to my Jewish friends.

I rode past many well dressed people walking on their way to synagogue this morning. It seems like many Jewish people must choose their homes within walking distance of a synagogue. I wonder if anyone who is say 3 km away will ride a bike to synagogue. (I really did wonder it, and not just because I need to stay on topic in this blog!)

And it's probably the smoggiest Rosh Hashanah in a long time. This is the second day in a row with some serious smog. The smog was much more difficult to breathe back in July (or else I'm just getting used to it), but the thing I've noticed this time is that I arrive at work and my clothing is reaking of exhaust. I think this is new for me. And I don't ride on very busy streets.

Darren J 10/04/2005 12:44:00 p.m. | 2 comments |

Sunday, October 02, 2005


My friend Shawna spent some time in Uganda this summer. She took some wonderful photographs of the people she met.

Have a look at the rest of her photos.

Darren J 10/02/2005 09:21:00 p.m. | 0 comments |

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Ying and the Yang

My ride home today featured a run-in with some idiot who must have had one too many cups of coffee this afternoon. I came to a 4-way stop, did a complete stop with my foot down well before the guy approaching towards me. I started through the intersection, and I guess he figured he would save some time by pulling right up to my ankle to wait for me to leave the intersection.

This move really pisses me off. These people think I’m supposed to know that they are good drivers and I should just trust them. The thing is, it usually ends up that it’s exactly someone who would bother to drive like that who I don’t trust.

I gave him a little wave of my hand down by knee just to say “stay back”. That’s really the only gesture I gave. He wound down his window and yelled some pretty rude obscenities at me and invited me to fight with him. I turned my bike back towards him. The story fortunately doesn’t get any more exciting at this point. He started to drive away. Then he stopped. I rode towards him again. Then he drove away. I know I probably didn’t do the smartest thing, but I don’t regret it, given that it didn’t go too far.

After that, I rode about 2 or 3 kilometres and met up with an electrician who rides his bike all over Toronto to get from job to job. He was happy to talk to me, and I appreciated a bit of friendliness at that point. He had a handful of cable in one hand, and a bunch of gear in his panniers on the back. And when I say he rides around Toronto, I mean Toronto and more. He rides to jobs from Yonge St to Etobicoke and even up to Markham and Newmarket. That’s 50 km (30 miles) away! He said his days have been much better since he started riding 2 years ago.

It was a great end to my ride.

Darren J 10/01/2005 12:41:00 a.m. | 3 comments |