Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Stressful ride

The story below is what happened to me on the day that two cyclists died in Toronto, both hit by large trucks. It seemed too trivial to post on such a day, so here it is now. Information about the Memorial Rides is available on Martino's site. Sorry I'm unable to post properly right now.

My ride home today started with a driver pulling up behind me at a red light. I was in the middle of the lane. He tailgated me all the way across Highway 7 (it's a big intersection). Then as he squeezed past me on the left, the second I gave him a little bit more of the lane, I waved at him to give me some room.

I've been on such a good streak with so few confrontations with drivers. This is something I should have known from before. The wave of the hand to say back off is something drivers seem to be entirely offended by.

He yelled something behind his closed window and waved his arm at me. At the stop sign less than 1 km later, I pulled up beside his window, which he wound down.

Me: "I just wanted to let you know that it's not very comfortable being tailgated while you're on a bike."

Idiot: "Well it's not very safe riding down the middle of the road."

Me: "That's what the law requires me to do so people pass me only when it's safe."

Idiot: ..... stares blankly

Was he tailgating me for my own good, as if to teach me that it's "not safe" riding down the middle of the lane? That would basically make him psychopathic or very very stupid.

I ride along thinking about how Steve in Halifax gives out his muppet of the day award and thinking that this guy would get the award in my books at least for the week, if not the month. It's not so much what he did, but that he claimed he wanted to teach me about safety.

A little later, I turn down a small street between some condos and a very busy park. I see a car coming at me in the oncoming traffic lane, and a car coming at me in my lane! Have a look at the diagram below. I'm the cyclist with the big head (appropriately!). The car finishes passing, but there's a wide Mercedes SUV behind it that also wants to pass. The woman in the SUV, marked "S" (for SUV or stupid, your choice) in the figure below, isn't even deterred when she sees me coming at her, and another cyclist behind me! I would have been trapped because of the curb, but I got out of the way on a side street. I waved at her in anger, and she waved back at me as if to retaliate, but she had this look like she didn't really know what was going on. She continued to pass the other car and didn't even slow down. I looked back and didn't see her brake lights on as the other cyclist somehow managed to get out of the way.

Darren J 4/26/2006 06:26:00 p.m. | 10 comments |

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Earth Day 2006

From my trip to the Kortright Centre a few weeks ago.

Darren J 4/22/2006 09:23:00 a.m. | 0 comments |

Friday, April 21, 2006

I don't know what to say

You've probably heard the same as me already. I have no more information, except to tell you that I am so very sad to hear this.

Why does this keep happening? We have ways to reduce the risks.

You can look here at what this 16 year old girl was trying to get across. I work near an intersection like this, and many pedestrians jog across out of fear.

Darren J 4/21/2006 09:43:00 a.m. | 7 comments |

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Sad news

I was saddened to hear of this news today. My thoughts are with the cyclist's family and friends.

Darren J 4/20/2006 10:30:00 p.m. | 0 comments |

Dreaming and living in the now

This past weekend, the Star had a special on people's dreams of what could make Toronto a better city.

My wife and I went to the Netherlands last year, where I took the photograph shown here. My wife hung this photo on our wall a couple days ago because she knew it would make me happy. This is the view of Leiden University soon after stepping off the train. The thing that struck me most about seeing all the cycling there was that everyone was doing it. If you ever had the idea that cycling is not for everyone, visit the Netherlands or Denmark (or look at photos like this!). By far, a huge majority of a population can happily get around by bicycle.

However, cycling in traffic, with fast moving cars and trucks passing closely, is not for everyone, at least not without a little bit of learning. It requires education on how to encourage people in cars to behave safely around you. This brings me to the obvious difference between our cities here and there. Where cars are expected to move fast, fully separate cycling paths exist. In the dense parts of the cities, cars and bikes move at the same speed, and it's not because everyone pedals like they're in a race. They don't; they pedal at a comfortable pace. People in cars and trucks drive slowly because it's the only safe way to drive when there are so many people around. Another big difference there is that the volume of cars on the street is a fraction of what it is here.

We don't have bicycle-specific infrastructure here. (We do, but it's sparse). Many cyclists say that is a good thing, since you will always need to deal with intersections, which is where most collisions occur, and the bike infrastructure just creates confusion.

Dreaming about a rosy future is great, but making a difference today is better. There are things that can be done so easily for cycling right now. People can take courses on cycling on busy streets right now, or at the very least read about vehicular cycling. The more people who know how to cycle safely on our existing streets, the more will have a positive experience. It takes some courage at times, but it's very achievable for anyone who has a half-decent sense of their surroundings and is comfortable pedalling and steering their bike.

Second, we need to educate drivers of cars and trucks about cyclists, how to pass them, and how to wait behind them sometimes (what?!). Since motorists are a huge part of the population, a massive advertising campaign would be helpful (as I've said before). The information is already in the driver's handbook, but that isn't making enough of a difference. People seem to need flashy videos, preferably with some funky music. The strange thing about it is that this is not as much of a problem as you might think, as long as you take command of the road and make sure you're seen.

For example, a couple mornings ago I signaled before taking the full lane because I saw that there was not enough room for me and the van behind me to use the lane straight through an intersection. When I didn't continue to shift into the left turn lane, the woman in the van honked at me a few times and waved at me to go left. I just kept going straight. She then passed me after I had cleared the narrow intersection, exactly as I had planned. She was all worked up and made some hand motion at me that I'm pretty sure meant I was an idiot. This woman could benefit from an education program for the sake of her own sanity.

And third, we should actually install the dedicated bike paths that we've been talking about for years. This is a bit more futuristic, but compared to other public projects, it's tiny. With some initiative and a little bit of asphalt, the Finch Hydro Corridor, similar bike paths and some safe expressway crossings could be installed immediately throughout our suburban areas.

So I'll have another look at that photo and think about what could be, what people are capable of doing and what people are doing right now. The future is not so bleak afterall.

Darren J 4/20/2006 10:48:00 a.m. | 2 comments |

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Motorists pleased with cyclists

A man in a 5-series BMW gave me an emphatic thumbs-up as he passed me today. Then in the same Thornhill neighbourhood, not more than five minutes later, a guy in an older japanese car gave me a friendly wave and a smile.

David Suzuki says that one letter is worth 1000 opinions at a national (Canadian) level. So if I do some extrapolation with my case, I would say that one emphatic thumbs up means 200 other Thornhill residents are feeling similarly. And a friendly wave is worth 180 positive opinions towards cyclists.

Do you hear that, politicians of Thornhill, Markham, York Region and Ontario? At least 381 of your constituents have very positive feelings about cycling.

Darren J 4/19/2006 10:55:00 a.m. | 0 comments |

Monday, April 17, 2006

Various thoughts, news and beautiful days

When I first started riding my bike to work, it would be on my mind all day long. I would think:

"That was a good ride in."

"I can't wait until my ride home."

"I wonder if my clothes are dry yet."

"I wonder if anyone parked their car close to my bike."

"Has anyone stopped by my bike to check out the awesome tape-job I did on the handlebars?"

"I wonder if my bike is still standing up straight."

"Is someone going to steal my unlocked front wheel?"

"I really kicked ass going up that hill."

Lot's of unimportant stuff that seemed important since it was something different from my usual routine. Now it has become such a regular part of my day that it barely crosses my mind until I am about to get ready to go. Instead, if I ever have to drive my car, it just drives me crazy as I sit still inside it thinking about what I'm missing out on.

The weather is beautiful out there. I wore shorts for the first time of the year yesterday, and it'll be shorts again tonight.

In other totally unrelated news, San Francisco has adopted a resolution to recognize Peak Oil and the need to prepare for it. Here's another link. It seems strange to me when people talking about peak oil get characterized as chicken littles. It is a known scientific fact that peak oil will come. It's just a matter of when.

I rode with another cyclist for a couple kilometres yesterday. It was no mini-mass, but it was nice to have company for a short stretch.

Happy warm weather cycling!

Darren J 4/17/2006 11:05:00 p.m. | 2 comments |

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ten days until the Bike Swap

The bike swap is a little bit more than a week away. I think I told some people the wrong day, so if you're planning on going, make sure you go on the Sunday!

And, no you don't actually need to have a bike to swap. They'll swap a bike for cash!

Darren J 4/13/2006 06:08:00 p.m. | 0 comments |

Looking around

Herb found this new bicycle-focused mapping site. It currently has no coverage of Toronto, but it looks like it has a lot of potential. I guess someone has to enter in all bike paths and small pedestrian/bike pathways between houses, etc.

Here's something to consider from William Rivers Pitt on TruthOut. He takes a less than optimistic stance on the future for Iran and all of us. I tend to think the chance of the US using nuclear weapons is not likely. As horrible as it is to take your country to war on false pretenses, dropping another nuclear bomb is viewed in a different way, and would require many more years of marketing to convince people it is the only option. I don't the American public is there. I hope I'm right.

Of more immediate and local concern, there's a must-read from the hard workers over at the Allderblob. Their archives (which must be very extensive) help provide some insight on the anti-cyclist op-ed from Jacob Richler last week.

Darren J 4/13/2006 04:30:00 p.m. | 0 comments |

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Light Rapid Terrificness

I've been learning a lot about public transit over the past few months from sites like Transit Toronto and Steve Munro's Web Site. My sources are somewhat limited in number, but I feel like I've been given such a convincing case for building an LRT network in Toronto, that I don't need to hear the opposition. For those unfamiliar, LRT is Light Rapid Transit, which means a modern, faster, bigger street-car, which would typically stop a lot less often than our downtown streetcars, but stop more often than a subway.

I don't know who actually opposes LRT. I saw Howard Moscoe say he wanted streetcars going from one end of the city to the other.

If you're missing out on this conversation, I highly recommend having a look through some of the recent posts on Steve Munro's site. Now that I've seen his site, I notice that Steve's name comes up every time a politician is questioned about the TTC's subway system.

I'll make a feeble attempt at summarizing the case for more LRT. Toronto is an expansive city, with lots of suburban development. A subway (heavy rail) is designed for high density urban cores. A subway can carry a huge number of people, but it costs a lot to build, so in order to make it worthwhile, it should be used at the rates found in high density urban areas. LRT on a dedicated lane will cost near one tenth of what a subway costs on a per km basis. It can run frequently and carry the numbers needed in suburban areas of Toronto. If street space is at a premium, they can duck underground for a stretch.

To reiterate: they cost one tenth of what a subway costs, so you can either save money, or use it to make the network cover 10 times more streets!

They even look slick, which should give them a little more political capital, as far as I can tell. Take a look at the photo on Transit Toronto of a model from Bombardier. (Aside: Anyone want to vote on the proper pronunciation? -- bawm-ba-deer or boam-bar-deeay)

The more people that find out about LRT the better. I see this as a problem of public relations in Toronto. People just don't know about the other options that exist, so they equate transit with either subways or buses. A lot has changed in the past 20 or 30 years. LRT networks are being built or are already built in cities all over North America, partly thanks to US federal support. LRTs are flexible and effective and based on current knowledge. Focusing on subways and their slow growth would be like our government deciding that Magnum PI was a great show, so it shall be the only thing on TV from now on. Public transit obviously involves some high level, big decisions, so we need to do what we can to build in flexibility to keep up with what's going on in transportation technology and our city's development.

Last week, I was faced with the exact weakness of our transit system that an LRT could address. I needed to get from one busy suburban centre to another. I was in the Richmond Hill/Markham business centre at Leslie and Hwy 7, and I needed to get to Scarborough Town Centre. It probably would have taken at least an hour and fifteen minutes by bus, which is ridiculous when you consider the number of people that live or work in both of these areas, and how close together they are. I could definitely have ridden my bike there faster, if that was an option.

I ended up getting a ride with a coworker, which took us through the daily traffic jam on the 404 southbound and then on the 401 eastbound at Kennedy. Most of those cars belong to people traveling from a workplace to home, neither of which have anything to do with Yonge St, Bloor St or University Ave.

I would love to show those car drivers how great it is getting around on a bicycle, but that whole process is going slowly so far. In the meantime, a set of LRT branches reaching out around our city could make big differences in everyone's quality of life, giving people the choice of not owning a car in huge swathes of suburban Toronto.

Darren J 4/11/2006 01:48:00 p.m. | 4 comments |

Monday, April 10, 2006

Sharing Sharing Sharing

- Etiquette with sharing the road

I missed out on Beavers when I was a kid (as in: the youngest version of boy scouts), but I remember hearing that this lesson of sharing was prominent on their syllabus. It's a lesson that may have it's limits when it comes time to launch a corporate takeover but helps keep everyone happy in so many other situations.

I had a brief discussion with a man driving a car this morning. I wasn't rude but I wasn't polite either. I really wasn't sure how "wrong" his actions were, but he was driving differently from everyone else, which was downright annoying.

Imagine a luxuriously wide lane, on a two lane road: one lane in each direction with a yellow line separating them. Where exactly should a car be positioned in this situation? 99% of the cars I see on such a road are driving almost smack in the middle. Even when they pass me, many drivers do not move their cars to the left at all since this lane is so wide.

This morning, a line of cars was moving slowly, about 20 km/h. This is just about the speed where people in cars start to get angry and want to start voting-in conservative governments. It also happens to be a speed where a guy on his light road bike who has been riding a heavy mountain bike for months can pull past and enjoy that glorious feeling of going faster than all the bored people beside him.

After passing one or two of these cars on its right, I was faced with the tail end of a car that looked like it was trying to steal my move. Hey! You can't copy me! You can't even fit! I coasted behind him for a few seconds, then I waved in his mirror, suggesting that he move to the left. He wasn't getting past the car in front of him, so he was dangerously tail-gating.

Now, I know that passing on the right in a single lane isn't quite the strict vehicular cycling that has worked so well for me. However, when the opportunity comes up to pass a bunch of slow moving cars, it's so hard to miss out on it. I never pass them quickly, relatively, and watch for road position, turn signals, and any other evidence of a right turn coming up (like a hand holding a small electronic device against an ear). Actually, if I was going through an intersection, I wouldn't even try passing on the right, since it's far too likely a car will turn right. We're talking about the odd driveway here.

Obviously I feel a tiny bit guilty about the whole thing.

So the guy doesn't move to the left at all. He keeps riding the curb like he thinks he's in Rome and he'll get the chance to pop his right wheel up on the sidewalk in a second. I assume he didn't see me so I wave again. Nothing. Eventually, he stops at a red light behind a line of about 6 cars, none turning right, so I weave around him on the left. He rolls down his window and asks what my problem is. I told him that if he had moved over, I could have passed all those cars. He told me to go ahead and do it then. Like I needed his encouragement.

He was probably left thinking I was 'another crazed cyclist' who is angry at all the drivers. I'm only angry at some drivers, and really he wasn't one of them. I assumed he didn't see me, so I kept waving at him. It turns out he did see me, and he just couldn't deal with someone else getting somewhere ahead of him.

I often think that the "Share the road" thing is pretty misleading, since it could lead to people in cars thinking cyclists should be pulling over for every car that wants to pass them. This leads to a cyclist going nowhere. In this case, on such a wide road, sharing the road is exactly what happens. I adjust my road position left and right depending on what the cars around me are doing, allowing them to pass me when it's safe to do so. There is no bike lane, but there is an effective bike lane of which both cars and cyclists take advantage. This is an almost ideal suburban road that can work so well for everyone as long as everyone is just a little bit courteous.

I may have written a lot here, but it didn't spoil my ride at all. It's such perfect weather, and I'm happy to see others outside enjoying it with me.

Darren J 4/10/2006 05:48:00 p.m. | 3 comments |

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Cyclists and their generosity

After yesterday's post, Herb did some research and came up with this thorough analysis of the common misconception that by driving a car around you are helping the finances of your city and province.

Thanks, Herb! Anyone feel like writing a letter? (I'd do it myself but I'm a freeloading cyclist.)

If idling really gets to you, that same guy, Jacob Richler, wrote a piece against the idling by-law today. It's behind their subscription-wall. He makes some fair points about the wonders of the modern catalytic converter but fails to recognize the simplicity of turning your key off and reducing your pollution and consumption to zero. However, the piece is really a complaint about how he idles all over the city while stuck behind pedestrians, cyclists and street-cars. There's no mention of all the cars packed in front of him. I feel like I'm falling right into their trap.

Darren J 4/05/2006 07:46:00 a.m. | 7 comments |

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


There's an opinion piece in today's National Post that is less than friendly towards not only cyclists, but our city.

Why there are so many people driving their children to school, I don't understand. This creates a traffic jam, and aggressive driving conditions right in front of so many schools, which obviously have hundreds of children walking around in front of them. His illegal parking doesn't help the situation. For some more thoughts on this subject, check out bricoleurbanism.

Let me guess what happened to this guy. Since he said he had to catch up with the cyclist, he was probably in a traffic jam. The bike came to a stop or close to it at a stop sign to his right. The cyclists squeezed in with the cars and rode ahead. It annoyed him that he couldn't squeeze past the cars too, so he decided to vent his anger about his parking fines through an anti-cycling write-up.

From the article titled "Tax monsters on two wheels - Why let drivers enrich city coffers and give cyclists a free ride?":

In short, everything you see every cyclist do every time you see one is worth $110. We cannot afford to ignore this potential harvest. Let's go for it.

The number of cyclists that follow the laws strictly is probably more than the number of motorists that follow the traffic laws strictly. Count the number of cars that come to a complete stop at any neighbourhood stop sign next time you have some free time, or the number that drive under the speed limit on streets lined with pedestrians. It will be shamefully small. The big difference is that (and I know this sounds dramatic but it's true) cars kill people every year through collisions and pollution.

In case he actually reads this, a tax is different from a fine. Fines can be avoided by not performing illegal acts. And cyclists do pay tax called property tax, and sales tax, and income tax. They just don't pay gas tax, which is fitting, isn't it?

With all this said, I know he'll be a tough guy to convince of anything, if he didn't change his mind about illegal parking after $1000 in fines or after $2000.

Darren J 4/04/2006 08:06:00 a.m. | 8 comments |

Monday, April 03, 2006

Car Free Sunday

After the sad and strange story of a man committing suicide at a Tim Horton's near Yonge and Bloor, a false alarm near Yonge and Lawrence led to the bomb squad being called in. This led to crowds coming out to see the little robot roll out of the trailer.

Actually that's a photo of a police officer rolling out of the trailer. The robot is still waiting in the back; and waiting patiently he is.

You can tell how concerned the crowd was about something serious happening. There were more photographers than there were police officers. Entire families were outside hanging around on the sidewalk watching everything happen. (Who's that in the trench coat?)

How does this have anything to do with bikes, you may be asking? Well, with Yonge Street closed off, I had the chance to crank at full speed up and down this wide open major street with the wind blowing over my helmetless head and no cars to worry about. I feel somewhat callous that my enjoyment was indirectly related to what was probably a very sad story, but there is almost always a positive side to every occassion.

What are the chances of adding Yonge Street to Car Free Sundays?

Darren J 4/03/2006 09:01:00 a.m. | 5 comments |