Monday, June 19, 2006

Pedaling into the future

Last week, the Driving section of the National Post included a somewhat surprising article. The Driving section is usually where you find articles for "driving enthusiasts" with comments like 'a V6 is underpowered for this fine motoring legend' or 'the controls for the air conditioning were so high up, I broke a sweat lifting my arm to reach them'. Ok, I made those up, but they probably exist somewhere.

The article (not linkable) looks at the affect of cars on pollution, respiratory health, collision injuries, global warming, energy supply limitations and more. It even gives compelling numbers for why we need to change our ways. The only problem with the article is the conclusion that is drawn. Not surprisingly, since the writer has been attending a convention on new and future car designs, the solution comes in the way of electric powered cars, the hydrogen economy, and hybrid electric-diesel.

A rebuttal to this way of thinking is best found in the response that Todd on Cleverchimp had to "An Inconvenient Truth." (An interesting discussion follows in the comments there) One commenter pointed out that better gas mileage is often used to justify living further from work (although my bike gets phenomenal mileage). China, who has been tailgating our tractor trailer for the past few years hoping to find an empty expressway, has finally tapped the brakes enough to see down the road where our tractor trailer is headed.

Interestingly, our provincial government seems to be aware of the solution and talking about it a lot. They're talking about higher density neighbourhoods and revitalization of city centres, while on the very same day announcing $3.4 billion (over 5 years) in highway repair and expansion. Car pool lanes are a positive change, but they only make a difference as long as the majority of cars are stuck in a traffic jam. It's not exactly an exciting goal to strive for.

Three billion, four hundred million dollars. The city of Toronto, the province's biggest city, is going to spend 1/1000th of that amount this year on The Bike Plan. If the province would dedicate a tiny fraction of the highway money to bicycle specific infrastructure, of the type that people of basic skill levels are comfortable cycling on, tens or hundreds of thousands of people would choose to leave their cars at home and have better lives.

In the meantime, riding my bike continues to be enjoyable. On Saturday, I rode the 40 km from Aurora to Toronto. The idea of riding a bike from Aurora to Toronto is probably one that would not cross the minds of most people in Aurora (or Toronto), but 40 km once in a while is no great achievement for anyone who rides a bike much.

Riding my bike at full speed on the country roads felt great. Everyone passing me was well aware that it was 34 degrees outside, since they had to put their air conditioning on maximum with recirculation. They may not have known that it was also a serious smog day for all of southern Ontario including York Region. For my lungs, and to publicize the smog situation, I wore my pollution mask while cycling down Bayview Avenue.

I'd guess that hundreds of people saw me that day. Most probably thought "He's poor and he has lung problems. That's so sad." But a small percentage of the people out there might have gotten my message. Slowly but surely.

Darren J 6/19/2006 01:28:00 PM

8 Comments:

I've been seriously considering the Toronto-Aurora journey for a while now, for one of our trips to visit A&A Clayton. Any big problems or troublespots?
How did the mask pan out for you? Any problems with restricted breathing?
Heading north, you can take neighbourhood streets all the way to Elgin Mills, other than a short stretch on Bayview near the 407. North of Elgin Mills, I got back on Bayview this time. Previously, I've taken Leslie. Leslie is beautiful and hilly, but ... it's hilly.

Bayview has more traffic and is a bit hairy between Richmond Hill and Oak Ridges. Once you get north of Stouffeville Sideroad on Bayview, it's a phenomenal ride (especially if there's a tailwind!). Bayview has some rolling hills, and there's a wide comfortable shoulder.

I'll post my full route here if you or anyone else is ever interested.
Hey Steve, the mask was manageable, but not that comfortable. I kept adjusting it to keep it high up on my face. If it fell low, the nose clip pinched my nose shut. Breathing required a noticeable amount of effort, especially breathing out, so maybe the more expensive mask with its output valves would help with that. It was hot and wet but that didn't bother me at all.

I'm still willing to keep using it. I think I'll probably figure a lot out about how to use it as time passes. I'll give you a better update soon.
I commute Aurora to Stouffville daily on my bike. I prefer going up South via Yonge first. Then I take Hunters Glenn (nice!) to Bayview/Bloomington. After heading South on Bayview for a bit I take Bethesda East. It is a 34 km round trip every day.

The Aurora part of this trip is pretty hilly. Oak Ridges is a much smoother ride.

The biggest hurdle? Gathering enough courage to actually bike this with all the crazy motorists.
Great to hear Jeroen! (except for that little hurdle :-) ) I would have thought Yonge south of Aurora would be pretty challenging.

Other than that, it looks like a really nice route you have. Enjoy!

Actually, that reminds me of something they said at the York Region bike meeting I was at. To quote loosely: Yonge Street won't have any bike lanes on it because it's too important.

It isn't so different from what happened in Toronto a year ago when I was talking to my local councillor about bike lanes on Mount Pleasant. I thought it seemed like a pretty sensible road to have bike lanes on since so many people live and work near Yonge. The same principle as the Tooker Bike Lane. He requested and was told that Mount Pleasant had too much car traffic to allow for a bike lane. (a sort of circular arguement!)
Darren,

To start: I love your site.

I used to bike a lot before we moved to Canada. I lived in The Netherlands and biked at least 5000 km a year to work/school. No school busses there - that by itself solves a lot of traffic issues ;-).

When we moved here, I didn't want to bike at first because of safety concerns. But I missed biking so much that I finally had enough courage to start commuting on my bike again. No regrets yet.

I'm only driving on Yonge for a short section. It's sad to hear that they are not planning on bike lanes on Yonge. I've seen similar - important - streets in Europe where they made bike lanes and sidewalks only, and did not allow car trafic anymore (or one-way traffic only). I guess that solution would be too radical. But I think that radical approaches are needed to solve the problem.

I wasn't able to attend the bike meeting, but I've signed up for the workshop next week.
Thanks a lot Jeroen. Nice to hear.

We'll see about those radical approaches. It could take some time before people appreciate the potential improvements in quality of life. Right now, too many people don't even see the problem.

I'll have to find out about that workshop.

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