Monday, July 24, 2006

The suburban commute

I was talking to some of my friends on the weekend about commuting issues. It was a light discussion and I managed to avoid preaching. During the exchange, it was revealed that it takes about 30 minutes to travel 5 km through a suburban part of northern Toronto (Bayview Avenue through the York Mills area). That's by car of course, since a cyclist could cover that distance in 15 or 20 minutes easily.

One sad part of this is that a bus would still take 30 minutes, since it would be stuck in the same traffic jam. People choose their car over the bus for the additional comfort and misconceptions about the low cost.

At the time, I hadn't worked out that it was only 5 km, so the full shock settled in later. I think southbound is downhill, so you could just get a couch, attach some wheels to the bottom and do a little Fred Flintstone impression to get moving. It wouldn't be that different from riding in a car.

The saddest part was that I couldn't recommend that they ride bikes to work, due to the safety of the road. Bayview Avenue has two lanes in each direction plus a turning lane down the middle for left turns. The right hand lane is so narrow that cyclists depend on motorists to make a lane change. Traffic may be jammed often, but when it opens up, the cars speed up to 70 km/h. It's a stressful route that I've only tried a couple times. Both times, I ended up on the sidewalk, and I know I'm not the only one.

The official bike plan in this area calls for a bike lane along the whole length of Bayview. This would still leave the challenge of crossing under the 401, but it would make the road much more attractive. On a road with this many traffic jams, a bike lane would do more than give a cyclist somewhere to stay away from passing cars. It would actually give the cyclist priority. There could be a flow of cyclists moving along faster than all the cars.

Last year, I sent in letters to the councillor for this area. It happens to be the same riding as where I live. He was receptive to my requests for bike lanes, but there's been no progress whatsoever. Four months until the deadline.

Joe on Biking Toronto brought up the pro-car editorial Margaret Wente wrote in this weekend's Globe and Mail. Wente's views appear to be based on what's best for the part of the population that lives in a suburban house and has a well-paying job at a large newspaper office downtown.

At the same time, a lot of other people, who aren't paid to put thought into this stuff and look at the big picture, also have a hard time looking beyond the car. Realistic or not, you don't have to go far north of Eglinton Avenue in Toronto to find that the idea of adding more car lanes on every major street is not foreign nor out of date.

Darren J 7/24/2006 10:42:00 p.m.


Crazy-busy suburban arterials and highway crossings remain the two most feared parts of my own commute. Bike lanes in the situation that you describe would be a near-perfect solution.

Can you imagine a cyclist getting the same distance in half the time of the car? That would be awesome.

Recent reports in the newspapers indicate that in general people will continue to use their cars over public transit when they can get to work faster. Bicycles are somewhere in-between for reasonable commute distances. I get to work in about half the time it takes me on the bus. The car would probably be a little faster, but not by a whole lot.

Adding more car lanes, or expressways seems to have the ripple effect of creating new traffic (and traffic-enablers like new subdivisions) instead of taking care of current traffic.
I can understand why people don't want to take longer getting to work than they have to. Commuting by bus or car just isn't that much fun.

Actually, one nice thing about a long bus commute: during the winter, I was preparing for an exam, and the bus was the place where I got some of my best studying in.

Speaking of studies, a few weeks ago there was one that said people would not change their driving behavior until gas reaches $1.60/litre. It's not that far off. I'm going to guess 15 months: October 2007. Anyone else want to take a stab at it?
Depending on the length of the commute a good seat can make the ride a lot more comfortable. Here is an interesting design for a bike seat thats perfect for the long ride. It's called the GABS Saddle.
That's a surprising design, Mike. Thanks for the heads-up. I'd be curious about how often I would slide off the front.

Here's the site.
I sat on the seat on a stationary bike which the designer(Ken Andrews) was using for display; it was like sitting on a chair. Ken rides 80 - 100 kms regularly on it but like most new seats it would take time to adjust to it.

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