Monday, September 11, 2006

Real Change

Inch after inch of ink is etched into paper and myriads of minutes of radio waves are modulated with messages of urgent concern over pollution, traffic congestion, climate change and traffic deaths. No matter what part of the country you're in, these problems are on the top of so many people's minds. Real action and change are rarely seen.

Yesterday's Toronto Star outlines a plan for transit in the greater Toronto area to make transit a priority over car traffic. I hope people take it seriously and keep it in mind at election time.

The writer had an interesting take on bicycle traffic. He viewed cyclists as a sort of valuable nuisance, slowing down drivers and creating traffic slow downs. This is ignoring the fact that all those cyclists could be in cars, creating even better traffic jams. Still, the writer pushes for better cycling facilities.

"One of the best things that's happened in recent years is the number
of bicycles," says Greenberg. "It's starting to look almost like a
European city, but again, we're not nearly aggressive enough."

I see cycling more as something that goes hand in hand with a good transit system. Even though I ride my bike as much as I do, I still keep my car for the odd times I need to get somewhere that transit is not practical.

Another point the article makes is regarding dedicated bus and streetcar lanes. I don't know why everyone who drives a car isn't jumping up and down for this to happen. Two weeks ago, in the evening rush hour, I rode my bike through the north-west part of the older neighbourhoods in Toronto. For Torontonians, I went along St. Clair, Davenport and Keele. This is the part of the city where the subway is not nearby, so options are limited to the bus, car, bicycle or foot. The congestion was so bad along most parts of those streets that the bus and car were easily the slowest modes of transportation. I moved slowly down the right side of the cars, then at one point had to walk my bike on the sidewalk and was still moving faster than the gridlocked larger vehicles. (And that was before labour day. Imagine now with full traffic volumes!) I was waiting to see a real life Michael Douglas impression. Wouldn't life be a lot better if at least one of the car or the bus became useful? The dedicated bus lane would be such an obvious and immediate solution.

That's enough preaching for one day. Here are some foreign bicycle-related articles. One is about helmets and their questionable value. I started wearing a reflective vest on a regular basis as a bit of an experiment, and I wonder if it has a similar effect on drivers. It's only been one week, so I'll let you know how it goes. And here's a nice positive take on bicycle commuting in Washington D.C.

Darren J 9/11/2006 12:41:00 p.m.


From my suburbanite perspective, I have always wondered why there was never a coordinated (or more coordinated) approach to transit planning and operation across the GTA.

Even as recently as 8-10 years ago, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, Markham and GO all ran their own bus routes in York. This meant major hassles getting between various municipalities with transfers and potentially long waits at borders. IMHO, things got far better with the establishment of the YRT, and things seem to be even brighter with the two-tier system of regular YRT routes and "express" VIVA lines.

Re: helmets and vests. The helmet study was very interesting, and underlines some of the controversy surrounding their use. I tend to wear mine on every ride for my own reasons, but that study is pretty compelling. A good control would be to see how drivers react to other various clothing combinations: street clothes versus lycra kit and the like. I also wonder if the cyclists in the study act differently when they are wearing helmets. Again, there is another controversial theory that humans have a kind of risk homeostasis, and that we unconsciously try to foil the safety devices to return to an acceptable amount of personal risk. An example is speeding when we wear seatbelts. Perhaps we ride differently around cars when we use helmets.

I have a vest (a construction type) that I wear at night, or in overcast/rainy weather. I feel that it makes a slight difference under those conditions. Last year, I wore it only for my morning commutes and noticed no difference in traffic behaviour. I pretty much stopped wearing it after getting sick of explaining to all the kids on my street that I don’t work as a crossing guard ;)
That sort of preaching you’re doing is never enough or too much.

The helmet study is interesting, but seems to me rather suspect. I’ll try to come up with the study done here in Spain some years ago that proves almost precisely the opposite; that is, cars tend to give more room to cyclists wearing helmets and looking more like sport types than mere road users. It led to Spanish legislation requiring the use of helmets by everyone and at all times when cycling on the road.

The study also seems suspect – and I say this respectfully, of course – to studies done in motorcycle racing and car racing where the use of helmets have demonstrated without much of a doubt that serious head injuries can be prevented in almost 90 % of the cases. (Parallel studies here tend to show the same for cyclists and professional cyclists – who, by the way, are exempt from wearing helmets in Spain while training and racing – have all now chosen to wear helmets as a matter of course and as a “real” safety precaution.) Just watching any Motor GP motorcycle race on any weekend seems to prove the point as a matter of simple common sense. Just watch those guys fall just once!

Obviously, children shouldn’t even be given the choice. I’ve seen my son at age 8 take a serious fall which his helmet helped to protect. He mentions that little fact often enough, so at least he remembers it. Why does he remember it? In fact, I had thought that he had not hit his head since I was holding his arm and elbow, which I thought he had broken. But later I noticed the deep scratches on his helmet. I also remember another kid his age who died here last year by running into a wall after losing control of his bike. He hit his head. A very innocent accident actually. The helmet might have done nothing. I don’t know, but I worry.

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