Thursday, November 23, 2006

Car-captive

I've been growing a big metal box on my bum lately. It's quite embarrassing really. The box is actually so big that it entirely encases me (and up to four other people). It's a good thing I never claimed to be car-free. The main reason for driving has been related to work. I try not to discuss work here, so I'll leave my reasoning out of this, and it's not so interesting anyways.

I haven't started packing on the reserve fuel yet, at least not in a noticeable way. My pants that I bought over a year ago are still too big for me, but I guess I should expect small changes after only 4 days of passive transportation.

My car route home takes me along a road that I always avoid cycling on. It's a major arterial avenue where the speed limit is 60 km/h (most people do about 70 or 80 whenever they get the chance), with 2 lanes in each direction, and often a turning lane down the middle. I think it's good for me to drive once in a while so I'm reminded of how things appear from a car driving point of view.

Surprisingly, every day, I see at least two cyclists along this major road. In the more new-suburban area, they're almost always on the sidewalk. In the old-suburban area, they're usually on road. The only difference I can see is that in the new-suburban area there are more turning lanes, and cars move slightly faster.

The thing that worries me the most for cyclists along this road are the people who are constantly jockeying for position in the currently-fastest lane. These people are not necessarily weaving, but are constantly judging the speed of each lane, and switching as each one varies by 5 or 10 km/h. This seems to save brake pads rather than actually save time, but I don't think they see it that way.

In the car, a lot of people are driving like their cars are pieces in a sliding tile puzzle, moving left, right, up and down as needed to get their piece of the puzzle to the other side. The problem with tile puzzles is that the tiles are very close together. These people drive like it's imperative that they stay as close as possible to the car in front, or else the other tiles won't slide by properly. It leaves very little room for anything unfamiliar to happen.

When I'm in the right hand lane, I'm often thinking to myself that a curb-hugging cyclist could pop out from the right at any moment. I consider moving to the left lane, to avoid any chance of being close to a cyclist. But if I do that, someone else will just take my place. So I often stay in the right lane, ready to slow the cars down and pull far to the left when I see a cyclist. Maybe I overdo it, but I don't really care.

It's this car driving experience that reminds me that I'm making the right decision to cycle on the smaller streets, stop a little more often, and turn a little more often, but arrive with as little stress as possible.

Back to the last post's topic of lights: I know there's some mild debate over whether a flashing or solid rear light is best. I guess the argument for the solid light is that a bicycle is a vehicle and a solid light is what is legally required. The solid light adds to the impression of the bicycle as a proper vehicle that should be treated with respect by other road users. The flashing light is widely perceived to be more visible. At the very least it catches people's attention easily, even if it is more difficult to use to judge distance.

I passed a cyclist yesterday who was wearing a jacket with reflective stripes, had a flashing light on his seat post, and had a solid light near his rear axle. I suspect the solid light on the axle was powered by a generator. From 200 metres away or more, I saw the flashing light. As I got closer, I noticed his reflective stripes. It wasn't until he caught up to me again that I noticed the solid low-positioned light.

Right now, I have a solid light on my seat post, flashing lights on my body and helmet, and wear reflective gear. I think the most important thing is to get noticed well in advance, so the drivers snap out of their trance and prepare to pass safely.

Fortunately I'll be able to ride tomorrow. It is Bike Friday, after all. And the weather has been beautiful. I'll be waiting at the corner of Yonge and Lawrence at 8:00 AM in case someone out there wants to join me.

If you haven't had a chance to sign Tuco's petition yet, now's a good time! The petition is to "Promote Cycling in Canada". If you can pass it on to anyone you think might be interested, that helps too. Word is spreading, as I can see it's up to 714 signatures, and they're from all over Canada.

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Darren J 11/23/2006 01:20:00 PM

6 Comments:

I remember in a differential equations course that I took once we discussed traffic models a bit. I think generally it is like fluid dynamics (with pressure and viscosity anaolgies). Regardless of how right this is, that is how I think of traffic (not like a sliding puzzle).

There was a study last year that showed that lane hopping actually slows down the lane hopper as well as everyone else. Those who stay in a lane get to their destinations sooner (on average).
Fluid analogies makes sense intuitively. I've also heard of packet data network (the internet) traffic analysis methods used for highway traffic. I remember learning in a software class that driving a car on a highway follows a "greedy algorithm". Kinda appropriate description.

Either way, these are for computers to deal with, not the individual drivers. It gives me the willies when I see someone driving their car like their "flow" is the ultimate priority.
I haven't been riding much either. I have found that I simply don't feel safe in the afternoons anymore.

When I'm on some of the arterials, I feel as though I'm trying to ride down a dragstrip as the cars blow past willy-nilly. I catch up with them at tne next light, only for the green light to come on and the cars drop the hammer just to rush to the next red light...

It seem crazy to me sometimes. They move ahead 500m at 70 km/h just to stop. God forbid that I actually slow their progress down to the next red light!
Sorry to hear that Andrew. I know what you mean though. I've found myself on the sidewalk along those arterials more times than I'd like to admit.
Bayview?
You know it, CBC!

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