Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Toronto Rakes The Leaves While Etobicoke Makes Belief

There was another embarrassing comment from an Etobicoke councillor in the paper today. In the face of a reasonable plan to mitigate the effects of our pollution, a councillor demonstrated how much she cares about the rest of humanity. From the Globe article:

"When you have big suburban lots, like I do . . . a push mower just ain't going to do it," said Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre). "Who's going to do all that pushing? . . . We're urging everybody to keep your trees, plant more trees, yet, guess what, no leaf blowers. So again that's kind of a contradiction in terms."

OK, I know that information on global warming is only available to us elite few who have access to: scientific reports, documentary films, television news, newspapers, radio or the internet. Maybe she hasn't heard.

I've read that using a good quality reel mower isn't much harder to push than a heavy gas-powered mower. I'll be able to testify to this in a couple months. (I used one easily a few years ago, but I was a poor student then and didn't really pay attention to things like convenience.)

The second part of her comment is the embarrassing part. The response to this is so painfully obvious that I know I won't be the only one to say it. Councillor: Let me introduce you to a curious invention known as "the rake". You only need to use it a few times a year and it's maintenance free!
(People even have fun using them.)

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Darren J 3/27/2007 08:00:00 p.m. | 4 comments |

It's my tire in a box

I picked up a new tire on the weekend. Choices were limited at the store I went to, so I bought my first ever boxed tire. It was more expensive than I planned ($44) but it had the advantage of high puncture resistance due to the kevlar content. So I didn't so much pick the Panaracer Pasela TG, as the store picked it for me. It seemed that a couple of the sales people were very happy for me to get to own these tires for some reason.

I found a phenomenal review of the tires on epinions.com. It's true that there are no reflective sidewalls; a big negative.

I felt like The Hulk when installing the Pasela. OK, maybe not the Hulk, since he would have crushed the rim. I nearly did the full installation with my bare hands. The tire levers were useful at one point, mainly as a third hand.

The surprise for me came when I pumped up tire. The material of the tire is more sticky than my old tires, and it stuck to the sides at certain points on the rim. This isn't so unusual, and I usually just pump up the tire until the bead pops into place. This time, I pumped it up so much that the bead rose up past the rim along one section of the tire without me noticing. This looked nearly disasterous for having a quiet evening at home. I quickly deflated the tire and repumped, working the tire into place as I inflated.

The test ride went well, down the alley, around the block. Cycling through the alley, a.k.a. the laneway, is very cool. Overhanging trees, cracked pavement, puddles, even some artwork on some of the garages and sheds. (There's real artwork, and a few graffiti tags. I'm not a fan of the tags, but it does look a bit bad-ass). It looks like the kind of place I would start all my films if I was a movie-maker.

My morning commute was not so successful. My tire rubbed against the fender as I rode, and it seemed to get worse with every minute that passed and every adjustment I made to my fender. I ended up turning around and taking transit to work.

Time to go figure out what went wrong. At least the weather is so nice today I can ride my fenderless one-speed if I don't fix it.

On the remote chance that I keep track of how long this tire lasts, my odometer currently reads about 8430 km.


Darren J 3/27/2007 07:27:00 a.m. | 2 comments |

Saturday, March 24, 2007


These were spotted in the window of a barbershop downtown. It looks like they actually have a working drive system and brakes.


Darren J 3/24/2007 05:51:00 p.m. | 5 comments |

Friday, March 23, 2007

Fab Four, Karma and Greenways

The Fab Four seen near College and Bay.

A couple weeks ago I was bugging Joe about all the flats he gets, which is the worst thing you can do for your flat karma. This past weekend, I found my bike with with a flat rear tire. Fortunately it was a slow leak, so I didn't have to change the tube on the road.

Last night I got around to changing the flat. I sat down in front of the TV and switched back and forth between The Agenda with Steve Paikin on TVO and Are you smarter than a fifth grader. I can't imagine what the screening process is for the second show. The whole thing could get a branch in its spokes if a few people were good actors up until they got on the show. For anyone who hasn't seen this 5th grader show, the woman last night won $175000 by answering that Panda's are from Japan. luckily she only needed to know which continent they were from and she knew Japan was in Asia. Years of promotion and good will by China down the drain.

Steve Paikin was, of course, covering the provincial budget.

My tire had a gash in it. Over time, the gash collected gravel, and eventually the gravel poked my tube. I need a new tire anyways. I seem to be replacing them about once a year, which I can live with. I've had pretty good experiences with the Vittoria Randonneurs, so I'll probably end up with those.

There's an announcement coming from Miller today on an environmental plan. I'm all ears. I remember he said he'd announce something big in March, so I wondered if the LRT plan was it. It would be smart for him to include the missing 3 million dollars for bicycle infrastructure in this plan.

There's been an interesting discussion about a planned bike route called the West Toronto Railpath. Some well deserved criticism is being thrown at the plan. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity for an effective car free route through the city. Discussion seems to be focussed on connections to other infrastructure and on trail widths. 2 km may be short, but I would love to have any piece of my commute replaced with 2 km on a path.

For a view of what Minneapolis has done, take a look at the width of their trail in this photo of their Midtown Greenway (official site for the midtown greenway).

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Darren J 3/23/2007 12:55:00 p.m. | 2 comments |

Monday, March 19, 2007

Today’s Budget Includes Free Roads

Image from ‘Through My Looking Glass’. I saw a similar sign near Yonge and Eglinton yesterday.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that a national road pricing scheme will not be a part of today’s Conservative budget. It wouldn’t be a part of a Liberal or NDP budget either. There are many advantages we would see from a system that made people consider their options every time they thought about going somewhere.

I suppose its part of our prosperity as a nation that so many of us can afford the energy required to drive a personal car everywhere. We can only afford it though, because of all the costs that are not passed to the driver. There was a report last year about the price of gas that would cause people to change their behaviour in terms of driving. My googling skills must be a little weak because I can’t find it now, but I seem to remember the key price point being around $1.60/litre.

Gas prices are a blunt instrument though. They could include costs for pollution, but the best goal is to get people to change their habits for commuting to work. If that could change, so many other benefits would follow.

There’s a new web site called Grush Hour about road pricing and everything related. It's based in Toronto, but looks at developments globally. Here's the description from the site:

This blog is dedicated to debunking popular fictions regarding congestion pricing, road pricing, road user charging, road tolling, free parking and entitlement to mobility.

If you’re a cyclist, you’re probably one of the converted, but you may be interested in seeing some of the many arguments in favour of road pricing. The writer, Bern Grush, is passionate about all the benefits, and I’m sure he’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject.


Darren J 3/19/2007 07:55:00 a.m. | 2 comments |

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A taste of spring

Photo by Martino, more here

I love this weather. When I was a kid, I thought spring was a big waste of time. I wanted to either be sledding or swimming. This in-between time wasn't good for me, so it wasn't good for anyone. Now I know what it's all about.

This morning, I decided it was time to make the big switch from ice bicyclette avec studs, to the asphalt velocipede. There was ice in a few spots on my commute earlier this week, but today it was all gone. It was perfect wool t-shirt weather. I flew to work with the fresh air blowing over my back.

The old bike fit back in place like it had never left. My hands fell into place on the drops, letting me pull with each crank of the pedals. The clunk of the rear derailleur with each shift sounded just right, and the clicking of the bottom bracket sounded, well, just like I remembered it.

I even had another cyclist to wave to this morning. Instead of looks of pity from nearby pedestrians, I felt like they were wondering where their bikes were.

Now I'm looking forward to the ride home.

Thanks for all the photographs, Martino!


Darren J 3/14/2007 12:43:00 p.m. | 3 comments |

Monday, March 12, 2007

Turning forward the clock

I managed to get downtown for about 30 minutes of the Kyoto rally. Along the way, I passed numerous cyclists out and about. Most appeared to be either utilitarian, or at least close to it, since they were wearing their winter coats and puttering about. Maybe they were just enjoying the beautiful weather. +4 degrees C feels balmy when you're on a bike and acclimatized to -5 or -10 C.

When I arrived, Elvira Kurt was yelling about "getting the bastards". I assumed she had just seen some of the writers for The Rick Mercer Report walk by.

I wandered around a bit. I said hello to Lana and Ben from Take the Tooker, and met up with another friend.

We walked up onto the ramp to overlook Nathan Phillips Square. It's a cool view from up there, but it makes the crowd look tiny.

That picture doesn't capture everyone since there were quite a few more people to the left, including some tables set up with displays.

Teenage girls were handing out business cards to help us "cut greenhouse gas emissions". They were advertising tablets to put in a car's gas tank to improve efficiency by 8 to 15 %. What?! Are the tablets made of coal or something? I think I'll remain a skeptic.

It would have been good to see a few more people there, but I'll consider us fortunate that it did not resemble this protest in China. 20,000 people clash with 1000 police officers over an increase in bus fare. It sounds like something I'm making a joke about, but I'm not. I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago who recommended a book by Homer-Dixon called Environment, Scarcity, and Violence. In it, if I can grossly paraphrase, he points out how the earth is running out of resources, and certain regions are in especially bad shape, like Haiti, which has already run out, and China, which is near the limit.

Fun stuff.

I did my first step of electric car research this weekend by watching "Who Killed the Electric Car?". An interesting movie. I'll leave that subject for another post.


Darren J 3/12/2007 12:45:00 p.m. | 6 comments |

Friday, March 09, 2007

Weekend events

This Sunday, there's going to be a big do at Nathan Phillips Square. High Noon. If you like life and all the good things associated with it, you should go. Tooker cyclists are going, and so are some hip mamas.

I have plans with family that day, so unless I can get everyone in my family to go to a rally, I won't be there. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever really participated in a rally. When I lived in Ottawa, I accidentally found myself in the middle of a couple, but that doesn't count. One time I was lying on the grass in front of Parliament reading a book, and the next thing I knew, I was surrounded by a gay pride parade. I don't think that counts either.

Speaking of "the changing world", some of the people writing for The Oil Drum are declaring Saudi Arabia is at its peak production. The article is technical, but very understandable. If this is true, it would be a big deal, to put it mildly. We won't be able to verify they're right for a few years though. It seems that while most commenters on The Oil Drum agree that peak oil will be seen some time before 2012, there are still people, most notably Daniel Yergen of CERA, saying that it's many decades away.

This whole thing has me thinking about solutions. I'm not so much thinking about what I would like the solution to be, but what I think will end up happening. I learned a bit about electric cars recently, but I'm going to do some more reading on the subject. I want to learn about them to find out simply if they have a future. 1 ton of batteries is a hell of a lot of weight to transport. There have been some improvements in technology, so this is what I need to find out about. On top of the vehicle issues, nuclear power has a lot of opponents. Take a look at what GM is doing.

I'd much rather have a world where people rode bikes, took trains and trams, and walked, but I know people will keep spending money on cars as long as they can.

Enjoy the weekend. It looks like some nice weather is arriving. As much as I enjoy the challenge of the winter, I'm done with it. Bring on the spring.

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Darren J 3/09/2007 12:39:00 p.m. | 2 comments |

Friday, March 02, 2007

A stormy ride on Viva

I know I wasn't alone in having a long commute home last night. Mine went something like this.

I decided in the morning that taking the bus/subway was the most sensible thing to do, given the coming snowstorm. Most of us left work early to start the trek home.

Viva, the local express bus system, has two kinds of buses. It has normal length buses, which I'll call the short buses, and articulated buses. There was a lot of hype about them, and they seem to deserve it. The seats are comfortable; they're easy to get on and off; a large display gives you the time and tells you what you should be buying. They were designed in Belgium.

According to the bus stop sign, an articulated bus was meant to arrive at the stop in 1 minute. It doesn't show up. I get picked up by a short bus after waiting about 15 minutes. It moves along Highway Seven, getting us all quickly to Yonge Street. At Yonge Street this bus turns south to head to the subway. Rounding the corner, we pass two articulated buses that are stranded on the ramp. Police are eyeing the buses, and I'm half expecting them to make a chalk outline if it would have shown up in the snow.

We pull onto Yonge and crawl underneath the 407. The traffic is heavy. We crawl. And crawl. It takes us about 30 minutes to go 400 metres. The bus is jam packed. While we're crawling, my neighbours and I are talking about European history. Yeah, right. We were talking about how slow we were going.

I start working out how far it is from the next stop to Finch Subway Station. I make a few errors and calculate that it's 3.5 km to 4 km away, which I declare is very walkable, and in fact if I jog, I would get to Finch Station in 40 minutes and beat the bus there. If I had GMap Pedometer handy, I would have seen that I was way off, and the real distance was 5 km. Not having a map, I figure I'll be a genius and start jogging.

I hop out of my short bus at the next stop and start running. Despite having listened to my reasoning, none of my fellow passengers decided to follow. It turns out, when a bus is going slowly because the street is covered in snow, it means the sidewalk is covered in snow too. Wearing a winter coat, back-pack, and my boot-like shoes doesn't really help me keep a good 10 minute-kilometre pace.

I leave my bus behind and run past an articulated bus that's sitting at a bus stop. I wave to the bus driver confidently to say I don't need to get on. He's stuck in traffic anyways. Casually jogging down a big valley leads to the somewhat predictable challenge of making my way up the other side of the valley. Traffic is opening up a bit here and I notice the articulated bus catching up to me. The short bus is still well back, so no problem. I still made the right decision.

At the top of the hill, the articulated bus passes me and the short bus catches up. I see that I can still reach the articulated bus up ahead at the stop, and if I get on it, I'll still have gained by getting on the earlier bus. I'm pretty much out of breath at this point, so I hop on the bus. This is probably the exact scenario that Viva imagined when they formulated their hop-on-hop-off-for-2-hours policy.

The bus goes about 100 metres at a good pace (faster than a jog), then it's back to a crawl. I'm too tired at this point to do anything about it, so I settle in. Just after the next bus stop I see two articulated buses at the bottom of the hill, empty and off to the side.

I figure the buses didn't make it up the hill, so this could be where I part ways with this bus. My driver was evidently thinking the same thing, so he let the short bus go past us and disappear into the mess of traffic. The next sentence covers about 30 minutes. We pass the two articulated buses.

Whew! We made it. Well I won't celebrate yet, since we're still going up hill. I see another bus up ahead stuck on the right side and another one in the middle of the road. I keep thinking that I'm going to see the short bus, but it appears to be long gone. All the buses I see are the articulated ones.

I must have had a very good driver, or a lucky one, because we make it up the hill, passing a total of 7 (seven!) other articulated buses on the way. We moved about 1 foot every 30 seconds, but eventually made it to the top. I clap for the driver and so does a guy sitting behind me. The two other passengers didn't seem interested. (There were 4 of us. I think everyone else in York Region has already learned to only ride on short buses when the weather is bad.)

We do well for a kilometre, then reach a red light on a tiny slope. The light turns green and we inch forward. Pedestrians are gawking at us. By the time the light turns red, we haven't even crossed the pedestrian walkway. We're all shocked that we're stuck on this slight slope, after our driver displayed such skill getting us up the big hill. Cars pass in front of us, and we keep spinning. The light turns green. We slowly work our way into the intersection. The light turns red while we're spanning both lanes. Pedestrians, eager to cross, look at us and aren't sure what to do. We're still inching forwards. Clearly confident we aren't going anywhere, they start to pass in front of us. A woman carrying her baby even walks in front of our bus with the engine revving.

More time passes and we make it to Finch Station, where I start an uneventful trip on the subway. My total travel time was about 2.5 hours instead of 45 minutes.


Darren J 3/02/2007 07:01:00 p.m. | 3 comments |