Saturday, April 21, 2007

Never say I've never...

I remember as a kid saying I've never been stung by a bee, and then presto - the next day I think I stepped on one barefoot. Today someone was telling me that they would like to bike in the city, but that everyone they know that does has been injured by a door prize. I've never been doored I mention, and then I knock on some wood.

Better than knocking on wood of course is not riding within the door zone of parked cars, but on narrow downtown roads with streetcar tracks this means riding in the only main traffic lane (between the tracks). If traffic is light you'll incur lots of road rage and "what the f*%& do you think you are? A car or something" comments. If traffic is heavy, you'll sit in line all day waiting to cross town when you could be easily zipping past all the stopped cars in the gap between the parked cars and slowly creeping forward ones. So you ride in the door zone but as far out as possible. You are aware of who's behind and beside you so you can swing across the tracks if you have to (or a vehicle is particularly wide or badly parked), you are aware of which vehicles are occupied so potential dooring hazards, and you ring your bell approaching occupied vehicles to remind them there is a bicycle, and you certainly don't ride like you're in the Tour de France in this space - moderate speed is the key. Most drivers driving on a road like Queen will just have passed oodles of cyclists getting to their destination which is a good reminder. Most people check before opening their doors, and most people also open their door in two phases, first a crack, then wide.

Anyway today is a positively glorious sunshiney warm day. The kind where you just want to be outside. Some people's idea of being outside seems to be driving around in a car with the sunroof open or their arm hanging out the window. So traffic on Queen is lined up for miles barely moving. I love Queen street though because it feels like bikes and streetcars own this street. I'm riding from west end to east, and not in a particular hurry. So when there's a bike jam of several bikes in the narrow space between the empty and not empty cars I am just smiling at seeing so many bikes out rather than cursing the slowness. I could ride along Adelaide instead (four lane one-way road) to have more space, but Queen is by far nicer for calm traffic and people watching. Life happens here. Adelaide is more for getting somewhere quick in a car.

So I mostly am paying attention to doors from parked cars, rather than doors from moving ones, of course I am always alert that people can step out of any side of a taxi whether it has pulled over or not. Then whoosh. Passenger side door flies fully open from a car in the center lane that has not bothered pulling over (despite there being an easy gap in parked cars to do so) I'm like whooooa, I'm going at a not fast pace but certainly not slow enough to stop in the space available. The car is actually over in my lane a bit already, which is not uncommon as driving on streetcar tracks is unpleasant and some stagger their wheels too far to the right. I swerve hard right and lean my body so that the door won't graze me. I hear "oh shiiitt" coming from somewhere inside the car.

And I pass the door unscathed. That knocking on wood really must have done the trick. But that's the closest a car door has come to me in a very long time and it has me rethinking my whole I hate helmets in summer weather policy. I'll be knocking on some more wood again too.

I'm sure someone will comment that passing stopped traffic on the right is a bad idea, but really if I had lined up behind them it would have taken me all day to get across town. Not very practical to pass on the left either because of the width of streetcars.


Friday, April 20, 2007


What a glorious warm day! By the time I got out on the bike it was too late for any epic exercise rides, so I decided to follow a perennial favourite - westwards along the lake. I meant this to be a training ride but it really ended up as a very leisurely paced (and totally flat) 50k ride just to soak in the sunshine.

My passion is really for urban cycling, as a practical way of getting around. There really is no point in riding fast in the city - although one wonders why some drivers are in such a hurry to get to the next red light. The only way being fast really gets you ahead in the city is if you disregard rules of the road and have the guts to do this.

I would like to get stronger and faster on the bike for a couple of reasons: loaded touring, long rides I plan to challenge myself with, and just because I love to explore new territory - and being faster allows me to cover more ground in a realistic time frame.

Interval training is a good way to do this. Not naturally being attuned to this whole speed demon aspect of biking, I need incentives to do intervals. These include trying to catch up with moronic drivers to express my discontent, trying to catch up with cute speedy bikey boys that blaze past, unofficially trying to race someone (just about anyone who passes is fair game, but generally they have to look serious about speed for there to be any glory), and my fear of dogs. Last country ride I went on was very slow going into a headwind on chipseal, and at least 3 dogs came running to chase, and that adrenaline shot was good for another 5-10 km/h I didn't know was in me.

Today's ride included a chase on Lakeshore of someone that I noticed behind me for a bit and then passed. I'm cruising along at 35 km/h trying to catch up (I was maybe going 25 before) and he's gaining too much I have to concede defeat. And he's on a hybrid to boot not even a road bike. Sad. I do catch up at a red light and due to better traffic sense (he stops at the curb in a 16' wide curb lane, I stop to the right of the cars in the lane and the left of parked cars up ahead) I am out of the light first. Woohoo. Later on I'm being passed by a quite overweight woman with jeans hanging way down on a knobby-tired mountain bike. Oh well. Its not about speed its about enjoying the sunshine.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Soaking up Spring

Finally after so many days of cold gloomy rainy April, one that really feels like spring. Where just being out on the bike is gleeful. Soaking up the sunshine. No having to put on gloves or balaclavas or rain pants. Not even a coat. Stopping to grab a slice of pizza I sit and watch all the other smiling people on bikeys going by Queen street. I love bike watching.

Destination: Bike Pirates. A new volunteer run space where you can buy secondhand bikes and parts that have been donated, and work on your bike. Last weekend a friend of mine had a social bike tune-up day. I had thought my city bike was in good working order but now have a shopping list of repairs to make: the rear rim has a ridge worn on it, and I had remembered from before a friend suggested I replace it after winter was over - the ridge is probably from a long while ago when I was running worn brake pads that screeched metal on metal - it does seem to affect the braking somewhat, and the cassette is rusty anyway/never replaced in the 9 years and many thousands of miles I've ridden it; the recently replaced rear brake pads had worn a lip "who put these on?" the bike geek at the party asked, "the nut is on backwards". Hmm okay so I was trying to learn things by doing them myself; the front wheel goes clickety click and so could use to have the hub repacked; the front brake pads are also due for replacement.

I'm in spring glee mode, and paying perhaps a bit less attention than I should to surrounding traffic. I'm loving the feeling of the wind in my hair. I left the helmet at home, not wanting to spend the time futzing with the sizing to adjust it to no longer need to put warming headgear underneath it. Besides I do not believe that riding a bicycle on pavement at moderate speeds is a dangerous activity. Sometimes its useful though to just convince ignorant road users you aren't an idiot. I'm not feeling particularly aggressive and forget to block the curb lane as I go over the Don Valley and a streetcar is passing in the center. There is not room for a streetcar + passing vehicle + bicycle to all be going in the same direction unless the vehicle is travelling exceedingly slowly because of the highly precise narrow path it must follow, the bicycle is very close to the curb and does not falter and you feel comfortable riding a bicycle with a car passing that close to your shoulder. So its POSSIBLE just not very practical. Since most drivers are too clued to figure out how wide their vehicle is and when they can overtake a bicycle safely or not its best to make that decision for them in the form of taking the lane so they need to wait behind either you or the streetcar until a gap develops.

At any rate, I haven't been glancing in my rearview mirror, and suddenly a car is passing far too closely and yelling something out the window. Sounded like SPAZ. Got to love it when people do not know how to drive so instead blame the person they were going to hit.

This seems to bring up the question of how much responsibility the cyclist has for driving defensively versus how much infrastructure we should provide so that people can ride a bike without having to put so much attention span and effort into avoiding the dangers inherently created by automobiles. In an ideal world people driving cars would overtake responsibly. Always. (Though quite honestly in an ideal world people would be driving personal automobiles a lot less frequently than they are now.) But the world is not ideal. Another ideal solution is to have a bike lane over the bridge. Bike lanes on bridges work well because generally there is no reason for a car to stop on a bridge, and there are no intersections to worry about position conflicts. But bridges are expensive to widen. And there is no room to create one otherwise, we have already determined streetcar + car + bike don't all fit on one side of the road.

Fast forward a bit and I'm riding on Gerrard which has a bike lane. There's a red light at Gerrard and Bay and a delivery truck is in front of me half in the bike lane, half in the next lane over. I figure he is either stopping to make a delivery or going to make a right hand turn, and stop well back of the truck. Another helmeted cyclist (I point out the helmet because I wonder if he thinks the helmet will save him from his own stupidity) passes me on the right and squeezes in the very narrow space between truck and curb, and is riding directly in his blind spot as the light turns green and the truck starts up. Fortunately for him the truck was actually going straight through rather than turning right, because if the truck was turning right, there's a decent chance said cyclist would be dead. I thought I should say something to the cyclist because maybe he just had never really thought about his actions. So I'm following him, and he turns right on Elizabeth - a side street that connects up the bike lane on Gerrard with the one on College. There's a car stopped in the bike lane. I glance over my shoulder, the road is perfectly clear so go around plenty in advance. On the other hand, he rings his bell angrily at the driver, makes gestures, and rides right up to it, at which point he goes around (I'm not even sure if he looked). We get up to the light where we both are making left turns, while I go into the empty lane on the quiet street, he rides through the crosswalk over to the corner to wait to ride through again like a pedestrian (except not really like a pedestrian as he's still on his bike)

These cyclists frighten me, in the sense that I worry they will end up as roadkill. They wear helmets to protect their heads but they don't actually use their heads. They feel safe when they are riding in a bike lane, but they have a false sense of security. They have no idea how to interact with traffic, and like it or not, they still need to interact with traffic. Even if the world was ideal and bike lanes were never blocked by debris, slow cyclists, or parked cars - there's still the need to interact with other traffic at every single intersection.

With recent publicitly and a gorgeous spring day, Bike Pirates is just a zoo of people when I get there. They don't seem to have any 7 speed rear wheels around so I'm out of luck on that front, and its too busy and late in their day to do any work on the bike. But it was good to check it out and I'm sure I'll be back.

On the way home, traffic is busy. Its rush hour anyway but add to the nice day and there's just more people outside soaking up the sun - whether on bikes, foot, or with their windows down in their car not really focussed on the task of driving. On College again, for some reason the bike lane is filled for several blocks with sawdust. One of the pitfalls of course of bike lanes is that debris from the main lanes is swept by cars to the sides of the road - in this case the bike lane. I don't want to ride through this crap. So I'm riding in the next lane over - in this section there are 2 lanes + bike lanes each direction. A taxi comes up to me and honks despite the fact the center lane is CLEAR, so he is just trying to be an intimidating ass. Cluelessness I can handle, I think every road user has to assume any other road user may have lapses of attention span and react accordingly. But intimidation and aggression, there should be zero tolerance for this shit. Anyway its too nice of a day to deal with being honked at so I'm fine I can ride over sawdust and move over into the bike lane (a bit later on, I did not give the taxi the satisfaction of conceding to him) You would think that driving for a living the taxi driver might be a bit more conscientuous than the average driver, but no apparently not.

Between sunshine and complacency in the bike lane and constant turning head to figure out what was up with the cacophony of horns going (hmm not at me I don't think as I was no longer "in the way"), it was ME who was next on the list of inattentive bad driving. Oh speaking of in the way, there was a parked car in the bike lane at some point but too much traffic in the next lane over so I signalled to be let in. Which someone lets me in. But after I'm back in the bike lane they feel such a need to make up for this "lost time" I have cost them by gunning it to the next car behind them. They did not get very far or very fast, I just found this hilarious. While the average speed of a car in the city and a bike in the city may not be all that different, car drivers sure like to accelerate through gaps even though they will just have to stop again.

Oh yeah back to my inattention. I didn't realize the streetcar was stopping beside me and there were pedestrians stepping off the curb pretty much in front of me. Crap. I try to brake hard, but remember my list of bike repairs included pretty much everything related to brake? Yeah. That didn't work. The bike just kinda warbled instead. I went wide, the peds stopped moving no doubt cursing me, and they probably didn't hear my "sooorrry". Technically I think they were overeager hopping off the curb a little early as I was ahead of the streetcar and did not blow the open doors. (it was yet to come to a complete stop)

I am very happy there are bike lanes, it made for an express trip home as I was by far passing the speed of the car traffic. Ha, and they think its bikes that is making things slow for them. While some would argue the same thing could be accomplished by wide curb lanes, in congested traffic some stop right and some stop to the left, and I'd have to be making figure 8's to bypass it. This straight line idea is much more efficient. But I passed once person riding the wrong way in the lane balancing a large parcel, and another riding the wrong way in the lane with a toddler in a car seat on the front. Do these people not realize that they are going to be invisible at intersections?

Somewhere in this chaos we need to figure out the right balance of education for cyclists, education for motorists, and infrastructure that helps (like bypassing congestion) more than it hurts (the uncountable number of drivers turning right across the bike lane without merging into it first among many other reasons). Some demand why can't we have barriered bike lanes in Montreal. I say absolutely no, but that's a subject for another post!

If you could have any wish what do YOU think would make it better to ride a bike in Toronto? (or where you live)


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bikeable City - Are We Losing the Fight?

Come on out tomorrow, Wednesday April 11 at 7 p.m. to this free town hall meeting hosted by NOW magazine, moderated by Mike Smith.

I'll be one of the panelists, along with:
Adam Giambrone, city councillor
Dan Egan, Manager, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure
Wayne Scott, Toronto Hoof and Cycle Courier Coalition
Darren Stehr, Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists
Hamish Wilson, Toronto Cycling Committee / TakeTheTooker

Location: NOW Lounge, 189 Church at Shuter