Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Heating up road rage

The hot, humid and smoggy weather seems to be elevating everyone's level of road rage. I'll admit its not just drivers, I'm feeling a bit cranky myself, but I assure you crankybikerchick is much less harmful to your life expectancy than cranky motor vehicle operators.

So its day 2 of the new commute. Forecast is about 35C, humid, smoggy. While the commute is short enough I should not sweat, this is the kind of weather where sweat happens standing still. Sitting on my back deck sipping my morning coffee and munching a peanut butter bagel, I'm lulled into a sense that its comfortable out by the glorious shade. But I still wear shorts and a tee and pack some work clothes in the pannier. Its going to be hot in the sun, and the minute I stepped out the front door I'm groaning at having to move through this yuckiness.

Yesterday was congestion frustration on Queen. So today I'm looking forward to taking Richmond from Church (where the congestion started yesterday, and roughly the eastern boundary of the "core") which is one block south. No streetcars, 3-4 lanes, one way. Oh yeah a promised land of not being slowed down.

Haha what was I thinking? I turn onto Richmond, and there's more lanes of cars but they have expanded to fill all the space available. So there's still the congestion problem but an added bonus it looks like it will move fast in little bursts to make it feel like a mean street. Staying in the right lane I'm going to go nowhere quickly. The left side looks clearer and I see a cyclist zoom by in the left lane who waves and calls my name. Who the heck was that? I'm rather perplexed but having a blog which other people actually read I am starting to get used to the fact that sometimes people on bikes that I don't actually know know who I am. At any rate I decide I want to actually get somewhere and to cut over through the stopped traffic to the left side, so I figure I'll find out.

Aha. Now it makes sense to me. It was someone I knew online talking about cycling stuff, but had never met in person before. And most excellent I now have a bike buddy to ride with for a few blocks. Bike buddies make for safer commutes. Get yourself one! Riding side by side makes it easy to establish lane ownership. I get the sinking feeling that some aggressive drivers are going to try stupid things taking the lane as a single cyclist on this road.

A driver in lane number 2 slows to talk to us out his window. YOU GUYS CAN'T DO THAT! I CHECKED THE TRAFFIC RULES! YOU'RE HOLDING UP TRAFFIC!! He then speeds off and changes lanes to pass in front of us (which he could have done without slowing at all) so there was no chance to ask for further enlightment at exactly which traffic rule we were breaking. Technically I'm not sure if Ontario allows bicycles to ride on either the left or the right side of multi-laned one ways. Many jurisdictions do, and it makes sense that slower traffic is closer to the edges and faster traffic in the middle of a one way. Was it the two abreast? I don't actually think that is actually prohibited here unless it falls under the category of lane sharing not allowed in which case there are a whole lot of those violations going on! Regardless, surely that is what irked him. But I wanted to point out we were actually being courteous by doing so because the lane was not safe enough to share safely, so we were each allowed to ride in the center of it, so single file we would have taken up more room. Oh and never mind his holding up traffic argument, every light we're caught up again. Maybe it took you (gasp) two seconds longer to turn into a parking lot, and that would have taken how much longer if there were two cars ahead?

The return trip smog soup has heated up and the air just feels like you are sucking on a tailpipe or something. Once again I detour north to College Street to take advantage of the relative rush hour sanity and also to swing by Riverdale Farm farmers market because I've had a craving for some fresh Ontario organic strawberries since strawberry season began and was foiled at the Withrow market by showing up after they were sold out. Strawberries are one of the foods highest in pesticide use, and as you eat them directly (as opposed to fruits/veg you peel) I really want to eat them pesticide free. (sadly not enough sunshine to grow my own)

Now its my turn for the road rage comments. I should have been nicer to my fellow cyclists. But there's a whole line of cyclists ahead of me moving up on a Purolator truck signalling a right hand turn and I'm just waiting to see who is going to do something dumb. Two cyclists hop up on the curb on the sidewalk. Then one decides to go back onto the road ahead of the rear wheel of the truck but behind the front of it in the 8" between the truck and the curb. An obviously attentive driver does not keep turning and smush him but I had to comment are you trying to get killed by a truck or what? I do not understand. I'm also getting edgy at other dumb cyclist behaviour - the woman that keeps sneaking up between me and the metre I'm out from the curb every red light, everybody that keeps passing right-signalling cars on the right effectively blockading them and making things more difficult for me that just wants to pass on the left and let everyone get happily on their way. Instead I should be joyful I get to red lights where there's like gaggles full of cyclists. That is pretty neat. Anyway I'm happier once I have successful strawberry acquisition!

Later on I'm headed to meet my Stitch n Bitch group. Its a short and relaxing bike ride where road rage should never be part of the ride. The odd time there's an aggressive driver, but its always in the same spot (where traffic goes from fast moving to congested pretty much all the time) so I know where to watch out. I'm at a red light in the left side of the curb lane (because there are parked cars ahead of the intersection). I can see in my rearview a car approaching in the curb lane which I'm assuming is going to turn right onto the ugly busy thoroughfare. Instead I hear the constant pressure applied to the horn and if I did not turn out quickly to the right (the car is now trying to pass at high speed and is halfway between the two lanes) I am fairly certain would have been hit.

I hate this kind of intimidation, I know its best to ignore because these people cannot be educated. But dude you're threatening my life! I catch up with the car at the next light, its not hard to do. The window is down. Its not a dude. Woman is driving and there's a presumable boyfriend/husband type beside her. Do you always pass cyclists unsafely? I ask. Perhaps I should have asked something less antagonistic, like I don't know oh hello. What a lovely day it is out. I am just wondering if by some chance you didn't see me or your steering is malfunctioning. I get the answer Do you always drive (I actually think they said drive not ride) in the driving lane? Argh educating these people is hopeless when they don't even think that bikes are allowed to be there to begin with.

But maybe its just the heat. Here's hoping for some cooler weather and cooler heads.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Catchin' Up

I haven't disappeared, I've just been having more fun riding than writing about it. I started a new full-time job today which I'm very excited about, and also very excited to have a regular bike commute again. Its a pretty short ride (about 6 km) but its great to get to work fast. When I want a long bike commute I can always head west (say to Port Credit) and then loop back to work. Funny when you start riding 200 km brevets almost any commute does not actually feel like exercise. Its downtown (yay! it feels so alive!) and even better the creative/fashion district rather than the stuffier feeling financial one.

I had temporarily forgotten how the Toronto rush hour driver is a different mentality to contend with than at other times of day. I planned to take Queen Street all the way across. Its too narrow to share the lane (though many cyclists try to, most drivers at least put their left wheel into the next lane to pass). Usually I have no problem taking the lane, few will honk and most that do are harmless and others will change lanes (on a 4-lane road). But this time of day people just do this crazy swoop around you where they stay about an inch away from you at all times straddling the lanes. I'm sure they think they can drive perfectly safe to leave such a small margin of error but I'd like more room please! There's tons of cycle commuters out on Queen Street on a sunny summer morning, but they all crazily hug the curb. I close my eyes and go I don't want to look when they somehow manage to find space I didn't know existed between a right-turning heavy goods truck and the curb to pass on the right. No, don't do it!

Through the core Queen became very slow and congested so the crazy cyclists were once again sneaking by in mere inches on the right. Drivers compensated for the craziness but still I like room! So I turned down a side street onto Richmond and found lots and lots of glorious room. Richmond is a fast-moving one way arterial with 3 or 4 lanes. It looks rather intimidating with all the zooming going on but seemed sane enough with the security of my rearview mirror. I think tomorrow I will try getting onto Richmond earlier before the congestion.

It was neat to see so many happy commuting cyclists about. As I walked out of the office to head home a cyclist was happily zooming along Richmond with his daughter on the trail-a-bike behind with the biggest wheeee grin on her face. (so how bad can the road really be if there are smiling kids on it?) Unfortunately the air quality had reduced drastically by 5, and it was pretty smoggy. I detoured by Kensington (food heaven) to pick up supper fixings which is a bit out of my way - but then it lets me take College, a mostly bike-laned route as my cross town route.

During rush hour bike lanes are awesome. Space to pass congestion - even though you sometimes get slowed down by all the slow cyclists meandering in them - today was way too smoggy to care about going fast. A place to not get honked at by impatient drivers that don't understand you are making things quicker for them, not slower. A few too many people making wide right turns across the bike lane without merging into it first but a good eye out on intersections and mostly not an issue.