Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Good Bikey Karma

Sunday was the most glorious sunshiney unseasonably mild day. The perfect day for hundreds of smiling cyclists of all ages to make their way along Bloor Street in a cacophony of bells. A very pleasant surprise to see the bicycle cops ride with us and stop traffic at intersections. That works much better on motorist nerves than random corking. (unless you happen to be Trumpet Guy. Who can get angry at their own personal traffic serenade?)

My nerves have still been frayed in traffic lately. Yesterday I tried so hard to be calm and easygoing about motorist mistakes on my morning commute. After all, much of things that seem potentially dangerous are not aggressive-I-own-the-road types, but simply mistakes or bad judgement. (Although inattention does not help, and I wish Ontario would get around to banning talking on cellphones while driving already.) I was maybe slightly more to the Zen side of things than previously but still with much too much frayed nerves. But I was getting there.

Then I arrive at work and am riding into the parking garage and wrinkle my forehead. Huh did the wall shrink? There really does not look like room to get by the parking gate arm that I ride around every day. I better stop. Oh I'll just go around the exit side. Hey that looks smaller than a person width too. I feel like I'm having a moment like the guy in Amelie when he puts on the slippers that are too small, finds his lightbulbs slightly dimmer etc. Am I going crazy? Oh, I get it. "New gates?" I ask the parking attendant. He nods, and I grumpily get off my bike and pick it up to lift it over the curb. I think there's a conspiracy to thwart cyclists in the parking garage going on, but I'm happy to see the bicycle racks have not been removed. I really appreciate covered parking from the elements and less noticeable to vandals.

But today, today was good bikey karma day! The commute in was calm and uneventful. The sun was shining, the weather was lovely. I found the gap between the concrete curb and the parking garage wall so I could go nyah nyah I still don't have to get off my bike. Unfortunately with the angle and the downhill slope its not possible to do the same on the exit trip.

I wonder if the fact my mirror broke off my bike recently has something to do with my different perceptions of traffic around me. I pop into the bike store near work at lunch to pick up a mirror. They only have one style which is not suited to my bike. Instead however I am attracted by shiny things in my favourite colour (lime green). I am getting so frustrated by all the things that keep needing repair on my current beater. And I would fix it all up but it no longer seems to make sense. I bought the bike 9 years ago in California as a temporary bike to get around town for the summer, meaning to sell it when I went back to Toronto. Used and cheap, I couldn't be too picky, and I knew when I bought the bike it was too small for me. Somehow I ended up shipping it back, and riding on that bike I got addicted to cycling. And so I keep riding it out of sentimental attachment. But my back is now revolting at hunching over the small frame. And yeah I could get an extender for the handlebars, but you know what, I want a bike the right size for every day riding. Pretty. Green. I put enough miles on it.

Its just a basic entry level commuter bike, but I was hypnotized by the colour. Check out the Kona Dew Plus. They had a Kona Dew for $100 less which was the same bike but without disc brakes. Those seemed like overkill on pavement, but what do I know? I ride around most of the time with worn brake pads and haphazard DIY brake adjustment. I've never had a problem where I felt like my brakes let me down. But you see it wasn't green so it was not in consideration.

I happily pull out a 58 cm bike which seems like a good size for me out from the wall as nobody in the nearly empty store seems too interested in helping me out. Then someone asks if I want to take it for a ride and I'm like yup! Until I get thwarted by the fact I was not carrying my drivers license. Not really sure why a credit card is not good enough for taking a test drive, I'd happily leave an imprint for the full value of the bike. Oh well impulsive spending is never a good idea, I'm trying to save to buy a Baccheta Giro 26 for randonneuring and touring. That will really be nice to my back. But sitting on the bike in the store had me dreaming of a proper size commuting bike.

I found the perfect route to go home, and I found myself actually smiling when I got home for the first time in ages. I've been not so keen on Adelaide fearing Audi driver will try to run me over again. Though rode that way one day with a bikey buddy with a videocam on his helmet. Perfect! It feels much safer when "evidence" is being recorded. Queen - my beloved Queen - is great in off-peak times but in rush hour the jammed up traffic going nowhere is rather annoying. I resorted to trying to use the sidewalk yesterday as a passing lane, and then decided I was no good at being one of those sidewalk cyclists that tries to plough through everything because I don't expect anyone to get out of my way and instinctively dismount when I see more than 2 or 3 pedestrians.

Oh yeah back to the happy perfect route! Its up Bathurst (which has a wide enough curb lane for sharing) to Kensington Market. Then wander the market to buy fixings for dinner while at the same time feeling at home with all the other bikers around. Smile and chat to people while locking and unlocking bikes. Head along College/Gerrard with a bike lane. AKA the congestion bypass lane. I often dislike College because drivers don't know how to interact with bike lanes and the turning conflicts that occur, but all these are minor incidents that happen at slow speed and so can slow me down but are not going to be dangerous.

I'm almost about to lose my happy place when I'm confusedly riding behind two lanes of car traffic going hey didn't there used to be a bike lane here? Oh wait there still IS a bike lane here. I just can't see it because all the motorists in front of me think its a driving lane! Otherwise known as lets try to jump the queue and then push our way back into the main lane. I did grumble at bit at them as I made what probably seemed like a mad weave through various moving vehicles but felt quite safe. Low speed motorists do not seem at all threatening. And it wasn't the kind of thing that could wipe the big smile off my face.

But I'm smooth sailing again across Gerrard and as I approach Broadview it starts becoming congested and narrow. So I duck down a side street with a "Road Closed - Construction" sign, but its really not closed at all, I guess they don't want motorists using the residential street as a cut-through because of the construction on Dundas. Without the construction it would be a long wait at a stop sign to turn left again but with no traffic coming from the right its perfect. I do really like the bike lanes on Dundas, and I didn't think I would before they put them in.

As I near the end of my trip I hear a clunk clunk and look back to see my u-lock on the road. (oops should have done up the pannier better) But a nice pedestrian has picked it up to hand back to me, continuing the good bikey karma streak. And I end up at home with a big grin on my face. Because the whole ride was just... fun!

(someone makes a good point that I have too many posts tagged road rage but that's because I don't know what tags to put on the happy posts, I guess I will use bike joy)


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The madness has to stop.

My blood pressure cannot take it. Commuting by bike is making me edgy because of all the motorist road rage that's out there. Its a really small percentage of drivers that are bad - but because of the number of motorists you encounter in any given day even 1% is too much. Add in a much larger percentage that are not paying a great deal of attention to driving due to cell phones, passengers, eating, or whatnot. Put 20% more of them on the road total after Labour Day. And add mind dumbingly slow gridlock to the mix - so that when I don't get harassed or yelled at I just get frustrated I'm either dangerously splitting lanes or going nowhere.

I'm on the way home tonight on Adelaide. Traffic has started to open up a bit (I think its around Church) after blocks and blocks of gridlock. I'm in the curb lane (I don't remember if there are 3 or 4 lanes here, its a one-way arterial). The curb lane is really narrow, there's no way it is safe to share at any speed. (filtering gridlock going super slow was tricky enough) I'm riding in the middle like the rest of traffic. I hear a car come up behind me at the red light and you can tell by the sound its a road rager, and he gives a toot as well. I can predict he's going to try something stupid when the light turns green, but what am I going to do? There is no where for me to move out of the way to let him pass unless I go into the crosswalk or onto the sidewalk, and why should I have to?

He revs the engine and tries to accelerate into me after the light, narrowly missing me as he changes lanes and also I need to swerve out to the right to avoid being hit. Making a mental note of his plate, I try to catch up. Its not hard to do, even without the gridlock, and a few lights later I see him at the front of the queue in the next lane over from the curb. I pull up next to the car in the curb lane and knock on the passenger-side window.

They do roll it down, a 30-something full of himself guy driving an Audi and his girlfriend. First he goes on how I can't be in the middle of the lane. I try to explain that bicycles are vehicles. Basically he tries to claim that if I can't go the speed limit I need to get over - when its clear there is no safe place to get over - he thinks then that should be off the road. I try to explain that a speed limit is a limit and not a minimum. The red light is too short to have a whole conversation about if I'm really slowing him down how come we are waiting at the same light? (I broke no traffic laws to catch him by the way) And that nobody is going the speed limit after a red light. Or that if vehicles going slower than the speed limit should get off the road, then he should have gotten on the sidewalk between University and Yonge when car-created congestion was slowing me down. We didn't get as far as being able to discuss whether endangering someone's life is ever an acceptable response to any of the offenses he perceived me committing.

So the red light starts up and we go our separate ways, but I have a note of his car type, license plate, and physical description. I think of calling the cops but it seems so commonplace that why are they going to care?

I wonder what can be done to ease this anger. Its quite contagious I know that. I find myself because of the mean streets out there often scowling at other road users. The wrong way cyclist without lights in the dark riding head on towards me. People walking to their cars that don't even look up when you ring your bell that step right in front of you moving at 30 kph. The 5 or 6 other cyclists that all ran the red light I was stopped at this morning (at a T-intersection) without even slowing down to check for legally crossing pedestrians. Most of them got lucky, but the poor terrified woman that kept trying to cross the last few feet to the sidewalk when someone else went whizzing by, was obviously not your fan.

Add to this the number of cyclists I know that have been hit by cars (mostly just minor incidents) this summer, but several of which DID NOT STOP. A critical mass ride where I witnessed the usual madness, where someone becomes so mad about a 2 minute delay that they lose all sense of rationality and try to get out of their car to fist fight cyclists when they are greatly outnumbered. What was different last time? The guy didn't even put his car in park before he jumped out! It was creeping forward out of control (fortunately noone got hit). People yelling things out their window, but fortunately the noise of the traffic muffles it so I cannot hear. But I don't suspect its "Hey sexy biker chick" by the way they accelerate after the garbled comments.

There are tons of cyclists on the road right now - I was happily grinning away sitting at Queen and Bathurst on a sunny September day seeing more cyclists going by than cars. But a majority are not asserting space in the road. They ride in the gutter inviting brush bys by drivers that don't know how much space to leave. I know I'd rather get honked at than hit by the mirror of an ignorant driver, but I just wish for calm. Some respect. I'm not slowing anybody down, and I try to find safe places to let people pass if I am. These cyclists give the perception that its safe and possible to be out of the way in a 9 foot wide lane and its not. I wonder how much motorist anger just stems from ignorance - that they truly don't realize the highway traffic act allows us to use the whole lane in many circumstances.

And God forbid you stop someone from turning right on a red light. The safest place to be at an intersection is in the middle of the lane. On the right side you get right hooked by right turning vehicles, on the left (in line with your destination if there are parked cars) aggressive drivers trying to pass the vehicle to your left will cut across your path from the right at high speed, very dangerous. Several days ago on a rainy night I was at a red light and heard honk. I ignore it. Honk again. A brief glance to ensure its not someone who has lost their marbles. The taxi driver has his window down and is demanding "aren't you going to move over?" gesturing towards the side of the road. It was a very satisfying answer "No I'm not". I think my rational as to why got drowned out somewhere but I think the no was enough.

Here's hoping that tomorrow is a good day when I can remember why I love riding my bike. I started questioning today why I ride if I'm finding rush hour too much. But how else would I get to work? (and indeed I've ridden my bike every day of the 3 months I've been at my new job) It would take an hour to walk. The streetcar gets stuck in traffic congestion and it would take me twice as long to get to work on an overcrowded vehicle where the fares are going up. Oh yeah can I say I'm thrilled about the fare increase, which always seems to drive more people to their cars? If we completely ignore all economic, social and philosophical reasons behind not driving a car - it still comes down to it would be slower and more stressful to drive, and I would be stuck in a big steel box in congestion. No thanks.

And so I keep riding. Maybe a different route is less stressful - bike lanes for instance mean you don't have to fight people wielding deadly weapons for road space. But then there's all the clueless right turning traffic that don't realize you're there. I've tried all the east-west routes I can think of to go home and picked the ones that seemed the best in terms of time, congestion and least road rage. (okay really Adelaide and least road rage cannot be used in the same sentence, drivers treat it like a raceway to the major north-south highway)

I can only dream of my Queen Street - one where the dominant users of the road (streetcar riders, cyclists and pedestrians) become the only users of the road, and its more efficient and calmer for all to travel.

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