Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Two things today.

First, a shout out to the guys at Riders (80 Geary Avenue, Toronto) -

I was on my way to work on the glorious sunny Friday of last week when my chain broke. I have been riding for 36 years, that has never happened to me before. I rode through the winter this year, so it may be that this did the trick, but either way I was chainless.

I carry a spare tire tube, but not a spare chain.

So I walked over to Riders (about 10 minutes away thank heavens) and they were, quite fortunately, open (many shops in the city don’t open until 11 or 12, a pet peeve for this cycle commuter).

They took me on the spot, re-chained my bike, and I was out the door for 30 bucks and change in about 20 minutes.


I’ll be taking the bike back there for spring maintenance when I can bear to part with it for a few days…

Second, I saw this in the Metro today (it was snowing so I wasn’t on my bike):

“Transportation Minister Glen Murray has announced that the province will provide $25 million for cycling facilities on provincial highways and municipal roads over the next three years…”

OK, not a crazy amount of money, but that got my attention.

Then this:

“… a new policy to incorporate cycling in every provincial highway and bridge project…”

That’s awesome. Right now highways are off limits to cyclists, there are rural roads that parallel them, but still, the idea of including bike infrastructure in the build is brilliant. Cheaper and simpler, and it means that expansion is automatically cycle friendly.

Money for municipal and highway/bridge cycling infrastructure, and a commitment to build it as new capacity is added.It would be better if the highway bridge policy was retroactive, but it's a start.

They also announced 29 billion for roads and transit, if that included infrastructure maintenance, I’m stoked too. Cycling advocates are so fixed on new infrastructure they frequently forget that well maintained roads are good for everyone.

I can’t help but worry though, this is a provincial initiative, and we have an election brewing, and if the Liberals don’t get in, I can see this being axed in a post-election belt tightening frenzy.

Sigh, say it ain’t so.



Monday, 14 April 2014

Various and Sundry

My riding frequency has increased with the tolerable weather. It’s not so much the cold, but the sheer amount of snow and ice this winter were a pain for my commute. Not only are you forced out further on to the road but there were whole WEEKS when I couldn’t ride. Compared to last winter, where I was on the road 4 days a week on average, it was abysmal.

Spring riding is at the cusp of ideal. The weather is cool and crisp, not ridiculous and freezing, and people are generally in good spirits as the seasons are changing. The long thaw, spring brings renewal. But it also increases the bike population on the roads. The more of us the better, the more motorists get used to bikes the less accidents we will have. But the influx in spring meets a driving population who saw cyclists shrink significantly in winter. They forgot we were there. So I get honked at much more in the spring than any other time of year. Then drivers settle in (some never do, but you get the idea).

I love arriving to work NOT soaked from sweat, I love that you can dress lightly again on the bike (15c/59F is about t-shirt weather by my estimation), and this season, since I’ve been on public transit for months, I’m raring to go.

A few thoughts upon reflection.

1. The Harbord Lane Proposal
I’ve been reading a lot on the Harbord bike lane proposal, and I find it challenging. I find the route very safe and well laid out as is. I can think of dozens of other places where any sort of infrastructure would be welcome. What we are getting isn’t even separated infrastructure, so I’m ambivalent there too. So I went out for a ride recently, I rode from Harbord at Ossington to Wellesly and Parliament to get a feel for how it is with the existing infrastructure. For someone with my commuting experience, I find it reasonable, but for a more inexperienced cyclist it is quite hectic, lots of cars, parked and otherwise, lots of opening doors, pedestrians, other bikes, etc.  

I think what is important about a piece of bike infrastructure is both visibility and space. You need space on the road that is designated and separated in some way, and you need to have good sightlines, a route where there are side roads you don’t notice, obstructions at intersections, etc. are riskier. 

I find Harbord/Wellesly to have good visibility and good space, and the road is wide enough that there are rarely situations where I’m obstructing a car. However, as it is busy, there are lots of opportunities for sudden obstacles, and I’ve been cycle commuting for 5 years, newer cyclists would find this daunting. 

So I would prefer a separated infrastructure in this case for less experienced riders.

Why does bike infrastructure have to cater to less experienced riders?

Because experienced riders don’t need infrastructure. They can ride anywhere. Infrastructure is thus oriented to those who cannot have that level of performance (e.g. the young, the elderly, those who do not wish to ride in heavy traffic, etc.). So this means that you should prioritize the safest infrastructure on the heaviest use routes (heaviest use for bikes that is). Since Harbord is a heavy use route, it seems sensible to go forward with some form of separated infrastructure.

2. A Railside Route?
There was a proposal floating around a few months ago for a bike route to parallel a rail line going N/S through the middle of the city, leaning to the West End.
I have marked out  the route here:

I would love to know if anything was done with this, as a somewhat central N/S route is what is really missing from the cycling toolkit in this city.

3. Fix Our Roads!
Dear City of Toronto, please mobilize your street sweepers en masse to clear out the piles of dirt that line the gutters of Toronto streets. Most of the roads I ride at the moment are free of snow and ice, but there is literally a pile of dirt (which slows you down and can make you unstable) on most of them right along my space beside the curb. This is easier to fix than potholes, and just as important!

4. The Shaw Contraflow Lane

OK, I’m confused.

They recently placed a contraflow lane on Shaw street. I have commented on the fact that I don’t like the basic layout of this lane. The bike lane is located immediately beside cars (no buffer zone, no physical barrier), which is dangerous. And there are visibility issues at the corners where parked cars block the sight of oncoming bicycles.

Still, cyclists rode the wrong way on Shaw for years, and adding a contra-flow lane was the city acknowledging that people were voting with their pedals, so to speak. Obviously a lot of cyclists disliked their options on Ossignton and Christie, and this is a compromise to address this dislike. Although I dislike the idea of riding the wrong way on a one way street, I do acknowledge that getting change and new infrastructure for bikes in this city takes forever, so riding the wrong way to “protest” the lack of infrastructure isn’t beyond the pale.

So I get the addition of the lane.

However, having had a few weeks to live with the new lane, I have discovered something; many cyclists are riding the wrong way in the contraflow lane. Rather than riding on the West side of the street they switch to the east side contraflow lane and ride against oncoming bike traffic.

I have to say, I don’t get this.

It could simply be that they want a bike lane, any bike lane, rather than riding on the road. But the contraflow lane is CLEARLY marked as Northbound, and the sharrows opposite it are CLEARLY marked as Southbound. So I’m finding this hard to justify. 

Added to it, I have seen a few near misses with bikes riding both directions in the contra-flow lane, as it is not wide enough for two bikes. Add to this that when bikes are going in both directions (e.g. in the lane going North and in the sharrows going South) there is not enough room for a car in between. I have seen a few altercations already, honking motorists and frustrated cyclists.

I’m curious as to why cyclists are using the lane this way, any observations would be appreciated.



Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Vehicular Cycling
I have been blogging about cycling for almost a year, and I have been commenting on bike listservs like Mapmyride and IBikeTO for a bit longer. During this process I have been referred to, on several occasions, as a “vehicular cyclist”.

I’m not sure if the term is a good fit, I was reflecting on this today. 

I thought it would be simplest to consult the source, John Forester, perhaps the best known American advocate for so-called vehicular cycling, to sort this out. I reference his Effective Cycling (2009) for these points. 

Forester advocates for:
-          Education/training for riders
-          Riding on main arteries
-          Riding with traffic, rather than beside traffic
-          Against sidewalk and multi-use trial riding
-          For high speed riding

Does this model fit me? A brief run through of the relevant details…
1.       I have been cycling since I was about 4.
2.       I have received no formal cycle training, in riding or repair.
3.       I did not get my driver’s license until I was 33.
4.       I cycled for commuting and “recreationally” in high school and university and in my current job.
5.       I commute approximately 11 miles to work, 22 miles a day, around 273 days a year (75%) on average, depending on the severity of the winter.
6.       I don’t ride when the roads are so snowy and wet and icy that I can’t find enough clear pavement, so dry winters = lots of riding, wet winters = not much riding
7.       I ride on all forms of cycling infrastructure: roads with no lanes/tracks, suburban roads, main arteries, cycle tracks, trails, multi-use pathways, bike lanes, shared roadways, the works. My priority list for riding is: no cars, some cars, lots of cars. The particular form of infrastructure isn’t a big deal (for me as a rider, not for all riders, that’s different). I think cycle tracks are the safest, bike lanes are as safe as the wideness of the road and the density of the parking around it.
8.       I ride on sidewalks if I feel the road is not safe, but I do not ride when there are pedestrians on the sidewalk, then I walk my bike.
9.       I ride very slowly compared to some, averaging around 12-14 miles an hour, 19-22 kilometers per hour.
10.   I believe that breaking the law for safety is acceptable, but only in specific circumstances, e.g. I will ride my bike very slowly on the sidewalk if there are no pedestrians around, but I do not ride contraflow on one way streets, as drivers don’t expect me and often don’t look.
11.   I believe bikes have a right to be on the roads, as long as they stay to the right when faster vehicles are behind them to allow them to pass, my understanding is that you can ride anywhere but the highways  and designated roadways.
12.   The ambient traffic is most often faster than me, but when traffic is light to moderate and there are at least two lanes on the road I will ride in the middle of the right lane rather than to the right of the lane, cars will generally pull out and pass me, for those that don’t I pull over if they are going faster than me, or maintain the lane otherwise. It works remarkably well, but it won’t work during the middle of rush hour.
13.   When traffic is heavy I stay to the right of the lane and allow faster vehicles to pass.
14.   I avoid bike lanes on narrow streets, and busy bike lanes.
15.   I use mirrors regularly.
16.   For main artery roads I prefer roads with at least two lanes of traffic (Keele), for secondary roads I prefer roads that have a centre turning lane (Caledonia).
17.   I use multiple transit modes in addition to cycling, driving, transit, and walking.
18.   I cycle all year round, day or night.
19.   I like commercial feeder roads alongside major arteries (e.g. Garyray  South of Steeles West)
20.   I think that cyclist education is a great way to reduce the number of cycling accidents. 

So surprisingly enough I’m somewhere in the middle. I suspect that many cyclists are.
It took me a while to figure out why I don’t fit the model, and why I’m sympathetic to some claims from vehicular cyclists and I disagree with others.

Vehicular cycling is as much a political position as a cycling method. Forest believes that the American road establishment actively pushed to get cyclists off roads entirely. Their position, in some ways very similar to the position of many cycling advocates today, was that cyclists did not belong on the road with cars, they needed separate infrastructure. Forest railed against this idea, and as is typical of those taking a public position against a view they detested he went entirely in the other direction. For Forester, a cyclist was ONLY supposed to ride on main arteries. This was the fastest way to get around, the most direct, and it reinforced the fact that cyclists belonged on the road. 

This explains a lot about Forester’s position on cycling safety and general cycling issues. He hates multi-use paths and sidewalks and claims they are more dangerous than the road, he advocates for cyclists riding as fast as possible, and he advocates for cyclists riding on main arteries with cars. 

This position puts so-called vehicular cyclists in opposition to the primary position of many current cycling advocates: that more cycling infrastructure is needed. What you need, the vehicular cyclist would say, is better cyclists, not more bike lanes.

My position on these things is not so straightforward. 
I believe that cycling infrastructure is needed for newer and less experienced cyclists, as well as cyclists who just don’t like riding with traffic. In addition, I believe that certain forms of bike infrastructure (e.g. cycle tracks) are safer than others. I believe that cyclists should be encouraged to use all forms of travel infrastructure: main roads, secondary roads, multi-use paths, cycle tracks, trails, designated roads, etc. I also think the greatest single thing you can do to improve your safety is ride more slowly.

That is not the position of a vehicular cyclist.

However, I also believe that cyclists should and can use main arteries if they so choose (although they should ride off to the right to allow faster vehicles to pass when appropriate), and that certain forms of cycling infrastructure (e.g. bike lanes) are not always a safer option as the road conditions determine the safety of the lane, not the paint on the road.

This is a position compatible with a vehicular cyclist (adjusted for Canadian traffic laws).

What’s the disconnect?

It took me a while to figure this out, but I think the difference is this, I’m a cycle commuter, Forester was a cycling advocate. As a cycle commuter, my needs and views are different.

I ride more slowly as I’m on the road more and fast riding makes it more likely an accident will happen. I use all possible cycling infrastructure, from unmarked roads to cycle tracks as I have to cross a fairly decent distance, and if I relied on protected or separated infrastructure I couldn’t get where I need to go. I need to ride on everything to make my commute work.

This puts me in a strange place with respect to cycling advocates and cyclists in general. I’m neither fish nor fowl. I am a proponent of new cycling infrastructure (as I believe it is important for certain cyclists to have access to this sort of infrastructure, and that certain forms of infrastructure are safer than others), but I don’t need it to do my regular commuting. I’m also just as interested in things like regular road repair (fixing potholes and cracks) as I am in new cycling infrastructure. For example, rather than wait months, if not years, for a new bike lane, I would rather see existing roads repaired as this will make an immediate impact on the safety of my ride, while at the same time advocating for more bike lanes.

Finally, being a cycle commuter gives me what I believe to be a unique window on the future of urban transportation. Subways can be extended, but it takes time and it is very costly. Bus routes can be added, and new parking created for cars, but in the end there are limits to the amount of new commuters that can be added using cars and public transit. Cycle commuting has significant room for expansion, so it would serve cycling advocates well to include cycle commuters in their planning, rather than dismiss them as “vehicular cyclists” as they don’t restrict themselves to bike lanes.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Ahh, winter, what a PITA.

I started keeping statistics on my cycling a few years ago, just for the hell of it.

Last winter I averaged 4 days a week on the road. My standard winter riding rule is [dry roads= riding weather]. Last winter we had cold days, but much less snow, so the riding conditions were good enough for me most of the season. I've been on the road in fairly cold conditions (-24 with the wind chill is the coldest I remember), but as long as I'm properly bundled up and I don't have skin exposed to the wind I find that the heat I generate while riding keeps me perfectly comfortable (scroll down for more tips on winter riding from a previous post).

This winter has been a cycling disaster, tons of snow, even rain and sleet, wet, icy, snowy and crappy roads for long stretches. My riding is down to about 1 day a week on average, and some weeks not at all. I have an hour long commute, I'm not pushing through deep snow for that.

I am riding on the dry days though, and I have to say it has proven to still be a challenge as there is so much "crap" built up at the side of the road (snow, salt, dirt, all mixed into a chitinous "stuff" that is hard to ride through) that you are essentially forced to be a vehicular cyclist (e.g. riding with, rather than beside, the cars) to get anywhere. Motorists don't like this, particularly in winter when the conditions are already dodgy.

And the bike is a filthy mess, covered with salt and dirt, I have to clean and oil the chain regularly or it grinds my gears. Every time I take the bike out in these conditions I wonder if I'm doing long term damage to my ride.

So yeah, winter, PITA.

Instead of complaining any more, I thought I would post some pictures from sunnier months, just as inspiration. Please keep in mind that most of these photos were taken from a camera phone WHILE RIDING, LOL. So they are not top quality. Still, they give a decent picture of the two primary river trails (the Humber and the Don), particularly in the summer and the fall when I took a lot of pictures.


Waterfront around Keele

Don River Trail under the Danforth Bridge

The Don River Trail, just before Sunnybrook Park

Don River Trail, looking South near Danforth Bridge


Don River Trail, looking South, near the Brickworks

Don River Trail, bridge crossing looking North near Riverdale Farms

Waterfront Trail, near Southern end of Humber

Pedestrian Bridge, Lake Shore West Trail

Humber Marshes, South End of Humber River Trail

"Entry" to South End of Humber River Trail

Public Pavillion, South End of Humber River Trail

Don Trail, looking East to the DVP

Don Trail, looking South 

Don Trail, looking North, just past Danforth Bridge

 Don River Trail, near Bayview Extension

 Don River Trail, looking North

Don River Trail, North past York Mills

 Riverdale Park, East Side

Don River Trail, looking South

Don River Trail, Bridge near Eastern Avenue

 Don River Trail, Near Flemingdon Park

 Don River Trail, near Flemingdon Park

Don River Trail, Near Millwood

 High Park, East End

High Park, East End

Don River Trail, Near Wilket Creek Park, just after a heavy summer rain

Don River Trail, Near Wilket Creek Park, just after a heavy summer rain 

Don River Trail, Near Wilket Creek Park

Don River Trail, Near Wilket Creek Park

Don River Trail, looking South near Riverdale Farms

Don River Trail, Bridge near Riverdale Park, right after a summer storm.

Bridge crossing Don River Trail at Riverdale Farms, looking South on DVP

 Humber River Trail, near Baby Point

York University Campus, near Rexall Centre

York University Campus, near Rexall Centre

Black Creek Parkland Trail, just South of York University

Humber River Trail, North of Eglinton

 Humber River Trail, North of Eglinton

Humber River Trail, North of Eglinton 

Pedestrian Bridge, Junction

Crossing Under the highway on the Upper Humber Trail

 Stairs, Don River Trail, just South of Sunnybrook Park

Don River Trail, near York Mills

Behind my map case and compass, Don River Trail, looking South near Brickworks

Humber River Trail, just North of Eglinton

Downsview Dells Park, looking East

Downsview Dells Park, looking East

Upper Humber River Trail

Upper Humber River Trail

 Upper Humber River Trail

Upper Humber River Trail 

Upper Humber River Trail 

Upper Humber River Trail

 Upper Humber River Trail

Upper Humber River Trail 

Upper Humber River Trail 

Lower Humber River Trail

Lower Humber River Trail, just past Baby Point

Lower Humber River Trail, just past Baby Point

Lower Humber River Trail, just past Baby Point

Lower Humber River Trail, just past Baby Point

Train tracks at Caledonia just South of the 401