Thursday, September 7, 2017

Fractious Infractions

Each workday I ride about 3.5 km on some of Toronto's best cycling infrastructure. Lately I've been making mental notes of the typical traffic violations I see especially at the 12-14 intersections I go through twice a day. If you're paying attention you would note that my route has traffic signals every 250 metres. That is what downtown looks like. The stretches without traffic signals at that distance encourages dangerously fast traffic. Just saying. Here's what I saw last week.

Friday PM
9 - driving infractions: including 2 illegal lane changes, 1 illegally stopped, 6 going through red lights
8 - pedestrians who crossed mid-block
1 - cyclist riding westbound in eastbound lane without hands on handlebars also without shirt (if you’d seen this guy you would have known being shirtless was an infraction).

Monday PM
6 - driving infractions: people drove through red lights
1 - pedestrian crossed mid-block
1 - cyclist riding on sidewalk

Tuesday AM
4 - driving infractions: people drove through red lights including a large concrete truck that turned left on red.
0 - pedestrian infractions
6 - 5 cyclists went through red lights (all at Bay and Queens Quay), 1 rode on sidewalk

Tuesday PM
8 - driving infractions: 6 people drove through red lights, 2 blocked an intersection
3 - pedestrians stepped out into traffic mid-block
0 - cyclist infractions

Wednesday PM
8 - driving infractions: 6 people drove through red lights, 1 illegal stop, 1 turn without signalling
3 - 2 pedestrians crossed mid- block, 1 crossed against the light
1 - cyclist went through a red light

Thursday AM
9 - driving infractions: 7 people drove through red lights, 1 U-turn, 1 illegally parked on sidewalk
1 - pedestrian crossed mid-block
1 - cyclist rode south in northbound contraflow lane (Lower Sherbourne and Queens Quay)

Friday AM
5 - driving infractions: 4 people drove through red lights, 1 delivery van crossed a yellow line to pass a car on the left who was signalling and about to turn left (FedEx driver to be specific).
2 - 2 pedestrians crossed mid-block
1 - 1 cyclist went through a red light

Friday PM
6 - driving infractions: 5 people drove through red lights, 1 pulled a U-turn by turning north into a southbound 1-way street
3 - pedestrians crossed against the light
3 - 2 cyclists went through a red light, 1 rode on the sidewalk to ride around people getting on and off a bus at a bus stop.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

It's Complicated

I watched this video and was sort of surprised by its conclusion: that light rail or streetcars are built as economic injectors rather than actually moving people. This is incorrect and incomplete. Then I did something I never do, I commented on the video.

"The logic in this video is sort of upside down and inside out - much of new transit is built to attract development. Creating transit infrastructure is part of city building and an aspect of planning transit is future development. Trying to decide where will people live, work and shop in the future is complex. Unfortunately it's really difficult to add new transit infrastructure in a part of the city which is already developed which is why buses are a common solution. Yet, light rail, if given the right of way and planned and implemented properly moves more people, more quickly and offers lower operating costs than buses or subways. Huge budget and schedule over runs can often be traced to poor management or political obstruction rather than the type of transportation per se. It's hard to say if this Vox piece is over simplified, poorly researched (which it doesn't appear to be) or just intellectually dishonest when they say the "real" reason for building rail is to inject economic development into an area. The goals of transportation projects are varied and site specific and this kind of generalization is at best incomplete and at worst disingenuous."

That basically sums up my thoughts and I suppose sharing the video here will only increase its influence and reach, which in Internet terms means it also increases its veracity and authority. Yet I want to dispute the premise and hopefully you will focus on all the difficult issues that go into transit planning rather than accept Vox's editorial conclusion which, as I've said is either incomplete, dishonest or at the very least intellectually lazy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Kind of Drivers You're Likely to Encounter When Riding

Below is a sample of the types of drivers I've met over the years whilst riding my bike. I assume these numbers would be different for pedestrians, streetcar operators and of course, other drivers.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Embarrassingly Ignorant

Frank Touby of The Bulletin seems to think renegade freeloading cyclists aren't paying their share of the costs of bike lanes and that licensing of cyclists would somehow rectify the situation. Here is my response -

Dear Mr. Touby:

Driver’s licensing fees do not contribute to the cost of your streets. If anything those fees only make the management and administration of licensing revenue neutral. Do you think your insurance pays for your streets? Obviously, it doesn’t. Do you think parking fees pay for your streets? They don’t. You might logically think the tax you pay on fuel pays for your streets. It doesn’t. Road budgets come out of the larger pot of all of your taxes. So when you pay your property tax, rent (which includes the landlord’s property taxes), income tax or any HST, you’re paying for your streets. Even the kid buying a candy bar from her allowance is paying for your streets. If you did not know any of this about your streets, then I am embarrassed for your ignorance.

I say “your” streets because you seem to be mistaken in believing the streets of Toronto belong to you, a single driver in a single car. They do not. Streets existed long before the automobile and even today our streets are a shared resource for private, personal, commercial traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, rickshaws and even horses. A recent statistic has revealed of everyone traveling in the downtown core, 75% of people are moving by transit, walking, or cycling while only 25% are driving. A survey in New York City found that some 30% of people in their cars in the downtown were actually just looking for parking. Extrapolating to the Toronto statistic just noted, that would mean only about 17% of people driving in the core are really going anywhere, on your streets. By your logic that means 75% of people living and moving in the core are paying for 17% who take up an inordinate amount of room, cause noise, congestion and pollution but they are your streets after all because you pay for them. Except clearly, you don’t. The people really getting screwed here aren’t the pedestrians who walk across streets or the cyclists who take up so much room but the people on the TTC. Riders pay for about 85% of the cost of the TTC, not to mention their taxes also pay for the streets drivers, pedestrians and cyclists enjoy.

Knowing this, it is absurd to say that drivers pay for Toronto streets. Everyone pays for Toronto’s roadways, so it makes no sense to say drivers pay for bike lanes. In fact, the truth is transit riders, pedestrians and cyclists are paying for roadways that do not favour them. In fact, it would be more honest to say all Toronto residents are subsidizing the cost of roads for that 17% of people driving in the core. Given that Toronto has over 5000 Km of roadways but less than 100 Km of bike lanes the imbalance becomes even more apparent. It’s easy to see your confusion about bike lanes not being used. That’s simply optics. Cyclists do not take much room at all. When I commute via Sherbourne and Queens Quay I am joined by thousands of others. Traffic counts on Queens Quay, Richmond-Adelaide, Harbord and Bloor Streets have counted thousands of trips made by cyclists daily. When I’m at a stop light at King and Sherbourne I may count as many as a dozen cyclists at the intersection, a single street car, dozens of pedestrians and maybe 10 cars. But of all of those modes, which takes the most space on the roadway? The car. How many people are using each car? Typically one. Yet the bike lane looks empty. Whenever someone uses this red herring argument I look out on the vastness of streets around me and see empty roadways everywhere but instead of planting wheat or soya beans or trees, we’ve paved them in case a car comes by. The only roadway in Toronto that is always full of cars is the Gardiner Expressway. That’s okay though because cyclists and pedestrians are not allowed on that road. But wait, at a cost of over a billion dollars for the current East Gardiner reconstruction plan, I’m paying for a roadway I’m not even allowed on? That doesn’t sound fair.

Let’s not let fairness taint this discussion. Let’s talk about safety. I don’t ever recall a pedestrian or cyclist running into a car and killing the driver. It happens far too often the other way around though. That’s because the likelihood of a car weighing 1000 Kg made of steel, plastic, glass and rubber moving faster than 30 Km killing someone is really high. Thus, we have to ensure people who operate such vehicles know how to avoid bumping into people who are not in protective bubbles of steel, glass, plastic and rubber. You don’t even to have to be on the street to get hit by a car. Three incidents this year in Toronto have involved cars accelerating off the road and onto the sidewalk or even into a building. Imagine getting killed by a car when you were in a dance studio. People walking or riding a bicycle find it difficult to smash through windows and walls to collide with occupants inside.

I’ve lived in Toronto for almost two decades and for last five years I’ve gone without a car. That means I have personally made more space on our streets. By not owning a car, I’ve personally freed up at least 8 parking spots (by some estimates, that’s the average number of spots available for each car). By riding a bike, I’ve given up my seat on the bus, street car or subway for someone unable to ride a bike or drive a car. I ride roughly 2000 Km per year saving approximately 340 kg of carbon dioxide from Toronto’s air. Multiple that by five years and I have personally prevented over a metric ton of CO2 from entering our air. By that metric, I, along with thousands of other cyclists in the city act as the carbon offset for every driver in the city. Some cities and businesses have proposed paying 25¢/Km to cyclists as an incentive to commute by bicycle. At this point, I could argue that not only do drivers get to drive on my streets that I pay for, they should actually pay me to offset their carbon production.

City staff have looked at licensing cyclists in the past and both city officials and the Toronto Police have determined that at any reasonable rate it would simply cost too much and be too impractical to implement. Of course, if you had bothered to look that up you would have found this.

As to cyclists who break the law, it is true. Some cyclists are terrible offenders of going through red lights, riding on sidewalks or failing to signal. To be honest, once or twice I’ve seen pedestrians crossing mid-block and every morning at every intersection I see drivers going through red lights, not signalling when they turn, making illegal u-turns and turning without stopping at stop signs. I’m sorry if I ring my bell to let you know I’m there. I’m surprised you would have even heard it. Did it startle you? I hope it did. That’s the point of a bell, which I am legally obliged to have on my bike (see, there are laws cyclists have to follow that don’t require licensing). Sometimes (well, a lot of times actually) drivers use their horns to announce their presence and displeasure too and the average 90 Db car horn is a lot louder and more intimidating than an irritating and apparently righteous-sounding bicycle bell. If you’d prefer I will equip my bicycle with a car horn, which I assume is more to your liking.

Now, if you like the streets that you drive on, and it sounds like you do, you can thank pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, other drivers and even mounted police officers who all pay for those streets. By the way, if you like paved roads you can thank cyclists for that too. You see, bicycles have been around longer than cars and the “Good Roads Movement” of the 1870s was advocated by, you’re not going to like this, bicyclists. So the next time you’re enjoying driving, thank a cyclist and don’t forget to thank that little girl buying a candy bar because we all paid for our roads that you drive on.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Bloor Street Bike Lane Pilot Project

Below is a letter to Toronto's PWIC (Public Works and Infrastructure Committee) to request their support of the planned Bloor Street Bike Lane Pilot Project planned for this summer (and well described here). Take what you want from this. Use it yourself to send your own letter urging the committee's support.

I’m writing to implore you to support the bike lane pilot project on Bloor Street.

Bloor is easily one of the most important east-west routes in the city. As a fairly flat route it can take you across town to many important landmarks, workplaces, institutions and places of worship. From High Park to Christie Pits to access to ravines, public libraries, schools, Universities, theatres, churches, museums and to countless restaurants and shops, Bloor Street is an exemplar of what makes Toronto great. That’s why this bike lane pilot project is so important.

  • A lane for people who bike would make a safer Bloor Street for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • It would make Bloor Street less stressful for people who drive, bike and walk.
  • A bike lane on Bloor would ease congestion - the fact that Bloor has two lanes of moving traffic and two lanes of parked cars makes no sense. Open up the available street real estate to people on the move.
  • It would allow for more shoppers to access stores, restaurants, coffee shops, museums, galleries and theatres and spend more money in those establishments.
  • A Bloor Street bike lane would give students a safe, healthy and quick way to get to school.
  • A Bloor Street bike lane would give residents a safe, healthy way to access libraries and community services. We’ve made these services with our hard earned tax dollars, why make it difficult and dangerous to get to them?

I’ve lived in Toronto for almost two decades and for last five years I’ve gone without a car. That means I have personally made more space on our streets. By not owning a car, I’ve personally freed up at least 8 parking spots (by some estimates, that’s the average number of spots available for each car). By riding a bike, I’ve given up my seat on the bus, street car or subway for someone unable to ride a bike or drive a car. I ride roughly 2000 km per year saving approximately 340 kg of carbon dioxide from Toronto’s air. Multiple that by five years and I have personally prevented over a metric ton of CO2 from entering our air. That is just the impact one cyclist has, think of the difference the thousands of people who bike in Toronto make every day.

Lastly, by riding a bike, I keep healthy enough to stay out our health care system - now it’s up to you to make it safe enough for me to stay out our health care system.

Help make Toronto a smart, modern, mobile and safe city to live, work and play. Please support the Bloor Street Bike Lane Pilot.

Thank you for your consideration.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Biking Wisdom in 10 Words or Less

Your Biking Wisdom in 10 Words is an interactive map that crowd sources cyclist advice for a dozen or so North American cities created by the New York Times. It's just as much fun looking at what people have said as it is to add to. Toronto is the only Canadian city, which will hopefully be joined by Montreal or Vancouver some time in the future.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Off the Rack, On Your Back

Buster Keaton exhibits proper dandy cycling form.

Myself and a few cycling designer colleagues often like to bemoan the fact that there is very little fashionable clothing you could wear cycling. Of course there is plenty of high-performance gear but, the argument goes, nothing you could wear to work. Something that allowed movement, breathability, water resistance and practical, well-placed pockets.

That was then, this is now. Our new complaint is more likely that there is no fashionable cycling clothing you can afford. As that much maligned urban creature, the Hipster, has taken to cycling (especially cycling on bikes without fenders or chain guards), there are an increasing number of clothing options from casual to, well, not so casual. There are doubts about the financial viability of a dinner jacket or tuxedo made for cycling.

In fact, there are so many options, mostly expensive ones, that it would be impractical to tackle them all in one post. When a company like Levi's dedicates an entire line of jeans and jackets to cycle commuters you realize the days of this as a niche market are numbered.

For myself, I contend that it's really more about the bike than having high-performance kit designed to look like street fashion. A commuting-friendly bike equipped with baskets, racks, fenders and a chain guard would most likely accommodate any clothing. Yet, there is something really great about having clothing that deals with sweat and rain that you can wear anywhere. I admit to having a minor jacket fetish (I own more stupid looking Gore-Tex jackets than one man should admit). I can't explain it other than to say for years I wore ill-fitting, poorly cut clothing from outdoor outfitters because they were lightweight and water resistant and I didn't even commute by bike. The only problem was I looked like a German tourist reading to hike the highest peaks. No offense to German tourists, but, you know, fanny packs… really?

To that end I'm going to opine about the following companies and their wares. I'm sure there are more, and this list may be expanded but if you're looking for such clothing and accessories and don't want to bother with my bullshit, here's the list. There is a North American bias and I know there are European and Japanese brands not shown here, but difficulty in availability means they would be impracticable to show here.

Levi's Commuter Line
Aether Apparel
Arc'teryx Veilance
Chrome Industries
Mission Workshop