Black Out Party on Ossington – Bikes and Blackouts

BlackoutEdited2009-2

On Friday, August 14, 2009, Ossington came alive and turned off the lights.

I missed much of the revelry while enjoying a burger at BurgerShoppe. But, from the window we saw the impromptu creation of “Portugal Square” and could hear the sounds of drums and cheers.
There’s a video and a sketch of Portugal Square over on Bike Lane Diary.
Walking down the street after dinner it was impossible to miss just how many people were on bicycles. I overheard a graying cyclist explaining the concept of “fixed gear” to a couple of younger guys who were interested in his bike. With the streetlights out and storefronts dark the street was filled with the blinking lights from cyclists.
Even the police who showed up to “control the situation” were on bicycles.
Photo of cyclists on the Blackout ride by Martinho on Flickr

Is it Really Safe for Cyclists on the New Simcoe Street Underpass?

Safety First
As with most of my trips to new bike lanes in Toronto, I approached the new Simcoe Street underpass on a day when no one was around.

Prior to completion, an article in the National Post from October, 2008, makes no mention of cyclists or bike lanes. But really, who is thinking about cycling at the beginning of winter? The article addresses the ability of condo residents to walk to work or quickly access trains using the underpass and, as councillor Adam Vaughan stated:

“The biggest impediment to get people down to the waterfront is … the [lack of] north-south connections, especially ones that are pedestrian-friendly,” Mr. Vaughan said. “It gives that possibility of accidentally ending up at the waterfront.”

Now that construction is finished, the addition of bike lanes here provide another option aside from driving, walking or taking transit through this area.

On a Saturday just before noon I spent about 20 minutes at this underpass. In that time I counted 3 cyclists, 2 tour buses and 1 pickup truck. Of course, this underpass was built to allow the residents of condos in the area to walk faster (or drive) to work above Front street. However, the added bonus of helping people access the waterfront seems to have gone unnoticed in the first few days that this section has been open.

Heading south, the bike lane starts on the south side of Front Street and ends at Bremner Boulevard. Under the bridge the lane runs along a retaining wall and in the middle of 4 lanes for motorists there is a median.

Personally, I do not like cycling under (or over) bridges in Toronto. Heading downhill at underpasses results in drivers speeding and the transition from light to dark can often make visibility a huge issue. Bike lanes here do address that problem and help position motorists prior to going under the bridge, but is it enough?

Do you feel safe under here?
The retaining wall here makes me worry. Why protect pedestrians and the support beams and not cyclists? Why not place the retaining wall so that it separates cyclists and pedestrians from motorists? In the mornings motorists traveling along here may be familiar with the area. But, with the Air Canada Centre, Harbourfront and the Rogers Centre attracting motorists unfamiliar with the area, the potential for collisions between motorists and cyclists certainly must increase.

The bike lanes on the Simcoe Street underpass are a start, but will they ever continue and create a safe passage from the condos and waterfront to downtown?

This lane ends. Proceed with caution.

I’d like to hear from commuters in the area? Is this bike lane a safe addition?

The Time I was a Shady Bike Seller on Craigslist Toronto


I found myself with a glut of bikes in the summer of 2008.

My mother had picked up cycling a few years before. Each year she’d upgrade to a newer model, and leave a perfectly fine bicycle locked in her garage. She lives beyond Hamilton in a town with very little interest in used bikes. So, I offered to help her sell them in Toronto. I wasn’t seeing too many repeat listings on Craigslist, cycling was hot in the summer of 2008, so I figured this would be easy.

The first bike I listed for a fair price in comparison to what was being posted. It was a couple years older, a Giant hybrid in perfect working condition. Right away I received about a dozen e-mails. If I couldn’t understand what the person was saying I didn’t reply. Not to be a snob, but if you can’t type a simple sentence, I’m afraid we’ll have a hard time doing business. Really, it’s me, not you.

Then I received a few replies that resembled this:

“Got in garage the basket of my bicycle flavour forever to trees”

Really? I don’t know what kind of spambots are trolling Craigslist, but they sent me some of the most bizarre haiku poetry I’ve ever read.

Well, I exchanged a few e-mails with potential buyers and arranged for them to come see the bike. I had a great spot picked out, in front of a bank on a busy corner. Don’t have the cash? Pow, there’s a Green Machine! Wanna jack me for my bike? Look at all the witnesses!

There was a chill in the air that day. In fact, it was downright arctic outside. I had on a black windbreaker with the hood up and pulled a black toque on underneath. For some reason I also felt that black jeans and black converse runners were also necessary.

Looking downright shady, I stood by the corner looking for someone who I would hope would recognize the bike from the photos I’d sent. A few minutes after our scheduled meeting time I started to think I’d blown it. Why all black? Geez, I should have put on sunglasses and carried a big chain to complete the look.

Well, a few minutes later the cyclist who would end up purchasing my bike showed up. Everything went exceptionally easy. She took a quick test ride. I told her about my mother’s bike adventures (as this was obviously not my bicycle) and I heard about how her bicycle had been whisked away in the night by some heathen.
By the end of the summer I had sold two more bikes this way and was on the look out for friends and family looking to get rid of their old bikes. What a thrill this was. The buyers approached me with hesitation and yet I was always almost sick with worry that this would be the time I would be robbed at knife point.

So, got an old bike you want to get rid of? Make like thousands of Torontonians and sell it online. Here’s a few pointers to help you get started:

1) Be detailed and honest in your listing: List the size, make and model of the bike you are selling. Be honest about problems and as an added way to attract attention, state who you believe this bike would be good for, such as, “Perfect for a casual cyclist, under 5’8″ who doesn’t know anything about bike maintenance.”
2) Use a new or “junk” e-mail address: It was only my first listing that received a few spam replies. But, better safe to use a new, free address than risk your busy, personal inbox filling up with useless messages.
3) Meet in an open, public space: Buying or selling, meet near a busy road and near a bank machine, too.
4) Be willing to negotiate: I priced the bicycles I sold near what I was hoping to get for them. If someone wanted to negotiate, I was ready. You can always say, “No” and walk away from a transaction.
Sold a bicycle on Craigslist or any other online classifieds site? Share your stories in the Biking Toronto Forum.

How to Buy a Bicycle in Toronto Using Craigslist

I first moved to Toronto with a carbon fibre mountain bike in tow. I’d had the bike for years and it meant a lot to me (and well, it still does). I took my old faithful through the Don trails almost daily and discovered that riding around again was a blast.

But something was missing. I kept the bicycle in my room for fear of theft. I didn’t even buy a lock for it because I could never stand to leave the guy alone and rubbing up against some abrasive ring and post.

So, this was my problem. All this time on my hands to bike around, and well, I couldn’t even think of leaving my trusty steed alone for ten minutes.

I needed another bike, but without much income I had to get something cheap. I needed my first beater bike.

Craigslist is an online classifieds site that you’ve probably heard about. Job hunters, apartment renters, furniture buyers and those with a taste for more illicit “items” turn to Craigslist every day. And so my search began here.

First, I set my budget. $150 max.

Second, I decided on what I wanted. I already had a mountain bike, so anything with chubby tires was out. I’d never owned a road bike or “10 Speed” but I knew I wanted skinny tires, drop bars and a large frame.

A word of warning; searching through Craigslist ads can be an exercise in frustration.

“You want how much for that??” “C’mon, I could get that at Canadian Tire for half that price.”

Expect to skip over a lot of ads. But, searching is made easier using the built in search engine on the site. I find that simply scrolling through the ads after hitting “show images” is easy enough.

I found a few bicycles, with images that seemed like a fit. Many advertisers will list their phone number but most will allow you to contact them using an anonymous e-mail address.

My first contacts involve a short list of questions. Ask for further information if the seller hasn’t listed all of the measurements or components. As about any problems. And ask about when the best time to arrange to view bike will be, stating your own availability. This simply speeds up the process.

I immediately ruled out a few of the bikes I’d selected due to broken components, rust spots and general lack of further interest.

I arranged to meet one seller on a quiet Saturday afternoon. Personally, I prefer to meet in a public place where I can test out what I’m buying. Sellers know that you’re showing up with cash in hand, so to avoid becoming a victim of fraud or theft try to keep things in the open.

Partially ignoring my own advice I met this seller at his home. His daughter was playing in the back yard and he was fixing a few other bicycles on the lawn. We spoke briefly about the weather and he let me take the bike for a quick spin.

Having never bought a used bicycle before I missed a few things that could have made me walk away. I discovered this as the bike fell apart over the next few months as bolts rusted away or bent beyond repair. But, on a sunny afternoon with the wind in my hair, who could say no?

I regret not trying to haggle on the price. In fact, I’m pretty sure the seller was a little shocked when I said, “$150? Ok, I’ll take it.”

Of course, any how-to article is incomplete without an itemized list of tips, so here’s how to go about buying your own beater bike (or better bike) on Craigslist:

1) Don’t always trust what the seller claims: Is that bike really being sold for $1,000 a bike shops and he’s willing to part with it for just $120? I doubt it. Many sellers list the specs and brands of bikes so a quick Google search will save you the headache of showing up to view a marked down piece of junk.

2) Ask questions: Why are you getting rid of the bike? How long have you owned the bike? Have you had any problems with the bicycle? The more, the better. An honest seller will address your concerns and give you guidance. Someone who ignores your questions or refuses to answer doesn’t deserve your money, just walk away.

3) Be aware that scammers and thieves use Craigslist too: Never agree to meeting if you feel even the slightest bit suspicious. Set the terms yourself and inform someone you know where you are going. You don’t hear of many horror stories concerning bicycle buying, but better safe than sorry.

4) Be prepared to barter: Many sellers simply want to unload a bike that is taking up space and collecting dust. Be fair, be honest and simply ask for a price you feel comfortable paying.

5) Test your new ride: Take a quick spin, adjust the gears, squeeze the brakes hard and then inspect all of the parts. If you know what you’re doing and can fix parts, you’ll know what to look for. If not, check the areas where cables connect and look for fraying, spin the wheels to see if they are true and twist the front bars to see if they are tight. Bicycle repairs are needed whether you pay $100 or $10,000 for a bike, but looking for problems before they appear could save you money down the line and keep you safely riding for longer.

Have you bought a bicycle on Craigslist? Share your stories in the comments below.

Toronto Bicycle Film Festival – August 19-22, 2009

Just before the end of August the Bicycle Film Festival will roll in to Toronto.

If you aren’t familiar with the Bicycle Film Fest, here’s some info from their web site:

In 2001, Brendt Barbur, Founder and Director, was compelled to start the Bicycle Film Festival after being hit by a bus while riding his bike in New York City. Instead of being deterred by this experience, it inspired him to create a festival that celebrates the bicycle through music, art, and film. Now in its ninth year the festival is held in 39 cities worldwide. 250,000 people are expected to attend this year.

The Bicycle Film Festival celebrates the bicycle in all forms and styles. If you can name it – Tall Bike Jousting, Track Bikes, BMX, Alleycats, Critical Mass, Bike Polo, Road Cycling, Mountain Biking Recumbents – we’ve probably either ridden or screened it. What better way to celebrate these lifestyles than through art, film, music and performance?

We bring together all aspects of bicycling to advocate its ability to transport us in various ways. Ultimately the BFF is about having a good time. We have been fortunate enough to include the work of established artists such as Jorgen Leth, Mike Mills, Jonas Mekas, Blonde Redhead, Swoon and Michel Gondry; as well as talented newcomers as part of our programming. Many of the artists who have participated in the Bicycle Film Festival, such as the Neistat Brothers and Lucas Brunelle, are gaining more and more recognition for their work.

Sign up for the email list or just come out and enjoy our 9th Annual Bicycle Film Festival. Thanks.

Brendt Barbur

Founding Director

P.S. bikes rule

And, to whet your whistle, here’s a short film found on Copenhagenize

Are you going? Make plans to meet with local cyclists in the Biking Toronto Forum.

Confusion on the Waterfront

There’s a new mixed-use path down along the waterfront.

Only, it doesn’t go along the water. Ontario Place has claimed that stretch of land for parking.

Replacing a cumbersome diversion through a parking lot and past line ups of tourists, the Martin Goodman Trail now runs parallel to Lake Shore Boulevard and since it’s opening on July 31, 2009, has already brought about a concern for safety.

Over the long weekend I took a trip down the new path to see what all the fuss was about. Cycling west from Harbourfront along Queen’s Quay was jammed with cars, transit and bikes, reaching the Martin Goodman trail feels like a serene stretch of calm in comparison.

After looping around the Inukshuk at the beginning of the extension, I meet with the first of 3 crossings. Lake Shore Boulevard is quiet late in the afternoon today, the only traffic here is heading home and not turning in to Ontario Place. So, I don’t get to see the mayhem of motorists turning left and taking out cyclists. Although I can certainly see how this could happen.

All quiet at the new bicycle and pedestrian crossing in front of Ontario Place

In the photo above you can see the bicycle signal, the pedestrian signal and two separate paths across the intersection for each. The gates placed just before where the path meets the road do a decent job of slowing bicycle traffic and alerting users to the coming hazard of an intersection.

Of course, this doesn’t make for a continuous commute, but for the weekend warrior it’s a way of herding the crowds that will accumulate here on red lights.

The signals change quickly, and I believe wait times are less than 30 seconds from what I can tell.

Crossing without much panic
Once across the intersection I am greeted by this sign:

Authorized Vehicles Only
“AUTHORIZED VEHICLES ONLY” Really? That’s the best wording you could use? This sounds so intimidating. Is my bicycle authorized? What are the other authorized vehicles? I thought this was a mixed-use path, not a passage for vehicles of any sort.

Under the assumption that I have full authorization, I continue along the path. I encounter mostly joggers, rollerbladers and cyclists. The roadies won’t like the slow pace here and I expect to see a lot of “scorchers” burning around everyone. But there is a good amount of space and I don’t feel I have to ride in the grass to avoid getting run over by faster users.

And just look at how everyone is getting along. On a quiet day no one seems upset after crossing at the parking lot entrances.

Mixed-use Happiness on the Martin Goodman Trail

While not perfect, the crossings are built to acknowledge safety concerns by slowing traffic along the path. Unfortunately, I neglect to see any notice to drivers to yield to cyclists and foot traffic. Although, in Toronto, motorists believe they have the right of way (and they make that claim with force) so it is reasonable to expect problems along this route at much busier times.

As a final thought, I did encounter a strange event. As I was crossing at the second intersection two motorcycle police made a wide u-turn on Lake Shore and turned into the CNE grounds. Another cyclist spotted this as well, and as he approached the intersection he hopped off of his bike and walked it through the green light eying the biker cops the whole time.

Obviously this cyclist wants to follow the rules, only he doesn’t know what they are. Why he didn’t follow the lead of every other cyclist and ride through the green light is beyond me. Hopefully another friendly cyclist will inform him to stay calm, carry on through the intersection next time.

Oh, and once I was beyond the “crossings of death” I am back along the waterfront where you get to see strange things like this:

Sharrows, Bike Lanes and Shared Space on the Streets of Toronto

Toronto sharrow on Wellesley at Yonge
I remember back to when I was preparing to take my G-1 driver’s test. I stayed up really late the night before my exam studying the Ontario Driver’s Handbook. I treated this little book the same as one of my science or history texts. I looked for the possibility of trick questions and memorized the seemingly countless street signs while also trying to remember all of the rules.

After taking the short eye test and learning how tall I was I realized that the studying I had done was more than a little excessive. The rules of the road and the signs that dictate them are meant to be intuitive. You should be able to recognize the meaning of a sign with a little additional information and for the most part many people seem to be able to do just that.

While biking around Toronto over the past few years it is a pleasure to see more and more cycling-related signs and painted symbols along our city streets. But, are they enough?

The photo at the top of this page is a “sharrow” painted on Wellesley just west of Yonge and leads to a bike lane that is just beyond a delivery drop-off area.

I personally like sharrows and I believe they should be on most roads in the city. Sharrows inform cyclists that they are on a road with shared traffic. There are no exclusions to the rules and no segregation, to get along you have to go with the flow and you have to follow the rules. The chevrons point the way and even seem to demand that you notice them.

But, unlike many of the cycling-related signs on Toronto streets, sharrows are for both cyclists and motorists.

For motorists, sharrows ask that you give room to cyclists, that you must be aware of their presence and tell you to share the space you’re driving in.

While I appreciate bike lanes, and certainly want to see more of them in the city, I don’t feel they present a consistent message to the motorists and cyclists on Toronto’s streets. A bike lane can be perceived as something separate, something that has been “taken” from motorists and something many drivers feel they need to take back (or so it seems if you’ve been following the bike lane development along Annette and Dupont).

I find myself getting a little too comfortable in bike lanes, assuming that since I’m in my dedicated cycling space I’ll be safe from “door prizes” and unsignaled right turns. This false sense of security doesn’t promote safe cycling as much as I believe sharrows can.

On a recent trip to Vancouver Island I noticed that in many areas there is this focus on shared space. I often came across this sign:

Share the Road

It’s a simple sign. The graphic is clear, and the added instruction below leaves no room for misinterpretation.

What are your thoughts on sharrows and bike lanes?