Acura brings “elegance” to vehicular homicide

Acura ad in Toronto encourages aggressive driving

Since I work in marketing, and advertising is a large part of what I do, I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about words.

I’ll turn over a short sentence dozens of times trying to find a word or words that instantly convey my message. Some sentences speak volumes and every ad copy writer knows this.

The above ad is currently on display in Toronto. It overlooks both the Martin Goodman Trail and Lake Shore Boulevard West. This ad can be seen by thousands of commuters heading into downtown Toronto for work. I ride this stretch of trail by bicycle almost every day. I witness bumper to bumper traffic and on more days than not there are traffic police positioned to stop speeders and control aggressive driving.

Yet some copy writer, some ad agency and some company executive who approved the above ad felt that “Aggression” was the best word to use. To them aggression may mean strength. To them aggression may symbolize the drive to succeed in a busy metropolis. To them aggression is a powerful buzzword that connects their product, a car, to a life of financial success.

But “aggression” is much, much more than that, especially in Toronto right now.

Aggression and violence are sibling words. Aggression is usually first on the scene but where aggression exists you can be sure that violence isn’t too far behind. Aggression is the reason we have the “Street Racing” law in Ontario. Aggression is the reason why hundreds of people every year are killed on roads around the world. Aggression is the reason why we have so many police officers on traffic patrol.

Acura, there is nothing “elegant” about aggression. Aggression is an ugly and offensive word. In a busy city where you are going to encounter people who drive slower than you, people who walk across streets and people who are in just as big a rush as you are, aggression leads to collisions and regrets and death.

Let’s ask the family of Darcy Allan Sheppard what the word “aggression” means to them.

Let’s ask the family of Tahir Khan what the word “aggression” means to them.

Aggression is why there is strong opposition to the current mayor’s use of war metaphors to describe transportation choices. Behind the wheel of a car, on the saddle of a bicycle or simply walking on your own two feet is never an act of aggression. Aggression leads to rash decisions. Aggression is the result of selfish, anti-social behaviour. Aggression exists outside of rational thought.

Yet here is an ad placed outside of Ontario Place, a family destination. This ad faces thousands of people who may be frustrated that their drive was so long. This ad faces the commuting cyclists who will each have a story or two to share about the face of aggression.

You see Acura, Toronto has no room on its roads for aggression.

In Anticipation of Bixi Toronto a Look at Bicing Barcelona

Some great points are made in this video.

- If you promote cycling in a positive way, you get positive results (and the exact opposite is true).

- Bike share helps to get more people onto bicycles while cycling-friendly infrastructure is still also needed.

Video by Mike Rubbo: Situp-cycle.com
Via Copenhagenize

Changing My Point of View

The point of viewI’ve recently realized that I was a bad driver.

I remember sitting in my car in traffic, judging and hating everyone around me, “You call that a signal, idiot?!” “Get off my ass jerk or I’ll just tap my brakes a little harder and see how you like the taste of my bumper.”

Yet, the minute I arrived at my destination and stepped out of my car all my rage was lost. I couldn’t talk in that tone, in those words to my co-workers, I couldn’t treat the cashier at the grocery store with the same disdain.

And for some bizarre reason this all felt perfectly normal. Outside the glass and steel of my car everyone was out to annoy me or run me into a wall. But once I stepped out of my car I couldn’t blame anonymous others.

But now, after a few car-free years and experiencing a lot of road travel on a much smaller vehicle, I have finally realized that the problem was me.

In the one fender bender I was involved in it was everyone else’s fault but my own. The other driver braked too hard, the road was icy, the light was still yellow. Now I realize that I was traveling too fast for the conditions, that I was following too close and that I had no right to proceed through a yellow light without slowing down.

But it has taken me a very long time to come to this realization. It has taken a combination of no longer driving cars and reading about the way we behave in cars to come to the conclusion that I was a bad driver. But I was actively looking for reasons why my car made me miserable. It wasn’t just the price of gas and constant maintenance costs. It wasn’t just the insurance charges I felt too were too high, after all I thought I was a good driver. There was an underlying issue here and thankfully more and more people are studying why our cars can change perfectly decent people into rage-aholics.

In a recent Grist article, Sarah Goodyear looks at why people in cars seem to hate people on bicycles:

If you’ve ever been behind the wheel of a car, you’ve felt it: The dead certainty that everyone around you is a complete idiot who should get the hell out of your way.

If you’ve spent much time riding a bicycle, you have been the target of that wrath. And without the protective metal-and-glass bubble that shields drivers (mostly) from each other’s anger, it’s easy to feel the hate. A horn honked in your ear by someone zooming past, an insult shouted out a window, the grit kicked up in your face by someone passing too close — just to make a point. It’s scary.

To explain why this happens, Sarah looks to Tom Vanderbuilt, author of the book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us):

What happens to most of us, in most driving conditions, is that we’re losing some of the key attributes that facilitate human cooperation and, in a larger sense, society.

Eye contact, for example, has been shown in any number of experiments to increase the chance of gaining cooperation – that’s why when drivers give you what was called on Seinfeld the “stare-ahead,” your chances that they’ll let you merge in ahead of them are greatly reduced.

Then there’s the anonymity in traffic – there’s no one to spread rumors or gossip about you about how bad your behavior was — not to mention the lack of consequences for acting like an idiot. It’s all strikingly similar to the way we act on the internet, in what’s called the “online disinhibition effect.”

This is how door prizes happen. A driver, still in complete social isolation, fails to look for cyclists approaching and opens a door into their path. In an instant, the oblivious driver has made a potentially fatal mistake.

The question now is how do we socialize anti-social drivers? Most don’t realize they behave this way and those who do often feel it is absolutely acceptable behaviour.

As Joe Simonetti explains to Tom Vanderbuilt in a recent Outside article:

“As a couples therapist, I tell people that we take things so personally,” he says as we near the Whitestone Bridge, on the first dedicated bike path we’ve seen in more than two hours. It’s easy, when a car edges too close or cuts him off, to “go to that paranoid place where they’re just trying to fuck with me. We’re so worried that someone else can steal our sense of self that we fight for it at every turn.” But it could have been just that the driver didn’t see him. Under the spell of what’s called “inattentional blindness,” people have been known to miss obvious things simply because they’re not looking for them. Either that or what seems inconsequential in a car—passing by within a foot or two—can be terrifying to someone on a bike.

In my car I believed that every move I made was the right one. I was always acting in my own self-interest. When I first started commuting by bicycle I often behaved in the same manner. Only now I was exposed and on a different vehicle. I was confused when I’d aggressively “take the lane” only to have my aggression thrown back at me with 2 tonnes of steel. That’s how you behave in protective cocoons. You can be aggressive and the consequences are rarely anything at all, sometimes just an annoyance of expensive bumper dings and scratched doors. On a bicycle the consequences can be more dire, fatal.

Changing driver attitudes isn’t something that will happen inside of our cars. Listen to talk and news radio any morning and you’ll hear a consistent mantra in the news reports and commercials reinforcing the idea that other drivers are out to get you, other drivers are creating terrible traffic and other drivers are the ones making dangerous maneuvers… it’s always someone else.

So some cities are looking not at changing how we drive but at making changes that encourage people to get out of their cars. Vanderbuilt explains:

Few American cities have done a better job of getting people on bikes than Portland, Oregon, where around 7 percent of the population bikes to work and children cycle to school in huge “bike trains.” And yet, last year, like many recent years, no cyclist was killed. (By comparison, Tampa, Florida, a city where fewer than 1 percent of the population commutes by bike, had nine cyclist fatalities in four months in 2009.) Greg Raisman, a traffic-safety specialist with Portland’s Bureau of Transportation, says one key to getting people biking is providing infrastructure—actual or symbolic. The city features “bicycle boulevards” and bike-only traffic signals, and it’s planning new six-foot-wide bike lanes. It recently put some 2,100 “sharrows” bike symbols on 50 miles of residential streets. He says the symbols send messages to motorists and are, as many Portlanders have told him, changing “people’s mental maps of the city.”

“We need to get people to change the way they think about transportation,” Raisman says. While all road users need to step up in terms of behavior, he believes, calling for cyclists to be licensed, as some critics have lately done, isn’t the right place to start. “I recently got my driver’s license renewed,” he says. “They just asked me if my address was the same.” Among the things he was not asked was whether he was aware of traffic-code changes like the 2007 Vulnerable Road User law or a new Oregon rule that makes it legal for cyclists to pass on the right so they can filter to the front past queues of cars stopped at traffic lights.

I’ll be renewing my own drivers licence in Ontario this year. In the five years since I last renewed, I’ve changed my address from a small Ontario town with few bicycle lanes and even less pedestrian infrastructure to a Toronto address in a city with pedestrian activated crossings, turning and parking restrictions and a new piece of cycling infrastructure known as “sharrows.” Yet I won’t be asked if I’m familiar with any of this. I’ll confirm my address, get my photo taken and away I’ll go, free to drive as I’ve been driving since I became a G level driver more than a decade ago.

Will Toronto’s reputation for terribly long commutes make others search for alternatives? Or will we continue to think only of ourselves and place the blame on a faceless other? When looking in our rear view mirrors will we catch a glimpse of ourselves and realize that we are someone else’s “other?” As I’ve found out, changing our own behaviour is extremely difficult but it can be done.

Read Grist: Why Do People In Cars Hate People On Bikes So Much?
Read Outside: Rage Against Your Machine

Photo via BikingToronto Flickr Pool

The Invisible Cyclists

About this video:

They ride on the sidewalks around the city, many of them without helmets or lights. For thousands of immigrants in Los Angeles, the bicycle is their primary means of transportation. But while “everybody’s sort of aware of these bikers,” says Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition organizer Allison Mannos, “there’s not really any outreach. My interest is to address the people who never get taken into account.”

Mannos has co-founded a program, called City of Lights, to do just that. The program is bringing material benefits to immigrant bike riders, but, more broadly, is trying to strengthen the sometimes tenuous-seeming links between transportation and social justice.

Read the rest of the article The Invisible Cyclists: Immigrants and the Bike Community

Via Urban Velo

How We Behave In Cars

…as demonstrated by people on bikes.

The text at the end roughly translates to something like, “Cycling is annoying, isn’t it?”

Via Amsterdamize on Twitter

Why I Signal Right Turns With My Left Arm

It can be easy to forget or simply not use hand signals when cycling. Streetcar tracks, potholes, bike lanes in door zones and other obstacles can have you focusing on keeping both hands on your handlebars. Yet, when it comes to communicating with other road users there is no better way than with hand signals.

Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of debate about how to signal a right turn. In North America, both extending your left arm then angling your forearm up and simply extending your right arm to point in the direction you’re about to go are acceptable. I’ve used both styles, but my default is to use my left arm. Here’s why:

Predictability: Every other hand signal uses your left arm. So, if drivers are looking for these signals (and I certainly hope they are) it makes sense that they will be watching for the movements of your left arm.

Balance: With both hands on the handlebars I use my front brake more than my rear brake to slow my speed and control my balance when slowing, however, with just one hand on the bars I prefer to use my rear brake for speed control. Now, this is less efficient than using the front brake but as I’m already slowing down to turn I don’t feel the need for super efficient braking. Also, should I hit an unexpected bump (and Toronto streets are littered with them) steadying myself and gripping my front brake could send me ass over teakettle.

Bell Ringing: My bell is mounted on the right side of my bars. Should a car door or pedestrian suddenly appear in my path while signaling my thumb is always at the ready. I could yell, but it seems these days that before a scream leaves my lips my thumb has already set my bell singing.

Girl Executing Right Turn

Many will point out that drivers simply do not know what this hand signal means. I can’t declare whether this is true or not but this does work to the final advantage of using your left arm to signal right turns. I’ve found that many drivers are reluctant to pass and slow down behind me when I use my left arm to signal a right turn. It could be that they are confused, it could be that they are startled to see my arm move in such a curious way but no matter what the reason I find that I’m rarely buzzed by cars in the right lane when I signal with my left arm.

And finally, many cyclists seem to think that pointing in the air to signal a turn looks silly and can be confused for a polite wave. Now, I’ve had cyclists riding towards me wave back at me while I was only signaling a turn. But I don’t feel that this is a disadvantage and I actually like to think this just means I’m a friendly, King of Kensington-type who people want to acknowledge.

What do you do?

MTO site with hand signal information: Cycling Skills
Photo 1 via Seattle DOT
Photo 2 by Mikael Colville-Andersen

Set an Example; Stop for Open Streetcar Doors

Darren

Toronto Police Services are currently handing out warnings to drivers and cyclists who fail to stop for open streetcar doors.

I’ve seen some people on bikes coast by open doors in the hopes of passing streetcars and getting ahead of traffic. While illegal this behaviour is also incredibly rude. People often rush when leaving or trying to catch streetcars and even a small collision with one of these people is going to completely negate the few seconds you’ve saved trying to pass a loading streetcar.

My advice, stop at the rear of the streetcar and position yourself in the middle of the lane. Anxious drivers are going try to blow past a streetcar once those doors close and you do not want to be caught in the squeeze.

Completely unrelated photo, although it involves cyclists and a streetcar during a 2007 Critical Mass, by Leanne Eisen via the BikingToronto Flickr Pool

Yvonne Bambrick of Toronto Cyclists Union at #voteTOin416

Yvonne Bambrick

Via #voteTOin416

I’m a member of the Toronto Cyclists Union. At the Toronto International Bicycle Show I volunteered with the Union and had a fantastic time speaking with Bike Show attendees about the issues facing all cyclists on Toronto’s streets. This was the first time I’d met Yvonne and listening to her speak passionately about cycling and cyclists was an inspiration. Advocating for cycling in Toronto can be as simple as using your bicycle as often as possible and, while doing so, setting a positive example for all cyclists.

Learn more about the Toronto Cyclists Union and become a member at http://bikeunion.to

Eyes on the Road, Hands on the Wheel

ontario.ca/eyesontheroad

Do Pedestrian Crossings Make for Safer City Cycling?

Crossing

A few weeks after getting my G2 driver’s license, I was on a trip through Guelph when I made a huge mistake. Even though I saw the flashing yellow lights and painted yellow stripes on the ground I blew right through a pedestrian controlled crossing. My passenger gave me a pretty good scolding, “How could you be so ignorant?” “Why didn’t you stop?”

I was later forgiven and thankfully I didn’t run anyone over. I don’t know why I didn’t stop. My hometown didn’t have crosswalks like this but that’s certainly no excuse.

Years later I moved to Toronto and, as a driver, it felt like there were pedestrian controlled crosswalks everywhere. I was always on the look out, careful not to drive through when the lights were flashing, careful even when they weren’t.

Pedestrian Crossovers (as they’re called in Toronto) allow pedestrians to cross safely under flashing lights at areas that do not have stop signs or traffic lights. There’s one on Christie Street at Fiesta Farms that gets a lot of use and for the most part drivers approach this crossing slower than they drive through other intersections in the area.

Now that I’ve ditched my car, the pedestrian crossovers I felt were everywhere have seemingly disappeared. Probably because the space between them takes just seconds to cover in a car yet on foot the time and space in between is much longer.

In fact, I’ve noticed that pedestrian crossovers are few and far between on roads where they would get the most use.

Along Bloor, between Bathurst and Spadina, there are only 2 pedestrian crossovers. One at Brunswick and one at Walmer and both at intersections with traffic lights. Yet, the distance from Bathurst to Brunswick is 300 metres. Now, that may not sound like a large distance, but consider that to cross from one side of Bloor to the other is only about 16 metres, well, who is going to walk an few extra hundred metres to get to the nearest crosswalk?

As anyone who’s traveled this strip in the very popular Annex area knows; most people will simply cross where they want. There is ample space to add more pedestrian crossovers here. There is certainly demand from the thousands of pedestrians who shop and live in this area, so why then aren’t there more crossovers? Well, when you design a city around cars and not people, just like much of Toronto has been, the answer becomes clear. Here arterial roads are for moving cars, with as little delay as possible.

As a cyclist I believe pedestrian crossovers can work to our advantage. On a busy street such as Bloor I’m constantly scanning parked cars to avoid door prizes, shoulder checking to see who is going to pass on my right and keeping an eye out for pedestrians who can pop up in the narrowest spaces. The more pedestrian crossovers along a stretch of popular road, the slower the cars will drive (for the most part) and the more predictable pedestrian crossings become. Yet, this isn’t how the city of Toronto handles streets that have a demand for more pedestrian crossings.

Take for example the intersection of Northumberland Street and Dovercourt Road just north of Bloor Street:

Dovercourt and Northumberland

Bloor Street is just a little further south, out of frame at the bottom of the above image.

This intersection is one where pedestrians want to cross. The city knows this and instead of installing a pedestrian crossover, we get a sign. Yes, Bloor Street is where pedestrians are expected to cross:

Cars and trucks tend to speed along here. Impatient drivers heading north from Bloor floor it after waiting at the lights and take the bend in the road at pretty intimidating speeds. Exactly the recipe for disaster when pedestrians are involved:

Why then isn’t there a pedestrian crossing here? Why not slow the cars and trucks down and make this street safer for pedestrians and cyclists? Why, instead, has the city ignored the bull in the china shop? Of course, the bull is asked to watch out, there are children around:

Bike lanes seem to be hogging the headlines in Toronto these days, but I want to know why there aren’t more pedestrian crossovers? Wouldn’t these be an easier sell to the neighbourhood residents who probably want little more than to just cross the street without running?

First photo via Flickr photographer Seeing Is
All other photos by Duncan