What are your 2010 Toronto bike commuting goals?

Going past

I’ll admit that I got a late start to bike commuting. It took me more than 3 years of city living to finally give it a try. In June 2009, on a bit of a whim, I took my new bike on a 25 km journey to my office in the outer reaches of Toronto (so far in fact that it’s not even in Toronto).

At first, I’d bike just twice a week as I needed the next day to recover. If it looked like rain, I jumped on the subway (then bus, then another bus and sometimes yet another bus).

All it took was one rainfall that I didn’t see coming and I lost the fear of getting wet. I was already soaked with sweat, so it made little difference, and rain actually feels good in the heat and humidity of a Toronto summer.

By the end of 2009 I had bought cycling shorts, tights, a shirt or two and a waterproof jacket. I now have a sturdy lock (and back-up lock for paranoia), panniers, two pumps, various lights and more cycling goodies than I can even remember.

So, what can I do more in 2010? Well, there’s been one big change for me. My commute, which was recently shortened to just 20 km each way has been drastically cut. I’ve joined the ranks of the work-from-home brigades, no commuting necessary. At least not daily.

This opens new doors for me. I get the chance to take morning or noon rides on trails I previously never would have seen on weekdays. I get to ride for pleasure, and if my route starts to wear on me, I get to change it. Lucky me, I know.

Yet, working from home also provides the opportunity to become lazy. I worked so hard getting comfortable as a bicycle commuter that it’s hard to give it up cold turkey. So, I’m going to make my morning rides my own sort of commute. It will be the longest distance between my bedroom and my home office possible, much more than a few shuffle-steps.

Over on Commute by Bike, Bike Shop Girl has compiled a list of 2010 bike commuter goals. Here are her 8 goals with my comments:

1. Learn how to properly lock your bike

There are a lot of different places to lock your bike in Toronto. It took me some time and practice to find the “sweet spots” for locking to post and rings and other spots. I find that a sturdy u-lock through the frame and front wheel is best for eliminating vulnerable gaps between lock, bike and rack. This also helps keep your bike upright as other people use the rack.

2. Start a Commuter Challenge

I’ve personally resisted getting a cycling computer. I’m a little too competitive and really want to keep my eyes on the road. But, if you find your commute getting stale, then why not strive to make the best time possible or work out how to catch every green light?

3. Motivate a co-worker to commute by bike

You could start by taking them with you on a ride one weekend. Show them your route when the roads are less busy. Unfortunately, no one at my office joined me last year… but walking in all sweaty with a bike in tow certainly got us talking about something new.

4. Join your local advocacy group

In Toronto you can start by joining the Toronto Cyclist Union. Joining is a great start, but getting active and participating in events or volunteering is even better. My goal is to do more with the Union now that I’m a proud member.

5.  Take photos to inspire others and yourself

There are more than 2,000 photos in the BikingToronto Flickr Pool… why not help us reach 3,000? Edit: As mentioned in the comment below, the pool is now approaching 4,000!

6.  Setup a commuter zone

My bike accessories once filled a small tupperware container. Now, I have a dedicated shelf near the door where I keep bungees, gloves, lights, the odd tool and helmets. Making space for your bike stuff, and making it accessible, are a great way to remind yourself that it’s better by bike.

7. Practice preventative maintenance

Not sure what to do with those tools a family member gave you over the holidays? Make a visit to Bike Pirates or the Community Bicycle Network and learn how to fix your own bike before it decides it no longer wants to go. If you live in Toronto’s East end, why not get involved in starting a DIY shop as well?

8. Invest in your gear

It’s certainly not necessary to have a full cycling wardrobe. But, adding pieces like waterproof gloves, a waterproof jacket or even shoes can help make your commute more enjoyable no matter what the weather is like.

That’s all 8… but I’m certain there are many more. What are your 2010 cycling/commuting/living goals? Share yours in the comments below.

Photo via sevenman in BikingToronto’s Flickr Pool

Dottie Demonstrates Dressing for Winter Cycling

While waiting for the TTC last night at Dufferin and Bloor I watched several cyclists pedal by. Mostly, they were men. And mostly they were wearing cycling tights, and bright yellow cycling jackets, and thick gloves and goggles or glasses.

Then, with the wind blowing her hair, a woman cycled past in a long wool jacket, wool mittens and tall boots.
As demonstrated below, you don’t have to don the latest advances in plastics to cycle year round, even in Toronto. Never underestimate the power of wool to keep you warm.

Video via Let’s Go Ride a Bike

Bloated Roads and Bloated Bellies

Intersection

The problems are obvious. Our manufactured environment is detrimental to our health, when done wrong. Physical activity not only makes you smarter, it helps improve our lives. Yet, when we let our built environment get in the way, well, the results are clear.
From The McGill Daily:

Walking life
Max Halparin outlines steps to a healthy city

Overlooking Autoroute 20 on Angrignon one July afternoon, my friend Elizabeth and I decide it would be a good time to dismount our bikes and document our relative danger. As more and more cars rush to the on-ramp leading to the Turcot, the sidewalks and pedestrian lights seem increasingly out of place in the blatantly car-oriented area. But it’s not just highway interchanges surrounded by industrial parks, barren land, and mega-mallas that are ill-suited to bikes and pedestrians. It’s anything designed beyond the human scale. Riding north toward Montreal-Ouest, I wonder how many four-or-more wheelers even noticed the two non-motorists crashing their hurried, gas-guzzling routine.

Any trip beyond the extended McGill bubble reminds me that this is exactly what has defined Canada’s (predominantly sub)urban landscape for the past 60 years. While trekking around Montreal for the better part of the summer and fall conducting a walkability survey of neighbourhoods in nearly every borough, I was struck by how much of the city resembles the stereotypical suburban layout I thought I’d escaped after bidding farewell to the sprawling, monotonous blob that is “outside Toronto.” This would be far less important if the issue was purely one of aesthetics. However, as study after study shows, the way we build our environments can have a significant influence on our health.

Sprawling cities have lead to sprawling waistlines. Our reliance on cars as opposed to our feet or pedals is central to the decreasing rates of exercise – especially that which is incorporated into the daily routine. Automobile emissions in turn affect air quality, leading to smog days in cities and respiratory illnesses in residents.

“It’s probably not that my grandparents went to the gym more, or that our genetic disposition has changed significantly over the past 30 years,” explains University of Washington pediatrics professor Brian Saelens when I ask him why he focuses on understanding the built environment’s effect on health. “If I’m to explain increased rates of obesity and inactivity, the only plausible thing is that we’ve changed our environment.”

“A fantastic amount of energy has gone into making the cars happy and providing capacity for more traffic, as if there were no other important issues in the city,” explains architect and urban designer Jan Gehl. Recorded by CKUT-Radio, Gehl’s talk at McGill this past July draws heavily on his experiences making Copenhagen one of the world’s most people-oriented cities, as an example for Montreal to follow.

Businesses, however, often claim that if customers can’t park, they won’t shop. Though this line of thinking is often used to derail the installation of bike lanes, data proves these fears illegitimate: other modes of transport increase the number of passersby – to the tune of 8,000 more per year on some Copenhagen streets, Gehl says.

Proponents of more liveable cities can find common ground with environmentalists who decry the increased carbon emissions and energy use predicated by suburban living; so can local food advocates fed up with the conversion of arable land to parking lots, buildings, and chemical-addicted lawns. The same is true for teachers and parents who see a correlation between their child’s health and academic performance. “There’s lots of synergies there, but if [the message is] splintered, it’s not going to be nearly as effective,” Saelens notes.

Since the implementation of all this information produced in academic fields still rests outside institutions, connections between public health researchers and other advocates for liveable cities are key. There are encouraging signs that this message is getting out there: the U.S. Centre for Disease Control (CDC) recently published 26 different strategies for preventing childhood obesity suggested by researchers, and the Active Living By Design organization links planners with public health researchers to advocate for healthier living through infrastructural change. Further, Projet Montréal’s success in the mayoral elections suggests the growing popular appeal of people-oriented planning.

At a conference discussing the CDC report, Saelens was asked what change would have the greatest impact over the built environment. His response? “Making gas $10-12 gallon, and the reason isn’t because I don’t want people to drive – there is some utility in it.” With people paying the real price for their behavioural choices, Saelens argues, “then you can have serious conversations about land use and true public transportation.”

LINK

Photo via Flickr

Cyclists Are Smarter

High Park1

Personally, I feel that choosing to start my day with an hour and ten minute bike ride makes me smarter than everyone in their cars who are eating processed foods and stressing over the fact they have to try and pass me (a difficult task for countless people so I’ve learned).
As it turns out, I’m somewhat right… if only a little arrogant…
From The Globe and Mail:

The link between exercise and more brainpower

Neuroscientists say parents who want to boost their children’s mental performance should encourage kids to hit the road before they hit the books

It is first period at City Park Collegiate Institute in Saskatoon, and the Grade 10 students in Allison Cameron’s class are priming their brains for an English assignment.

They strap heart monitors on their wrists and climb on a treadmill or exercise bike for a 20-minute workout. When they’re done, they move to their desks and start writing. The students are taking part in a program that aims to help them improve their focus, concentration and, ultimately, their academic performance through regular exercise in class.

The results have been startling: On standardized tests, the children in Movement Matters have dramatically outscored students in classes in which the program wasn’t offered.

Today, Movement Matters is in its third year and most classes at the school take part. Companies have donated equipment, as has cyclist Greg LeMond, who offered Ms. Cameron six top-of-the-line spinning bikes. A number of schools across the country are interested in setting up something similar.

Fifteen-year-old Benji, whose guardian doesn’t want his last name published, goes twice a day to the room with the exercise equipment. He alternates between the bike and treadmill, and usually gets his heart rate up to 140 beats a minute.

“When I first started, I was real tired,” he says. “When I got used to it, it woke me up more. I kind of got better at doing math and reading.”

LINK

Photo via BikingToronto’s Flickr Pool

Cycling Comparison for Canadian Cities

From CTV.ca:

Montreal

Cycling is just one of many reasons to visit Montreal, though the city is getting props for its forward-pedalling ways.

The city has more than 500 kilometres worth of bike paths and was recently ranked by ForbesTraveller.com as one of “North America’s most bike-friendly cities.” And visitors can now rent bicycles for only $5 per day, while they wheel around the city’s downtown core.

But according to one cycling expert, Montreal has been making its downtown biking better for some time and has been making path improvements to some of its suburbs.

“From what I know, I think Montreal is in a pretty good position in terms of recent developments, especially in the downtown area,” said Jean-Francois Pronovost, executive director of the Velo Quebec Association, when speaking to CTV.ca by telephone from Montreal.

Pronovost points to the addition of a year-round bike lane along Maisonneuve Boulevard that opened up about two years ago. It allows cyclists to travel a bidirectional lane that is separated from other road traffic as they make their way through the downtown area.

Looking forward, Pronovost said Montreal needs to continue to cultivate its cycling culture with more designated bike lanes and paths. Then, he said, it becomes a question of sitting back and watching the bicycles hit the city streets.

According to statistics from Montreal police, 663 cyclists received minor injuries in traffic and road collisions last year. An additional 33 cyclists suffered serious injuries and two others died on Montreal roads in 2008.

Toronto

With nearly a million Toronto residents claiming to be at least part-time cyclists, Canada’s largest city has taken strides to make cycling better.

There are more bike lanes than in the past, Toronto has opened the first of several planned public bicycle stations and Mayor David Miller has said it is the city’s goal to see Torontonians making twice as many bicycling trips as they do today.

And the city’s efforts have been noticed.

“Toronto has done a lot to try to become a lot more bicycle-friendly,” Greg Mathieu, the head of the Canadian Cycling Association, said in a phone interview earlier this week.

But the system is far from perfect. Toronto bike lanes often empty into very busy streets and there is a perception that cyclists and motorists are at odds with one another.

“It’s always the battle, it would seem,” Mathieu said.

So far, Toronto police have responded to more than 600 collisions involving cyclists since the start of the year, compared to 34,600 involving cars.

Ottawa

Bicycles are a common site in Canada’s capital city, during the warmer months of the year.

You can see them gliding along the lengthy Capital Pathway network, which has more than 180 kilometres worth of paved bike lanes that wind along the city’s public parks, museums, rivers and other attractions.

But Ottawa still isn’t perfect.

The bike paths can’t get you everywhere you want to go and city bike lanes are not available on all major streets, says Michael Powell, a cyclist who contributes to the Cycling in Ottawa blog.

And while Ottawans generally enjoy a relatively good relationship with other vehicles on city roads, Powell said that there are places where the infrastructure is lacking.

“Once you get up to the suburbs, it’s a little more scattershot,” Powell said in a recent phone interview.

But he admits that the city has a good long-term plan in place for city cycling.

According to the City of Ottawa, 262 cyclists were injured in collisions last year, out of a total of 4,115 people who were injured in traffic collision within city limits.

Vancouver

Residents of British Columbia’s largest city make an estimated 60,000 trips by bicycle each day, meaning that cycling safety is a priority issue in Vancouver.

The city says it has doubled its bicycle network over the past decade and Vancouver has identified cycling as its fastest-growing form of transportation.

The newest development in Vancouver’s cycling scene is the addition of a walled-off cycling lane on the Burrard Street Bridge — a packed downtown passage that sees as many as 8,000 to 9,000 cyclists, pedestrians and drivers cross it each hour during peak times.

In May, Vancouver’s city council voted to convert one lane of the bridge solely for bicycle use over an indeterminate trial period. The goal was to see if the bridge could be made safer for pedestrians while keeping traffic flowing.

The project was the brainchild of Mayor Gregor Robertson, a life-long cyclist who had long held misgivings about the busy bridge.

“I’ve been riding this bridge all of my life, and that’s the first time I’ve really felt safe crossing it on my bike,” he told CTV British Columbia after trying the bike lane for the first time in July.

So far, the project appears to have been a success.

Earlier this week, Robertson issued a pres release saying that 25 per cent more cyclists were making use of the Burrard Bridge than before the bike lane became operational.

Read the rest here.

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