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

Important Number Missing From Toronto Police Bicycle “Blitz”

Toronto Critical Mass - April 25, 2008 066

Every time the Toronto Police launch a “blitz” campaign, all we seem to care about are the numbers.

How many tickets were issued? How many law-breakers were brought to justice? How many scofflaws now have to pay a hefty fine?

But when all is said and done there is one number that is almost always absent. This is probably the most important number, the one that ultimately frames the true issue at hand. The one number that could reveal whether or not these “blitzes” actually yield results at all.

Let’s look at the numbers we already have: Prior to the “blitz,” Toronto Police warned 250 cyclists that they were breaking laws in relation to the Highway Traffic Act.

During the “blitz” 367 tickets were issued to cyclists. (PDF: http://is.gd/eF3q0)

Without the missing number though, these totals are meaningless. Alone, these totals can be spun to mean whatever you want. And that’s exactly what is happening…

You see, the missing number from this scene is the number of people on bicycles that the Toronto Police actually encountered. With this number we’d have an idea of possible problems. We’d have a percentage, one that would carry over to future campaigns. We’d have context.

However, without these numbers we have generalizing. We have people jumping to conclusions based solely on their limited experiences. Is 367 tickets a lot? Since we do not know how many cyclists passed by Toronto Police during these 3 days, then we cannot know. Did they ticket 90% of the people on bicycles they encountered? Or was it just 10%?

If the Toronto Police really want to influence positive change, then include this vital missing number. Every cyclist should follow the rules of the road. But how many do? We want to know! Do not let anecdotal evidence, the kind that runs rampant in news article comments, distort the facts.

Photo via the BikingToronto Flickr Pool

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

“Watch for Bikes” CAA Campaign Launches Today

Five years ago the City of Toronto and CAA handed out 150,000 “Door Prize cards” (PDF) that included a sticker drivers could put on their side view mirrors to remind them to watch for cyclists and warning them of the dangers of the “door prize.”

Here’s what the old cards looked like:

Watch for Bikes 2005

Watch for Bikes

Today, June 9th, 2010, another “Watch for Bikes” campaign launches in Toronto.

Looking back at the 2005 campaign there was also mention of a 1998 bylaw that requires taxis to be equipped with 3 stickers warning the drivers and passengers to watch for bikes:

Watch for Bikes Taxi Bylaw

2010 Toronto Cycling Map has Bike Boxes

2010 Toronto Cycling Map CoverEach year, the City of Toronto releases a comprehensive map of cycling infrastructure and suggested routes.

The map indicates bike locker locations, stairs with bicycle groves, bicycle rental locations and clearly indicates every bike lane and multi-use path throughout Toronto.

With a stalled Bike Plan, the 2010 edition varies only slightly from its predecessor.

One noticeable change is the addition of bike boxes to the illustrations explaining cycling infrastructure for cyclists (and motorists).

Hopefully we’ll be seeing these installed this summer!

To download PDFs of the cycling map, visit the City of Toronto web site here.

2010 Toronto Cycling Map Bike Box 1

2010 Toronto Cycling Map Bike Box 2

Lower Simcoe Taxi Stand… Wait, That’s A Bike Lane!

I found these images on the blog Torypages. Looks like taxi drivers have found a new place to wait for fares on Lower Simcoe… the bike lane.

More photos here.

UPDATE: Here’s reaction from other sources in Toronto

Anger as cars clog new Simcoe St. bike lane (Toronto Star)
So, this is a cycling city? (Toronto Star)

UPDATE the 2nd: The Toronto Star is really digging in to this story!

Traffic cops powerless to enforce bike lanes

Keeping lanes clear may take higher fines and more ticketing power

three main obstacles for parking enforcement officers trying to enforce bike lanes.

One, there’s no specific bylaw. Smith can’t track how many tickets are issued to cars sitting in a bike lane because such tickets are bundled with any others handed out for parking in a no-stopping zone.

Next, the fine is too low. Last November, Yvonne Bambrick of the Toronto Cyclists Union made a presentation to the Toronto Police Services Board, asking for tougher enforcement around bike lanes.

She wants the $60 fine for cars that cross a solid white line to enter a bike lane to be doubled to $120, which is closer to the $100-$150 fine charged for parking in a fire route or a handicapped space.

“We’re told to stay as far right as possible, then we’re forced to swerve into traffic,” says Bambrick.

Her suggestions were passed on to the city manager. Councillor Adam Vaughan, a police board member whose ward includes the convention centre, says council should be discussing a bike lane bylaw by the spring.

“Ticketing is the only way to do it,” said Vaughan, who said the discussion would include the possibility of raising the fine.

Smith also sees it as a major problem that parking enforcement officers are required to ask drivers to move before ticketing them. Most will just pull away if they see an officer approaching their illegally stopped car.

The constable, who is on the Cycling Advisory Committee, thinks parking officers should have the power to immediately issue a ticket to any car parked illegally, and to have the ticket stick even if the car leaves. That’s a recommendation police have made several times to the province, which has said only that it will consider changing the “drive away” ticketing rules.

LINK (Toronto Star)

Angles Morts – Blind Spots

Angle Morts

My French is pretty terrible, but the visuals in the video blow are certainly clear enough.

While many could see this as why cycling is dangerous, I believe that this video illustrates the need to re-imagine city streets and change a collective attitude concerning public space. In Toronto, I have noticed that drivers will rarely double-park. They will drive up on sidewalks, block bike lanes and park on the grass, but never will I see someone block in another car. How messed up is that logic? How disrespectful is that behaviour? And how much does this illustrate that a hulking mass of steel and rubber can dominate our public space?

Cycling is not a dangerous activity. Unattentive, selfish and careless individuals make our public spaces dangerous for everyone.

It’s Your Ride

I’m at odds over fixie culture. Sure, it’s great that bicycles are receiving so much attention from young trend setters (or followers, be that as it may). But, laying a big skid mark isn’t really a “trick” or “cool.” Maybe, when I was 5, sure, skids were cool. But now, when I know that skid just significantly reduced the lifespan of a $50 or more tire… well, waste isn’t “cool” in my books.

And, when it comes to racing through traffic and ignoring all rules of the road… give me a break. As someone who has been involved in “extreme” sports for more than 15 years, I can tell you that if what you’re doing poses major risks to people who are not involved with you… then your behaviour is simply reckless and irresponsible. I may have put my life on the line for a stunt or two and been kicked out of more spaces than I can remember, but not once was anyone other than myself at risk of serious injury. When you blow between cars and act like the road is your own personal obstacle course this isn’t “sport,” it’s foolish.

That said, this commercial for Hutchinson tires is really pretty:

It’s Your Ride from Cinecycle on Vimeo.

Why Some Cyclists in Toronto Break the Rules

Cyclists Dismount Sign

I’ve stopped reading the comments from readers on almost all news articles on the topic of cycling in Toronto.

The anti-cycling advocates make my blood boil:
“Once, I saw this guy on a bike and he was going the wrong way, he deserves to die!”
That’s not a direct quote, but I’m sure you’ve read the same sort of comment.
And, the pro-cycling team also has been contributing their own leaps in logic:
“Cars are destroying our planet and you are selfish for owning one!”
While, I tend to agree with this to some extent, this argument has nothing to do with the article on cyclists you were just reading. And it has nothing to do with expressing the fact that both vehicles of all manner and size and bicycles are allowed on Toronto’s streets.
As the major media outlets try to find more ways to talk about the Sheppard/Bryant case, we’re starting to see more articles on cycling in general. For the most part, I believe they all read like they were paid for by the manufacturers of automobiles:
“Cyclists deserve to be fined and imprisoned! There’s no room on OUR roads for them! They need to stop behaving like children and follow the rules!”
Why do some cyclists choose to break the rules? Please, note my wording here. Breaking the rules is a choice made by people riding their bicycles. We all know the rules. Two-year olds know what a stop sign means. Anyone who has ever even seen a road knows which side goes in what direction. Anyone claiming ignorance of the rules is lying to you…

A police officer on his bike chased down and fined the first-year U of T student yesterday on St. George St. after he ran a red light on his bicycle. The visibly upset student, who wouldn’t give his name, said he was from China and didn’t know the rules.

The above snippet is from an article in the Toronto Sun. The writer also adds this pull quote:
Cycling organizations should also speak out more against their “radical” members, Burrows added.

“We know that 99.9% of drivers will stop at a red light. We don’t know that with cyclists,” he said.

I ask again, why do some cyclists in Toronto break the rules of the road?

1) Safety

How can running a red light increase safety? How does not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign increase anyone’s safety?

It is unfair and unreasonable to assume that just because I’m on a bicycle, I have some sort of twisted death wish. If I really wanted to die in Toronto, I’d get in a car. When approaching a red light I know there’s going to be a stream of cars piling up behind me. Some of the drivers are going to try and push to get in front of me at the light, the rest are going to push me in the intersection as I’m trying to build speed again. This is why you see so many cyclists in crosswalks, when you’re being tailed by monstrous steel machines, you’re going to move to where you know they aren’t going to go.

Why then, would I run a red light? If the way is clear, running the red gets me through an intersection without impatient drivers riding my ass or trying to squeeze me out of the lane. Once through the intersection, I can now establish my line, so the drivers coming up quickly behind me can react and pass me safely.

Same goes for stop signs. I proceed safely without coming to a full stop and I preserve some momentum and get to continue on in a predictable fashion. And that’s what motorists want, isn’t it? Predictability.

2) Lack of enforcement

Even Toronto Police Services admits to this. They are lack on enforcing the rules of the road when it comes to cyclists. And, we can all see why. Cyclists very, very, very rarely kill people. Cyclists, even with our growing numbers, are still a minority. And what’s more dangerous? The guy in his car eating a breakfast sandwich and speeding along a side street, or a cyclist, going less than 20 km/h, who doesn’t fully stop at a stop sign? It’s not like either of these are rare occurrences on our roads.

3) Laziness

Even though it takes far more physical energy to operate a bicycle vs. a car, cyclists can be and are often lazy. We want to get where we’re going as fast as possible.

Motorists, doesn’t that sound familiar? Isn’t that why we have drive-thru banks and coffee shops? Isn’t that why there are HOV lanes on highways? Isn’t that why your car can go 160 km/h when you legally should never reach speeds greater than 100 km/h, and much lower in our city?

We go the wrong way on streets because it is simply easier than trying to get into a turning lane, then wait for oncoming traffic while watching behind us for anyone who doesn’t see us and then get honked at because we turn too slow. We go the wrong way because our destination is on the side of the street we’re on and we don’t want to deal with street car tracks. The reasons are numerous, even if they aren’t in the name of safety and following the rules.

So, the next time you see a cyclist breaking the rules, ask yourself why they are behaving in this manner. There is always a reason for a cyclists behaviour. Cyclists aren’t always making the right choices, and we do need to address not only the problem action, but also the reason behind why this action was made.

What do you think of the rules of the road and why cyclists break them in Toronto?

Photo by ammiiirrr posted to Flickr