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

City of Toronto Sharrows PSA

Daniel Egan, Manager Cycling Infrastructure and Programs Transportation Services shares information on what sharrows are and how they can be used by cyclists in Toronto.

This same information can also be found on the City of Toronto’s web site here: Sharrows FAQ
Video via City of Toronto Cycling on Facebook.

Sharrows Miss the Point on Harbord

In the cover of night, workers began installing sharrows along Harbord.

A point of contention for years, the disconnected bike lane between Bathurst and Spadina has inspired Urban Repair Squad intervention and left Councilor Adam Vaughan singing the same old tune that the very sparse car parking on this strip is essential to the survival of the businesses here.

Ignoring the fact that this is one of the most direct east/west bicycle routes connecting west end residents to downtown work and school this gap reflects the overall disinterest in the City of Toronto for providing continuous, consistent and much needed bicycle infrastructure.

Like placing a band-aid over an axe wound, sharrows, painted stencils that encourage motorists and drivers to ride right over them, now “fill” the gap.

There’s no denying that space is limited along this street. Yet while further west street parking alternates sides of the street to accommodate bike lanes this effective use of space is ignored and instead pictures of bicycles place cyclists directly in the door zone:

And to make matters worse, the boxed in parking space designations are too small, maximizing the potential for door prizes:

It is clear that steps to improve this route for cyclists have been taken. Repaving the curbside lanes has eliminated sticky seam sealing and countless potholes meaning that cyclists can spend more time looking ahead than scanning below for hazards. Bike boxes have also been installed in the heart of the University of Toronto at Harbord/Hoskin and St. George to increase the visibility of cyclists and decrease the possibility of right hooks.

Yet, while the effectiveness of sharrows in Toronto is currently being studied, including part-time sharrows in use along the west end of College Street, it is clear that these stencils are a compromise. Sharing the road is a feat accomplished day after day by most motorists and cyclists. Sharrows offer up a reminder that space is limited and we must do what we can to make room for everyone. However, sharrows ignore more issues than they address. In the case of the new Harbord sharrows, they do nothing to prevent the problematic door prize and do even less to convince aggressive drivers to share space.

I must note that I am not a city planner and I am not diligently studying the road use along Harbord or College, however, I do ride along these streets almost daily and in my experience sharrows do little more than remind me of where better bicycle infrastructure is needed and how poorly our demands are being met.

More photos of the sharrows on Harbord in the slideshow by Martinho below:

What Happened to the “Bike Lane” on Spadina?

Sharrow

What exactly is going on with the blacked out “bike lane” on Spadina Avenue?

Well, what may or may not actually have been intended to be a bike lane is now gone, sanded away leaving a thick black stripe in its place. According to the Toronto Cyclists Union the stripe is to soon be replaced by sharrows:

What’s Up with Spadina – where’d that lane go?

Many of you will have noticed that the ‘gutter lane’, the white stripe that ran along the edge of the curb lane all the way along Spadina Ave., was scrubbed off the roadway about two weeks ago.  Please note that this was done in order to prepare the roadway for the application of Sharrows on most of Spadina, and full bike lanes where the road widens enough to fit them in at Spadina circle.

The City has not been able to provide us with a specific application date, but we have been assured that they will be implemented before the end of the season.

What are sharrows you ask? Here’s what the City of Toronto has to say:

1. What is a shared lane pavement marking, or “sharrow”?
Sharrow is short-form for “shared lane pavement marking”. This pavement marking includes a bicycle symbol and two white chevrons.

2. What do these sharrow markings mean for cyclists?
Sharrows are used to indicate where cyclists should ride in a travel lane.

  • For safety reasons, cyclists should ride one metre from the curb to avoid debris and sewer grates.
  • In lanes that are too narrow for cyclists and motorists to travel side-by-side, cyclists should ride in the centre of the lane to discourage motorists from passing too closely.
  • Where there is on-street parking, cyclists should ride one metre from parked cars to avoid the “door zone”.

Although it is the motorist’s and/or passenger’s responsibility to look first before opening their door, riding too close to parked cars can lead to serious injuries that can be avoided.

Sharrows are also used through intersections and some merge zones to support straight-line cycling and to increase the visibility of cyclists.

3. What do these sharrow markings mean for motorists?
Sharrow markings are used to remind drivers to share the road with cyclists. Sharing the road means you should:

  • only pass a cyclist where there is enough room to to do safely (at least one metre between motorist and cyclist),
  • reduce your speed when passing a cyclist, and
  • watch for cyclists when making lane changes and turns.

Be aware that cyclists are vulnerable to different hazards than drivers (e.g. minor pot holes and debris), so give them space to manouvre. Even where there are no sharrows or bike lanes, motorists should always share the road.

4. Where can I expect to see these sharrow markings?
Sharrows are used in curb lanes, either adjacent to the curb or parked cars. You will also see sharrows painted in the middle of narrow lanes where there is not enough room for a cyclist and motorist to travel side-by-side. Sharrow markings are also used through intersections and areas where traffic merges, such as at highway on-ramps or intersections with multiple turning lanes. Sharrows are mostly found downtown where there are the greatest number of cyclists.

View the list of sharrow projects.

More answers to your sharrow questions can be found here: Sharrow Frequently Asked Questions

The Changing Face of the NYC Commute

11 miles is just shy of 18 kms and a fairly long commute. Yet, because of constant development and political support for cycling infrastructure 90% of this journey includes streets featuring some form of cycling infrastructure.

Notice that only a small percentage of the ride is along streets with sharrows and, notice too, that NYC DOT isn’t trying to squeeze one size fits all cycling infrastructure onto a wide variety of streets.

Thinking back on my former commute, 25 kms each way and exactly 0% of my route including any form of cycling infrastructure, it’s no wonder I was often alone on two wheels. Cycling along major arterials with boulevards wide enough to play soccer on I wondered why there wasn’t a bike path there. I would cross over multi-lane bridges that themselves spanned across 400 series highways and wondered why both cyclists and pedestrians were ignored there as well.

Real cycling infrastructure influences real change. How hard is that to understand?

Via StreetFilms.org

Bicycles on Bloor?

Construction on Bloor between Avenue Road in the west and Yonge Street in the east is starting to be cleared. Revealed beneath the trucks and equipment are bicycle stencils on the fresh asphalt.

Now, these aren’t sharrows as they are missing directional chevrons.

And these aren’t bike lanes as they are missing painted lines and the diamond.

Best guess is that these are sharrows simply missing their hats as there are sharrows on Bloor east of Yonge. After studies and continuous calls from the public for better bicycle infrastructure on Bloor, it looks like all we’re getting for now is a little paint that cars can soon park on.

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Two-way Sharrows Along Macdonell Provide Unofficial Alternate Route to Sorauren Avenue Park

The work of the Urban Repair Squad and quite possibly a unique invention, two-way sharrows have been placed on the one-way, southbound only Macdonell Ave.

Photos by Martinho:

More information at Urban Repair Squad

“Jarvis lanes tell the story of a city that pretends to be committed to the bicycle” Hume

Taking over Jarvis

Via Toronto Star:

Hume: Cycling in Toronto is a joke
July 29, 2010 18:07:00
Christopher Hume
Star Columnist

Toronto’s bicycle policy is no policy at all; it’s a series of half-measures that add up to little.

The latest example, the much loathed bike lanes on Jarvis St., finally came to pass this week after years of rancorous debate. The new lanes begin at Charles St. in the north and end, as abruptly as they begin, on Queen St. to the south.

In other words, the new lanes are all but useless to anyone who happens to be travelling anywhere above or below that particular stretch of Jarvis. The new lanes do connect with others that run along Wellesley, Carlton and Gerrard; the failure, of course, is that they don’t connect with either Bloor St. or the waterfront.

Yet in their way, the Jarvis lanes tell the story of a city that pretends to be committed to the bicycle as an alternative means of urban transportation, but is anything but.

Instead, city officials have responded with rhetoric about the War on the Car. If only.

Rather than build a cycling network that would enable riders to reach all parts of the city, we have a hodge-podge of rules, regulations and lanes that probably make a bad situation worse.

Read the full article here.

Photo via BikingToronto’s Flickr Pool

Handling Street Car Tracks and Difficult Intersections With “Indirect Left Turns”

Indirect Left Turn Sign on Bloor at Sherbourne

What is an indirect left turn and how can it help you navigate streetcar tracks and other awkward intersections?

Making a left turn through a busy intersection can be a very tense situation for many cyclists. You’re worried about getting hit from behind, you’re trying to watch for oncoming vehicles, you’re watching the sidewalk for pedestrians, you’re hoping to cross streetcar tracks at a 90 degree angle and you can’t be sure everyone around you actually sees you waiting in the middle of all this.

To help make left turns a less stressful experience, the indirect left turn allows cyclists to proceed through an intersection on a green light in the curb lane (or bike lane should one be there) and join the curb lane of the cross street to wait for the next green light. This eliminates the hazards of waiting in the left most lane and allows cyclists to remain in the right most lane completing a left turn in a two part process.

In Toronto, there are 2 intersections where indirect left turns are suggested through existing infrastructure.

Heading West on Bloor Street in the bike lane extending from the Prince Edward Viaduct, an indirect left turn allows cyclists to turn from Bloor and head south on Sherbourne. Here’s an explanation from a 1997 issue of Cyclometer:

As you cycle west on Bloor St. towards Sherbourne St. there are two blue signs with a pictogram describing an ‘indirect left turn’ for westbound cyclists wanting to turn left onto Sherbourne. Cyclists can ride straight through on the westbound green and stop at the far curb in the white painted ‘box’ to wait for the southbound green light. To ensure that waiting cyclists aren’t in conflict with right turning drivers, the southbound ‘right turn on green’ has been prohibited. Also the crosswalk was moved north just enough so that cyclists don’t have to block the crosswalk while waiting for the southbound green. The ‘box’ is large enough to accommodate 2 or 3 cyclists at a time.

The bike lane and sign still exist (although the sign is hung exceptionally high for cyclists):

Bloor Street Bike Lane Sherbourne indirect left turn

Unfortunately, the past 13 years have not been kind to the “box”:

Box location for indirect left turn Sherbourne

Early Bike Box location Sherbourne

The second location where an indirect left turn is suggested for cyclists is at the awkward intersection of Dupont, Dundas Street West and Annette.

In order to get to the bike lane on Annette from the bike lane on Dupont, simply follow the sharrows. While I did not notice a sign explaining the turn at this intersection, the sharrows quite clearly illustrate a path for cyclists:

Sharrows for indirect left turn at Dupont Dundas Street West

Sharrows connect Old Weston Road to Annette bike lane

The indirect left turn is also popular with motorists at this intersection as I witnessed 4 drivers make a similar move on the underused Old Weston Road to avoid waiting in the left turn lane.

Indirect left turns are a great way to help people on bikes build confidence on busier roads where turning left can be both nerve-wracking and dangerous. In fact, the Toronto Cyclists Handbook even recommends this strategy, calling it a “two-part left-turn from right of lane”:

I’ve used this turning method at intersections with streetcar tracks and multiple traffic lanes and you’re bound to witness it at many intersections along Spadina. However, is it legal to make this type of turn?

I contacted Sgt. Tim Burrows of Traffic Services and here’s what he had to offer on the subject:

Why I like the indirect left turn.

1.) Avoid potential conflict by trying to cut through traffic to move into
proper turn position. (safer)
2.) Most drivers expect to see bicycles on right side of road adding to the
‘predictability factor,’ (safer)
3.) Riders can always keep eyes forward, with glances to left/right for
safety instead of turning back to get a ‘big picture.’ (safer)
4.) Faster (better for cyclist)

Intersections are one of the most dangerous areas for all our road users
and especially so for our vulnerable groups such as cyclists.  Anytime we
can find safer means for them to travel…its better for all of us.

The Sherbourne site has one draw back. The sign shows a painted stop line,
but there isn’t one.  Maybe this is a given, but I wouldn’t want cyclists
to think they are supposed to drive into the pedestrian walk way, nor have
officers ticketing a cyclist for riding too close to the crosswalk.

As long as you stay out of the crosswalk indirect left turns are a perfectly acceptable and possibly even faster way to make a left turn on a bicycle at busier intersections.

While I’m uncertain if there are plans to add indirect left turn infrastructure in the current Bike Plan, Toronto may soon see something similar in the form of “Bike Boxes.”

Over at Giddy Up Toronto, a blogger has suggested that we use indirect left turn boxes instead of the proposed bike boxes. The planned bike boxes would allow cyclists to move to the head of the line at red lights and position themselves for a left turn from the centre-most lane. While this clearly marks a space where cyclists will be turning it doesn’t address the issue that you’re still in a position that makes it difficult to cross streetcar tracks at a 90 degree angle. Both our planned bike boxes and indirect left turn boxes work best when right turns are prohibited on red lights, but only the indirect left turn box positions cyclists to safely cross streetcar tracks.

The most important aspect when considering any piece of infrastructure, and this is something that Sgt. Burrows also mentions, is that we create an environment that promotes predictable behaviour. Intersections, especially busy ones with streetcar right-of-ways and multiple lanes (including bike lanes) provide the greatest opportunity for serious collisions. Clearly marking paths for all users helps to promote predictable behaviours and can keep all road users “on the same page” reducing the possibility of confusion and ultimately collisions.

Update November 12, 2010: A sign explaining indirect left turns has been posted at the Dupont/Dundas/Annette intersection. Although to make this sort of turn here as indicated means you’re now blocking the bike lane. Here’s the sign as photographed by Martinho:

P1010685

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