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3,000 kms and Positioning the Toronto Cycling Community in a Non-Bike Friendly Environment

OK – I have hit 3,000 kms and it is time to update my blog (I seem to have gotten into a pattern of doing that every 1,000 kms). Many thanks to Mayor Ford for getting me thinking and giving me something to write about this time!

The ongoing debate between cars and bikes sharing the same road infrastructure in Toronto generally positions the two communities as diametrically opposed to one another; bikes gain at the expense of cars and vice versa. Countless media and political statements reference the “war on the car”. Debate around the Jarvis street bike lanes was oriented towards the negative impact on traffic flow and how the cycling community benefited at the expense of cars.

This orientation and perspective sets up a “win-lose” dynamic and one in which, given current political shifts, will likely result in significant losses to the bicycling community.

I think that cycling advocates need to seriously consider how they position their messaging in a fashion that is palatable to the anti-cycling establishment. This does not mean to acquiesce to their positions, but to change the context of the discussion in a way that supports the interests of Toronto’s cycling community.

Would we get farther if messaging was based on the underlying message that promoting cycling infrastructure actually benefits vehicular traffic flow and makes for a less stressful driving experience in Toronto? I think we would.

Studies that have been conducted on “bike boxes” (recently introduced in TO) demonstrates that they improve the flow of traffic for cars and, particularly, make for easier right hand turns because there is not a long line of bikes heading straight though the intersection. Great message and, by the way, it makes it safer for me on my bike as I don’t get squeezed by cars turning right.

How about bike lanes? When I am in a bike lane, cars do not need to worry about where I am going to go, or if I am going to veer out in front of them. Cars can drive by me (usually I am driving by them) totally unobstructed and without fear of hitting me. But then I pull onto Queen and head down Peter Street where I am continually jockeying for position with cars creating stress on my part and their part! In my mind, the average driver out there is truly concerned for my safety and don’t want to hit me. Putting me in a bike lane makes it easier on them!

I know many people who are really impressed that I bike to the office. They would love to do that they say, but they are afraid of the traffic and concerned for their safety. So they drive to work. Hmmm…my bike takes up a lot less space than a car. Imagine if these folk left there cars in the driveway and biked to work instead. More bikes, less cars, less gridlock. Wouldn’t that be great for those who choose to drive their cars to work!

So the messaging is this: increasing bicycling infrastructure improves traffic flow and creates a less stressful and safer driving experience for all. “Mister Mayor Ford, as a bicycle commuter, I want to make things better for car drivers – I want them to have less gridlock and enjoy their drive in a less stressful environment…you know, connecting bike lanes would help accomplish that! Oh, BTW at a considerably cheaper cost”.

Something to think about. As for 4,000 kms before the snow flies? Hmmm…..

Posted: October 27th, 2010
Filed under: Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

2,000 Kilometres

On June 20, 2010, I posted a blog called 1,000 Kilometres, having just passed the 1,000 K threshold in my first season of commuting by bike. Well, a month and a half later I get to write a new blog, having passed the 2,000 K mark a couple of weeks ago at Peter and Richmond! Enough to have put me close to Winnipeg if i had been going in a straight line rather than back and forth every day!

Much has happened over the last 1,000 kms.

To start, I think I have now accomplished balancing the calories I consume with the calories I burn. At first I was dropping weight like crazy but now seem to have levelled off at a good weight for me. Biking for 90 minutes a day burns a lot of energy I have discovered! And that, in turn, entails eating a lot more food which is a good thing. Who can complain about eating an extra desert whenever they want! Bring on the Rolo ice cream!

I am now experiencing bike envy. I am thinking that tires narrower than my 26 x 1.95s would be a really good thing! Maybe a lighter frame. How about some ergonomic bar ends…a new seat….OK, I will stop. My bike is a 17 year old mountain bike. It is a Boulder Pheonix, which is a brand that appears to have become extinct. But it got me around Cape Breton with all my camping gear once; it fits me like a glove, I know every little nuance in its performance; certain dings and scratches bring back fun memories. So I am not sure that I really want to part with it!

What is perhaps far more significant is my increasing awareness and interest around bike culture and car culture in Toronto. I pay attention to issues that arise along my route; I notice cabs parked in bike lanes; cars turning right and blocking bike lanes in the process; I watched two cyclists riding side by side and as a car passed them honking its horn, they proceeded to spit on the car. I see firsthand some of the resentment, but perhaps more important, the lack of understanding between two communities trying to share a single road. I ride in bike lanes that are great until they just stop without any connecting bikelanes. I notice the Toronto bike/car issue surfacing in the media on a regular and consistent basis. Clearly a hot topic in this town.

But I also see the potential! I came across a reference to bicycle infrastructure in Portland Oregon and was amazed at how that town seems to have embraced cycling culture. I am sure they have their issues as well, but what really struck me was retailers in Portland lobbying City Hall to remove the car parking in front of their stores and replace it with bike parking. Interesting! After a very successful trial, it finally became apparent that a lot more bikes can be parked in a similar area than cars and that means more customers and more business. I look closer to home and read about the bike lanes and trails that Montreal is putting in. Impressive.

So much potential and then I run across references to our Toronto mayoral race and quite frankly shudder at the lack of foresight and, in one case in particular, sheer ignorance! I look at Toronto’s lackadaisical performance around installing bike infrastructure and wonder. I look at the gridlock of cars downtown and wonder even more!

Kudos to all of you who work so hard to raise the profiling of bicycling in Toronto!!! Put your efforts together with some political will and thousands of bicyclists and we have our selves one dynamic city.

Ok – off to start my next goal….3,000 kms.

Posted: September 1st, 2010
Filed under: Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

1,000 kms

I am new to Toronto, having lived in Guelph for the last 23 years.  My biking experience (other than a great 7 day bike trip through the highlands of Cape Breton) consisted of the occasional 7 kms commute to work but was primarily restricted to the occasional evening or weekend trail ride out to Guelph Lake.

Living by Lakeshore Blvd in Etobicoke, about 2 km west of the Humber River, I often watched the cyclists from the bus heading into downtown TO in the morning.  I had no idea how far it was from my place to downtown, but it looked far!  One day this spring, I was waiting for the bus and a cyclist whizzed by.  I didn’t think much about until I noticed the same cyclists whizzing past the bus in front of Ontario place.

That got me thinking and, frankly, watching the cyclists heading into the downtown core in the morning looked really appealing.

Finally, I decided I would give it a try.  I am afraid my decision was not based on saving the environment, or reducing the consumption of fossil fuels, or even exercise for that matter – it just…well…looked like fun!

I dusted off my bike, headed into MEC and got some stuff (including some slick tires to replace the knobby things on my mountain bike).  I researched bike lanes and was intensely frustrated trying to find a good way to get from Queen’s Quay to the bottom of Beverley at Queen (I am still looking for a good route). Once on Beverley though, it would be a straightforward run north to College, head east to Bay and I am there!

I was a little nervous about the whole ordeal; what with all the bicycle/car tensions and issues I had been reading about and added to that some uncertainly about downtown routes.  Really though, I was nervous about what kind of shape I was in (or not in) and what kind of state I would be in arriving at the office. 

So, on April 19, 2010, I got up a bit early, donned my brand new bike shorts, loaded up my brand new pannier bag, plugged my brand new bike computer into its holder thing and headed out: over the Mimico Creek bridge, over the Humber bridge, past Sunnyside, past the Boulevard Club, past Ontario Place, followed the trail to the west side of Queens Quay, up lower Spadina, Blue Jays Way, Queen St for 20 feet, Beverley, east on College to Bay and pulled into the bike racks conveniently installed right next to the parking security station feeling like a million bucks.  A 40 minute ride and 13.7 kms and I felt great.  Took some time to cool down, got changed and was more than ready for the day. 

Oh, incidentally, from that ride on I was hooked!  And have ridden every day since, rain or shine.  Even if it is raining in the morning, I will ride because I don’t want to miss the ride home when the weather clears. And it’s only spitting a bit anyway right?

This past Friday, on Queen’s Quay at the foot of Spadina, my bike odometer hit 1,000 kms.  That really knocked me over – the fact that I self propelled myself that far in such a relatively short period of time.  If I had been heading north, I would be in Wawa by now!  I have, over that time, saved a whack of money (but have spent it all on biking gear), lost about 10 pounds, slept way better, got to know every bump along the entire route, learned about certain things to watch for (like getting doored, cabs pulling u-turns without looking (or maybe they do look and do it anyway).  Perhaps more of my thoughts on all of that later.

Great way to travel and looking forward to tomorrows morning’s ride!

Posted: June 20th, 2010
Filed under: Uncategorized | 5 Comments »