Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The grass ain't always greener on the other side. Exhibit A: Kitchener.

A friend of mine, Shantell Powell, was just interviewed about cycling for CTV in Kitchener.

Now, I've heard her talk about what riding is like in Kitchener. I've heard stories about terrible infrastructure, hostile streets, threatening and abusive drivers. Once, she was followed - tailgated, really - by a woman who screamed at her, attempted to force her off the road, passed her, then came back to start all over again. Shan reported it to the police. The police did nothing.

Having watched the CTV spot, sadly, I know why the police might have done nothing. So this is what it looks like to live in a place that's truly hostile to bikes. Ottawa is starting to look like the freaking Netherlands.

Even the copy for the story is slanted against bikes. "In the battle of bikes against cars, it's pretty simple to guess who wins," is literally the first thing the anchor says. Break out the bike comment bingo cards, people. (And remember: physics will win every time.)

"Tonight, a more difficult question: who is causing the crashes?" Oh, no. No, no. I can see where this is going like oncoming headlights.

Yeah. Because although they're talking about car/bike road sharing, " of the worst incidents Powell can recall didn’t occur on a road at all, but on the Iron Horse Trail. While biking the trail one day, she suddenly found herself on a collision course with a cyclist who came 'out of the bushes' at an unmarked crossing."

Those reckless cyclists, endangering even each other on their headlong, heedless way! 

"In the bulk of these collisions the cyclist is at fault. Usually for failing to yield or just disobeying some sort of traffic control," says the policeman they interviewed.

That doesn't match with, you know, actual studies of actual accident statistics

Let's quote from the Ontario Coroner's Report on cycling deaths, shall we?: 

  • In 44 cases, contributing factors on the part of the cyclist alone were identified. In 33 cases, contributing factors on the part of the driver of a vehicle alone were identified. In 48 cases, contributing factors were identified on the part of both the cyclist and the driver. In three cases, the circumstances of the collision were unclear.
But hey. They're interviewing a committed cyclist (she must be, she rides in Kitchener), so what does she have to say? Well, aside from the fact that they edited the interview so that the first thing she says is "you have terrible cyclists just like you have terrible drivers. . . " they then undercut anything she might later have to say by having the voiceover inform you that "she says she obeys the traffic signs . . . mostly. . . " and then make a point about how rolling through stop signs isn't legal in Ontario. And punctuate it with footage of her rolling through a right turn past a stop sign.

(I stood outside on my balcony this morning and watched five out of six cars roll right on through the three-way stop below my building in less than a minute. Those scofflaw drivers. They think they own the road!)

"Don't forget the right of way, and the right of weight!" says the narrator. Remember: cars outweigh bicycles, ergo, if you are hit by a car, it was your fault. Obvs. The cop even backs that up. "They're gonna win in any collision," he says. 

And it's all about who walks away not crippled, amirite? Like those old trials by combat, where the winner was determined to be morally right because clearly the gods were with him.

Really, what bothers me the most about this story is that it starts from a lazy-ass premise - people on bikes are at fault when they're hit by drivers in cars - and edits to suit. While Shan tries to make a point about why taking the lane in a construction area would make sense and be a reasonable decision on the part of the person riding the bike, the editing makes nonsense of what she's trying to say, then cuts straight to the policeman saying that you should always ride as far to the right as "possible" (and that's another twitch, another point scored on the bike article bingo card, because there is a world of difference between "as far right as possible" and "as far right as is safe.")

"Follow those [the laws], be a little bit courteous, be aware of your surroundings, and you'll have no problems," says Sgt. Whatsisname.

There you go: the attitude of a whole city toward cycling. Summed up as the ghost of Rob Ford saying, "my heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed, but it's their own fault at the end of the day."

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ride of Silence

Tonight was the annual Ride of Silence to commemorate cyclists killed or injured in collisions with cars. I've never been before (which is probably why I forgot you're supposed to have a helmet, and showed up without mine, because I came in from the drive-to job and had chucked the bike in the back of the car. Oops). They let me, and a couple of other helmetless folks, ride anyway, of course.

Photo by Jeff Morrison
After a quick reminder of the reason for the ride and the rules, we left City Hall and did two circuits of the Laurier bike lane, all the way to Bronson and back, stopping at stop lights, merging into traffic at the spot where the bike lane's closed by construction, and at one point avoiding a delivery truck which was (of course) parked in the lane. No one spoke, and everyone had a black or red ribbon on their right arm: black in solidarity, red if they'd been injured in a collision. 

Once we all got back to City Hall, people basically went their own ways - turned in their ribbons to use next year; a few stopped to talk; one person, I thought, cried; the group just sort of broke up. I hopped back on the bike and rode back over to my office to get the bike back into my car and home. No fanfare, no speeches, just a quiet dispersal. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

HULK SMASH (or, using your words. Loudly.)

I was just on my way home, going through Old Ottawa South, and signaled and tried to take the lane because it's too narrow through there, and this dude in a red two-seater crowded me. This was just in front of the Mayfair, where everyone tries to squeeze over into the right-hand lane to avoid getting caught behind left-turning cars. (Only to then pinch bikes between them and the parked cars on the other side of the Sunnyside intersection, but that's a whole other complaint I have, and in fact at rush hour the parked cars aren't there, which is a blessing and made the rest of this encounter much better.)

I waved him back and made a big show of shoulder checking, giving all the body language I could that I was moving over. But he still kept trying to squeeze by, while I was, increasingly loudly, shouting, "There isn't room, there isn't room to pass me!" Then this huge, righteously pissed-off voice came out of me, and I bellowed, "THERE IS NOT ROOM TO PASS ME!" I didn't even recognize my own voice, I was just all HULK SMASH.

That voice made me feel pretty powerful, actually. Ironically enough given the massive power difference between my vehicle and his. There was something about knowing I was right. And, also, too often when I find myself shouting at drivers I'm just swearing sharply or reacting with a wordless shout, in fear. This was reacting with Teachable Moment. (Albeit a hulk-smashy teachable moment.) I had words - straight-up, clear, definite, very loud words.

And just after I bellowed, I saw that his windows were down, because, of course, it was a beautiful summer day. So I damn well knew he'd heard me. And he backed off, and I got my ass into the dead centre of that lane, and through the intersection o' doom.

I am bike-woman. Hear me roar.