Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Small victories: Heron Road SBL is happening

Funny how I can ride through the same intersection every morning and evening, and not notice that someone is building a segregated bike lane on it until it's been underway for a week. . .

This is - or will be - the Heron Road bike lane. It's essentially a rebuild of the "kill strip" along the south side of the road, between Colbert Crescent and the Heron Gate Mall. It's something the Healthy Transportation Coalition and I spotted last summer and started making noise about to the city (and the ward councillor gave us credit for bringing it to his attention!).

I think it's probably also happening in part because Heron is being dug up and resurfaced just west of here, and in part because the area just beside Sandalwood Park - formerly row houses - has been bulldozed and is being redeveloped for mid-rise housing. (I'm willing to bet that the developer understands the increased curb appeal of cycletracks and appealing sidewalks.)

I wrote about this project when the public consultation happened back in April. And at the time I mentioned the misgivings that I still have: while it is amazing to hear the words "Heron Road" and "cycletrack" sharing a sentence, this particular build is only about 800 metres long, it doesn't connect to any other infrastructure (such as the bike lanes that already exist a few hundred metres to either end, on Alta Vista and Conroy) or even run as far as Saint Patrick High School, and it only runs on one side of the road. This is because on the other side of the road, and at other points on this side, the existing space where the track could run is punctuated by hydro poles, which would be expensive to move. So this lane is a great step, but it doesn't really solve Heron Gate's isolation problem.



However: I honestly did not believe construction would start this summer. I'm so used to four-year timelines. This is going in a scant five months after the consultation phase. And watching it go up I'm reminded of David Reevely's article about how it's actually cheaper to build roads with cycletracks than without. As long as they're rebuilding any road, cycle tracks should go in.

And riding by it tonight, I realized how much nicer the street already looks with a cycletrack on it. More liveable. Less forbidding. More like a place for people. Even if it's fenced off and full of traffic cones and still mostly gravel and raw cement. Even if it's less than a kilometre and doesn't go anywhere, this lane looks pretty damn good.

So now, the fun begins. Now we have to make a whole lot of noise to get this lane connected to other infrastructure, and expanded to the other side of the road. We have to convince the City to suck it up and move the damn hydro poles to make this stub of a bike lane into what it could be. This 800m project is low hanging fruit, yes. And the worst outcome would be this: no one rides on it because it doesn't really go anywhere, and people point to the lack of traffic to excuse doing nothing more. Once this lane is open for bike traffic, we need to start writing to the City, to the project manager, Jamie MacDonald, and to Councillor Cloutier, to explain why it needs to be connected to the network.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The right-on-red blues

There are things drivers do that aren't really all that dangerous per se, but that have started to pull the quick release on my pet-peeve reaction. One is nudging into turns through intersections while there are pedestrians crossing, crowding and bullying them as they cross with the light.

Another is drivers who move out around me when I'm stopped at a red light so they can turn right.

Like this, f'r'example:

 

I know it's not all that dangerous for them to do this: I'm stopped, I'm usually over at the side of the road with a foot on the curb. And in this particular case above, there are some weird, confounding factors, like the angle of the intersecting street and how far back the stop line is from the corner and how wide and quiet the street is.

But it's not actually legal. And at a couple of streets on my usual ride to and from downtown, I stop in the middle of the lane, because the street is narrow, because of where I need to be on the other side of the intersection, whatever. And I get honks, I get yelled at, and a lot of the time, I get people pulling out around me, sometimes into the left-only lane, to turn right around me. Sometimes they stop first and then inch around me. Sometimes they just cruise right past me on their way through the turn, and that's when I worry about it being dangerous, because if they're looking left for oncoming traffic, they can't be paying attention to where their passenger side mirror, or front tire, is in relation to me.

But like I said, most of the time it's not all that dangerous. I mentally shrug and sigh.

The other day, though, someone did it, and then I realized it was a driving school car. With an instructor in the passenger side seat. And our encounter went a little something like this:


It wouldn't have bothered me nearly as much if it hadn't been an instructor, obviously teaching his student that it's just fine to cut around a cyclist, and to ignore the cyclist's concerns when she points out that what he's doing is illegal.

And it's consequence-free. No one is about to pull anyone over for doing this. There are bigger fish to fry. But it touches off that pet-peeve reaction of mine that someone whose job is, theoretically, to be a stickler for the fine points of the law (I was failed on my first driver's test for leaving the clutch in through a turn) is so blasé about it.

Also, I don't think this is the first time I've had a less-than-stellar encounter with Jim's Driving School: maybe even with that particular instructor. . .

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Three cheers for the licensing "debate"

Bear with me for a minute, because I'm going to mention That Video. The one that shows the cyclist, clearly running a red light along the Laurier bike lane, getting terrifyingly knocked across the hood of a car, the driver of which had clearly not been looking when he decided to duck around the car in front of him without pausing to wonder why the other driver might have been slowing down.

I won't link to the video, because it doesn't really matter, and you don't need to see it. Both parties were in the wrong. Whatever.

The thing is that since that crash happened on Saturday, we've had literally multiple media cycles - four days of it now - devoted to finding out who that red light runner was, whether he's been charged and with what, and multiple interviews with the poor shaken driver of the car. And more than one news outlet has decided it's a grand idea to put a poll on social media to ask, "Should cyclists be licensed/required to pass tests/certified?"

It's infuriating, because We Have Already Been Through This. And we've got the arguments lined up. Licensing cyclists has been tried. Any jurisdiction that's tried it has backed off, because it's stupidly expensive to administer, with no noticeable benefit to anyone in terms of safety or incident reduction, or even recovery of stolen bikes. Also, many cyclists already have driver's licenses, which presumably cover the rules of the road as they pertain to cyclists. And then there's the evergreen argument: at what age do we require these tests and licenses? Seven? Twelve? Eighteen? So a kid rides to school every day until suddenly she's eighteen and she has to pass a test to do it? Or do you forbid seventeen-year-olds from riding their bikes on the street? And if you do, then what do you do about your no-sidewalks laws?

A moment's thought and you can come up with this stuff. Think for just one second, I want to yell, while shaking these bike-hostile Twitter trolls violently, just think before you rattle off your reasonable-sounding and oh-so-original proposal, accompanied by that damn "thinking face" emoji.

But this time around, I'm going to be glad of this pseudo-"debate." Because it's actually clarified another point for me. And yes, that point is equity. Even talking about licenses, or training, or mandatory cyclist education, is, like so much else about cycling discussions, middle class affluent bullshit. It's the sort of thing people who don't worry about trading rent for food say. "We should just make them all take a course," you say. Okay then. Who will pay for that course you're imposing, or for the licensing fees? The cyclist? Right, you're automatically reaching for that mental image of a cyclist, and it's a guy in Spandex on a more or less high-end bike on his way to his white-collar job. Or a hipster type on his way to his part-time barista job, which he does to supplement his freelance graphic design work. Or whatever.

WRONG.

Bikes are, unquestionably, the only thing cheaper than your feet to get you around. They're a vital form of transport for people who can't afford a bus pass, much less a car. Bikes are the one kind of transportation that, once you have it, costs almost nothing to keep on the road. They are vital for people with minimal incomes, people on disability support (yes there are disabled bikers and lots of them don't @ me), elderly folks on pensions, immigrant families, the homeless and the street involved, and children of all kinds. The last thing you want to do is to put some institutional financial barrier in the way of using bikes.

It costs $158 to get a driver's license in Ontario, and that's not counting any driver's ed courses you might need to take, which might run you $800-$1,000. Sure, maybe a bike course would be cheaper, but even Can-Bike, which relies on local partners to subsidize their classes, charges money; and their courses have to be hosted by a community partner. So if the government isn't fully, 100%, subsidizing the training, the courses, and the enforcement, you'd better not talk about requiring anyone to carry around a bike permit. (Even in that case I think it's dumb, but if you must insist, I've got some ground rules. And if you already bitch about your taxes going into building bikes lanes, I'd like to talk to you about why you'd like them to go into a license scheme.)

Blathering about licensing cyclists just demonstrates your privilege, and your blindness to the people that bikes help most: the working poor, the homeless, the people trying to get established in a new country, starving students, children, struggling families.

So thanks, stupid, logic-free license debate. You've given me yet more insight into the inequality lurking in the general public's view of cycling. You've caused me to go out and look up a few more facts and stats to put into my armory. And you've helped to remind me of all the ways bikes matter.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Encounter at Clegg

I was running a little later than usual on the way home from work this evening, and it was raining steadily as I pedaled along the canal. At the Clegg crossing, I turned and stopped over the signal loop dots as usual. I had noticed, as I rode up to the crossing, the flashing lights of a police motorcycle further down Colonel By, and while I waited for the light, he pulled up, parked in the middle of the intersection, and stopped traffic coming onto Colonel By from Clegg.

"You'll have to wait a few minutes," he called to me. I said okay, and resigned myself to standing in the drizzle for a bit, straddling my bike. The cop started waving traffic along Colonel By, heading toward Bank. There was no traffic in the other direction.

Another, older woman pulled up on her bike, and the cop told her she'd have to wait a few minutes. "What's going on?" she asked me.

"No idea," I said. A phalanx of police motorcycles, lights flashing, streaked toward downtown. "Maybe it's the Italian president?"

"No," she said, "they left yesterday. Oh well, I can't get any wetter, I suppose."

"I know," I answered.

"What did your app tell you? Mine said it was supposed to stop raining by now. Teach me to believe it."

Another cyclist showed up, and was warned to stop. "Can't we just - go? Like, when it's open?" he asked.

"I wouldn't recommend it," I said, "the cop is right there." Another group of bikes streaked past. They kept coming by in squads, at fairly high speeds.

"I was only ever in a motorcade once," said the lady who'd come up behind me, "and I hated it. It was in Shanghai, and I was a complete nobody, but I was in this motorcade. They shut the whole city down, and to be honest I was just embarrassed by it. I guess they're used to it because it happens all the time in Shanghai, but I was just so Canadian about it. You know, I just wanted to apologize for blocking up traffic."

At this point there were four or five of us on bikes, in the rain, standing at the corner. "Hey," I called to the cop, in a break between the groups of motorcycles. "What's up?"

"Charles," he said, and went back to waving cars along to clear the road.

"What, Prince Charles?" asked the guy next to me, in a fake British accent.

"Yup," said the older lady. "And Camilla."

"Which one is he?" asked the guy. "Is he the older one?"

"He's the oldest one," she said. "Of Elizabeth's kids. Princess Di's former husband."

"Wills and Harry's dad," I added.

"So we'll know him if we see him," said the lady. "Although, we won't see them, it's not like they'll have their windows down in this rain. Still, I guess that's something. Worth getting soaked here in the rain for, right?"

The road was cleared at this point. "Wait," the lady said, "here they come, I can see the lights..."

So we stood there as the motorcade of black cars rolled towards us. "Should we wave?" someone said,

"We should definitely wave," said someone else. "Welcome to Ottawa, here's a bunch of drenched cyclists to greet you."

So we waved. And as the cars rolled by, the window rolled down on one of them, and HRH Charles, Prince of Wales waved at the four or five soggy cyclists standing at the crosswalk, who'd been randomly stopped on their way home to let him go by.


There was a small squeal of surprise from the lady, and a couple of the other cyclists, and we all pretty much burst into laughter. "Well, that was pretty much worth it," someone said, "front row seats." The motorcade passed, and the cop in the intersection drove off, and the regular flow of traffic resumed. At our green light, we got moving again. 

"I can't believe he actually rolled the window down," said the lady. "That's something. What a welcome to Ottawa, a bunch of people on bikes in the rain." She was laughing.

"Nice meeting you all," said someone. 

"You too," said someone else. "Have a good night, eh?" 

As we filtered through the bollards and onto Echo or Clegg, I could still hear the older lady laughing to herself. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Happy 200th, bicycle!

Two hundred years ago today, a German inventor, Baron Karl von Drais, took his newly created "laufmaschine" for a spin in Mannheim.It was essentially the same basic machine as my nephew's balance bike - two wheels, a seat and handlebars, powered by a running motion, as you pushed yourself along with your feet.

True, it would take about 60 years from that day before the full bicycle craze would kick in, with all the penny farthings and safety bicycles and world-circling adventurers that it brought. But that goofy-looking balance bike, the first "dandy horse," was on the cobblestones of Mannheim two hundred years ago today.

For a while, the bicycle was a toy, ridden by mostly young and male enthusiasts, a mark of modernity, athleticism, and a dash of recklessness.

But once they started creating safer and more comfortable versions of the bicycle, it started being seen as the solution to transportation for average people. Horses were expensive to own and keep: the bike offered individual mobility at a fairly reasonable price. The celebrity world-travelers (like Annie Londonderry, Frank Lenz or William Sachtleben) were, in part, saying that a person could go anywhere at all on a bike - even across the Himalayas or the Gobi Desert - given a little grit and ingenuity. All on their own.
Annie Londonderry. Seriously, look her up.

I don't think von Drais had any idea of the impact his invention would have, though. Bikes are directly linked to the emancipation of women, largely because they're a means of getting around that's affordable and accessible: they quite literally offer freedom. They still work to improve lives in developing countries where they're the backbones of small-town entrepreneurship and service delivery. And for a long time, learning to ride a bicycle was one of a child's first moments of independence.

(I remember being envious of my friends who could ride and had bikes, and the joy of getting my first bicycle as a birthday present, and waking up really, really early in the morning the next day so I could ride down the hill behind my house over and over, crashing in the back field until I learned how to ride it.)

Bikes were the vehicle of the future: until the invention of the car, and Henry Ford's determination to make car ownership affordable for the maximum number of Americans, and the explosion of car culture. And for a long time bikes were relegated back to being toys. Children rode them, and then gave them up for cars when they put away childish things. You weren't really an adult until you had a car. Suburbs and drive-ins and drive-throughs and freeways sprouted.

And now, congestion is awful, everyone hates commuting, Western civilization is discovering that it's sedentary and unhealthy, we've learned that burning hydrocarbons will destroy our climate, gas prices are shooting higher as we get closer to peak oil, we've learned that widening highways only leads to bigger and more clogged highways, and cities are, one by one, coming around to the understanding that bikes are, actually, like we thought in 1890. . .

. . . the vehicle of the future.

Bike networks crisscross New York City (and Times Square is closed to cars). Cities like Amsterdam and Oulu and Copenhagen - well, we know about them. Even Detroit, Motor City, is putting in bike lanes on every new street that goes in as the downtown core is being rebuilt after economic and industrial devastation. Bike and transit oriented design is being embraced by city after city. I live in a city with the third fastest growing cycling modal share in the world. In the afternoon, on the way home from work, on the segregated bike lanes, I stop at intersections to wait for the light along with a dozen other cyclists - probably more people than are in cars waiting for the same light, if I'm going to be honest. Millennials, in increasing numbers, are just not bothering with car ownership. Cargo bikes and longtails and two-seaters are proliferating, as families rediscover that you don't necessarily need a car if you have kids. There are battery-powered bikes for the less physically strong, and recumbent bikes for people with back pain, There are trikes for those who feel less stable on two wheels but still want to get around cheaply and easily and without having to worry about finding parking.

And bikes are still affordable and egalitarian. There's a guy I ride past many mornings, who puts out his bedroll underneath Pretoria Bridge, at the side of the bike path. He parks his bike beside the flat space of concrete at the canal railing where he spends the night, and in the mornings he packs up his things into his panniers: I've passed him while he's still sleeping on my way to work, and I've passed him getting packed up for the day when it's better weather and he's up earlier. I've passed him late at night when he's already turned in, with his sleeping bag zipped up to his neck. I presume he's homeless, or otherwise marginally housed. He has a bike: it's in decent shape, and it gets him and his stuff around town.

And riding a bike will make you see things differently. At least it has for me. It has made me braver and bolder and less likely to take any shit from some idiot in a car who feels more powerful than me. And it has changed my life. Since getting back on a bike as a primary means of transport a little over ten years ago, I've learned a lot, I've discovered a passion, I've gotten more involved in my city, I've met wonderful people, and I've been involved in some efforts to make the world a better place. Not to mention I get to say that getting from point A to point B is sometimes the best part of my day.

So happy 200th birthday, bicycle. I think you've changed the world, and I don't think you're done changing it yet. And I'm terribly glad you're part of my life.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Little things. Every day.

Little things happen every day. Little things that remind you that to many drivers, a person on a bike is not to be taken seriously. Not really part of road traffic. Peripheral, like fire hydrants and sandwich boards

Take this afternoon, when I was on my way to the mall for garam masala and toilet paper. I take Kilborn now, if I can help it, rather than Heron: it's an eastbound route to Bank Street that cuts out most of the hair-raising crap near my apartment. But Kilborn, where it crosses Alta Vista, is really pretty narrow.


This is a signalized intersection without advance lefts. You've got a through lane and a turn lane heading each direction, and the turn lanes are super narrow. In fact, so are the through lanes: definitely not wide enough to let a car pass a bike with a metre of space. 

Partly because I started riding this route in the winter when the snowbanks covered half the through lanes, and partly because it is so narrow, and partly because on the west side of this intersection the pavement is severely potholed and broken, so that I need to be in the middle of the lane anyway . . . for all those reasons, I habitually take the lane before I reach this intersection when I'm westbound. There's a red light, usually. And Alta Vista being a major corridor, people often want to turn right onto it.

And today, as I was waiting for the light, I became aware of something large moving up beside me, and looked over to see a big black Volvo SUV pulling into the left-turn lane, then up to the intersection, and making the right turn around me as I gestured in exasperation, and shouted, "Hello, that's illegal, what the fuck, buddy!"

No, it wasn't particularly dangerous. I was stopped. The driver was moving fairly slowly. But it was . . . insulting. Demeaning. And frustratingly typical, If that driver had been stuck behind a car waiting for the green light, he would have waited: without even giving it a second thought. It wouldn't have occurred to him to try to queue-jump around a car. But a cyclist? I was supposed to be over at the side of the road. In the gutter, where cyclists are supposed to be. Out of the way. And if I wasn't going to "share the road" (in driverthink, that means "be somewhere not here") then he couldn't be expected just to wait behind me: I'm not a legitimate vehicle. It wasn't even like he was mad at me for taking the lane: I'm willing to bet he honestly didn't see that that was what I was doing. A cyclist taking the lane, in this driver's mind, was just a cyclist who was further from the curb than she should be, but still essentially at the side of the road where cyclists go, and so there was no reason not to make the right turn. 

And sometimes I get really sick of not being a "real" road user. Of the constant reminders that I don't get the respect that would be given someone in a car. Not out of open hostility. Just the way things are.

A month or two ago, an elderly man yelled "You're not a car," out his window at me after waiting at the light, in the same spot, for me to go straight and him to turn right. And it wasn't even anger: what I heard in his voice was the sort of resigned irritation that told me he actually knew I had the right to wait in the middle of the lane, but didn't feel I should have it. That someone had told him he was supposed to treat cyclists like cars, and he resented it, because he didn't think he should have to, and the dadgum government was being stupid, catering to us pompous bike riders who think we should get special rights over (read: have the same rights as) real, job-having, tax-paying folks in cars. (I know, it's a lot to get out of the tone of voice of a crotchety man in the rain, but it's the impression I got.)

I get tired of it. But it doesn't mean I'm going to stop taking the lane when I need to. Grumpy Man and Queue-Jumping Volvo Guy can just deal with it.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Heron Road Cycle Track online consultation

Okay, kids! The word "cycletrack" has been uttered in relation to poor underserved Heron Gate! Rejoice, right?

Well, maybe a little.

Join me, as I liveblog the City's online consultation about this project. . . The Heron Eastbound Cycle Track from Colbert Crescent Multi-Use Pathway to Jefferson Street!

First things first. . . eastbound only? Hm.
Next - Colbert Crescent what? To where? Let me figure out where that is. Oh wait, there's a map. . .


. . . That's 850 glorious metres of cycling freedom, that is.

It doesn't even connect up with Alta Vista, which has a bike lane already and would be a natural connection point. Oh, and which has a metric ass-ton of schools on it, the students at which would probably love to have some extra bike connectivity.

Sigh.

Okay, on with the consultation.

We get a description of Heron. . . "a four lane divided urban arterial road with a posted speed of 50 km/h." This is my eyebrow going up. Speeds on Heron are generally closer to 70 km/h.

"There are currently no cycling facilities on Heron Road within the project limits. Cyclists must either ride on the road mixed with motor traffic or dismount and walk their bikes on the si ---"

Sorry. That's where I started laughing. I know, they have to say what cyclists are required to do by law, but no one has ever dismounted to take the sidewalk in the history of ever unless something was wrong with their bike.

The Heron-Baseline network spine is being developed into Cross-town Bikeway #7 in stages. In the near term, this proposed cycle track segment will provide a means for residents of the local communities such as Heron Gate and Guildwood Estates to more safely cycle eastbound to the area’s retail destination at Herongate Square.  It will also help those making longer journeys by bicycle through the corridor.  For example, via Jefferson Street and Featherstone Drive, it will be possible for cyclists to access the extensive pathway system in the Alta Vista Transportation Corridor.

Okay, leaving aside the "in stages" part, which I'm not crazy about, because linking disparate bits of different infrastructure without an overarching plan is a pain. . . this will allow people from Heron Gate and Guildwood to get to the mall. But not home from the mall. Those that use it will probably salmon, and use it in both directions. Also, if people from Heron Gate want to get to the mall, they don't cycle, they walk, because it's half a kilometre, and they don't take Heron Road at all. They take side streets or the pathway through Sandalwood Park that I've been on about. (They might bike from further out in Guildwood though. But there are plenty of side streets to use for that.)


In fact, thinking about it, this track is short enough that if you wanted to get to Featherstone from Heron Gate, you'd probably be more likely to cross Heron at Briar Hill and go into the subdivision there. Once you've learned which streets carry you through to which others, it's a far nicer way to connect up with the "Alta Vista Transportation Corridor." It's what I do now to avoid riding on Heron on my way to work, or to the rock gym on Saint-Laurent.

But hey. You can't always get a massive build. And the existence of one piece of infrastructure is a foot in the door to make more, right? Maybe even encouragement, since people will not be thrilled about being taken out of 70 km/h traffic for three blocks just to be dumped back into traffic on the other side. They'll want this 850-m stretch of cycle track to actually connect to something at some point.

But here the devil's advocate in the back of my head says that if it's too short to actually be useful, it won't draw bike traffic, and that could be justification for not building more infra. . . . sigh.

Anyway, from the initial description, it sounds like they're building what I envisioned as possible back when we were planning to paint the paved kill strips green last summer as a pop-up project: a raised cycle track along the existing paved kill strip. Eventually it will be separated from the sidewalks by a grass boulevard, but for now it sounds like the cycle track will be at sidewalk height and adjacent. That doesn't work so well for the stretch of Laurier that passes City Hall: I have to shout "heads up!", brake, and weave frequently because people stand in the cycle track waiting for the walk signal or walk along it.

"Pavement markings and signage will require cyclists to yield to pedestrians at the bus stops". . . well, I suppose it's better than having two or three zones within the 850 metres of the project where they expect cyclists to dismount, but why can't the cycle track run behind the bus stop, instead of between the stop and the street?

Okay, Q&A time in our consultation.

Why eastbound only, you ask? . . . the westbound track will be included in future road work on the north side of the street because that way they can fold in the cost and effort of moving the hydro poles that are currently in the middle of the kill strip.

The other questions, of course, are "how will motorists be impacted during construction?" and "how will motorists be impacted once construction is complete?" To which all I really have to say is, if you complain about anything that might lower traffic speeds on Heron Road, you are a sociopath. Still, the construction will probably cause minimal problems to drivers. I imagine that if there are any objections to this from the drivists, it'll be someone yanging about taking out the bus bays and causing buses to stop in the lane. It always is.

And now, to look at the plan!

There are regularly spaced "yield to cyclists" signs at driveways and intersections. The cyclists continue straight across at intersections, no "Dutch-style" bulb-ins, but that's fine, the intersecting streets aren't really that busy for the most part, they're residential, and sight lines are fine. Probably the busiest intersection will be Baycrest Drive.

But then there's this:


There is no bus shelter at this spot. In fact, I think there are no bus shelters the length of the project. This would be the perfect time to add some. Maybe some benches so people can sit while they wait for the 112. And while you're adding a bus shelter so folks don't have to stand in a howling gale waiting for buses, you could put the cycle track behind it, as they've done at Bayview, to create a "floating bus stop," instead of requiring cyclists to cut between the bus and the waiting area. Something like this: 


Anyway, on down the street we go in our PDF rendering. . .

It's really a pretty simple design. There aren't many cross streets, and they're not reconstructing much. It's essentially just a repaving treatment at the edge of the road. Would that it could always be so easy to do.

And then, outside the bank at Jefferson, lo, like a flower it withers; it flees like a shadow and does not remain. It drops into a dedicated right turn lane into the Heron Square parking lot, no less. If you want to continue along Heron, you're crossing right-turning traffic. No "yield to bikes" signs are apparent. A dashed bike lane marking, channeling cycle traffic through this intersection, would not go amiss here, I think.


Now, off to fill out the feedback questionnaire and tell them all my thinks! You can too, if you haven't. It's open till the 21st of April.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Never not ride

Been snowing for a couple of days now.

So when I looked outside this morning and saw that it had been snowing all night, I could barely see the highrises a block away, the streets were white and people were walking in them because the sidewalks were too full of snow, I admit I had a moment of indecision. Maybe I should take the bus to work.

So I stood, looking out the window, dithering, for a while. Thought processes something like this:

My small residential street always looks worse than the rest of the commute.

But the bike lanes were pretty hard going yesterday. And Old Ottawa South is always so shitty.

But you've biked in worse.

But it might be pretty scary out there.

But it's never as bad as you think it's going to be.

Look, you're already late because it's taking you so long to decide.

And it's still snowing, so maybe it'll be really terrible trying to get home.

Or maybe not.

And you've ridden in worse. 

But if Heron Road is full of snow it'll be awful, and they won't have plowed the back streets you use to avoid it.

You might get to work exhausted from fighting skids for 9 km. And you'll be late, because you're already late. 

Maybe you should just take the bus. No one will blame you.

(Maybe you should just call in sick and avoid this whole decision. Nah. That wouldn't fly.) 

But you always ride. You ride in everything. It's kind of a point of pride. 

But it's silly to put yourself in danger over your pride. 

Take the dang bus. 

So I left my gaiters on the boot rack, grabbed my keys and some change for the bus, and went outside. It was still snowing, little tiny flakes, and there was no pavement to be seen. I joined the flock of people standing at the bus stop, all staring silently, in resignation, down the street toward the corner where the bus should appear. The crowd at the stop was not reassuring. And as I stood there, slowly getting chilled by the wind even though it was only about five below, staring down the street looking for a bus that didn't come, I thought to myself, "Well, this is stupid." There was snow on the pavement, yeah. So what? It was warmish, the snow looked to be letting up, and I was really, really sick of waiting for the bus.

So I went back up to my apartment, and got my bike. When I got back down to the street, the crowd was still waiting at the bus stop. I walked out into the street, put my tires down in the wheel rut, swung a leg over, and pedaled off. Sayonara, suckers.

And discovered I had chosen wisely: the ride was hella fun. I took the back streets through the Pleasant Park neighbourhood - a little skiddish, but since there was no traffic, not a problem - and caught Bank Street at Kilborn, where the tire tracks were strips of bare pavement between ridges of snow several inches high. The bonus? If there are massive ridges of snow demarcating your tracks, drivers tend to stay in their lanes, which means they have to change lanes to pass a cyclist. Score! I beetled down a normally sketchy road, securely claiming the whole damn lane.

The snow was light and fluffy enough that it was relatively easy to cut through. A good thing, because in Old Ottawa South, where the outside lane is usually full of castoff snow, I could just ride along through it, sticking to where it was a little less deep. The parking ban was still in effect, so I had far fewer parked cars to swerve around, and I even blew past the bumper-to-bumper line of cars up the hill. I may actually have sung "la la la la la suckers" out loud as I passed them.

I microcorrected my way down the super snowy street on O'Connor, where the ruts were as spectacular as I've ever seen them - the exact width of a car tire, with sheer sides that were inches high. In some places my boots hit the snow at the edge of the rut on the downstroke.

The O'Connor bike lane past the Queensway appeared not to have seen a plow in hours, but the snow was mostly still easy to cut through. I blasted through ridges plowed up across it at the intersections that were sometimes up over my pedals. At Laurier the lane was a few centimetres deep in snow - looked to have been plowed even less recently than Laurier - but, again, it was not all that bad to cut through.

By now the sun was breaking through the clouds and the snow had stopped and I was grinning.

What was I even thinking, standing in transit limbo at that bus stop, staring up the street? How did I forget that I never, ever regret taking the bike instead?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Brave

It was a sleety sort of day last week, and I was on my way to work. At the corner of Heron and Bank there was a car whose driver had apparently managed to smash into the corner of a payday loan place - the cops were on scene and traffic was a little backed up. I skipped the intersection by ducking through a parking lot. A little further along, as I got to the canal, I saw that all traffic on Colonel By was being redirected up Clegg. The police officer on site said, "Nothing big, there's just an accident further down." I remarked that it was the second one I'd seen that morning. "People don't slow down for the conditions," he said. I remarked that I was glad I wasn't in a car; my studded tires seemed to be working just fine. "You're braver than I am," he said as I crossed to the canal path.

(Apparently, I'm braver than a person whose job involves guns. And angry people.)

Today, as he was bagging up my purchases, a cashier saw my helmet. "Did you bike here?" he asked. (One of these days I'll start thinking of snarky answers to that. "No, my helmet just gets really depressed if I leave it home all day." "No, I'm cosplaying Bruce Banner from the Ang Lee Hulk film." "No, I'm beta testing a prototype pedestrian helmet.")

But I said, like I usually do, "Well... yeah."

"Brave woman," he said. I laughed it off. "It's actually really nice today," I said. "Nice and cold, pavement's dry, no ice."

"Well, you're braver than me," he said. "Have a good night."

I got the bags into my panniers and unlocked my bike and headed for home. I got on the elevator to find a man and an adorable young poodle mix already on it: I squished the bike on with them, and proceeded to let the dog lick my hand, scruffle her ears, and chat with her human for eight floors. As he was getting off, he said, "Have a good night."

"You too," I said.

"And you're really brave," he said, gesturing to the bike, as the doors closed. I laughed, and said "Thanks, I guess?"

This here is Brave.
So I got home and unzipped my gaiters thinking, Am I brave? I certainly don't feel brave. I just get up in the morning and get on my bike because it's faster than the bus, it's nicer than the bus, it's warmer and less frustrating than waiting for the bus, I get fresh air and sunshine and exercise and arrive alert at work and I save money and aggravation. But I keep having this conversation. "You biked here? Good for you! I'm so impressed that you ride in the winter." People who have known me for years still sometimes manage to look surprised when I show up with a bike helmet hanging off my arm in January.

This is brave.
And I'm not going to lie, it is kind of nice to be told, on a near daily basis, that you are brave. Who doesn't want to feel like a badass sometimes? (I even keep it in my back pocket for arguments with anti-bike people who tell me it's "stupid" or "crazy" to ride in the winter: "Well, just because you don't have the stones to do it....") But I also have a problem with the constant "hardcore winter biker" narrative. No one says, "You walked here? In this cold? Wow, you're brave." It's up there with the insistence on helmets, as though biking is somehow far more dangerous and reckless than walking or driving, and therefore requires special safety equipment. That just perpetuates the idea that it's not a thing just anyone can do, it's a "high-risk activity."

And this is brave.
I usually try to walk it back when people start with the courage stuff. "It's not really that much harder than riding in the summer," I say. "It's no big deal. Really, it's actually warmer than walking because you get moving and your temperature goes up. No, I've never seriously wiped out. Yes, I have special tires. No, they're not those big fat tires, you need a whole new very expensive bike for those. Yes, I just have regular size tires. They're fine." It doesn't usually seem to convince them. "But what about ice on the roads? And shitty drivers?" they say.

"You learn what different kinds of ice look like and how to ride on them," I say. "And there are shitty drivers all year, everywhere."

Really, I want to say, if the streets were cleared with bikes in mind, and if roads were built with us in mind, and if people didn't assume that you have to be an Avid Cyclist (TM) to ride in anything but perfect summer weather, riding in the winter would be no different than riding in the summer (with the exception of the toque, scarf and mittens, of course).

Brave?
And come on, Canada. If you keep framing actually being outside in the winter as bravery, what does that say about most Canadians, who admittedly live in a pretty cold place for several months of the year? It was about 15 below today. That's not really that cold. If you consider it an act of courage to spend longer than a few minutes outside in that, well, you're missing out. You're missing out on the tingly feeling in your cheeks, the sight of your breath, the feel on snowflakes on your cheeks, the experience of ice in your eyelashes, the rush of warmth that moves through your fingers as you start to warm up on a hill, the quiet dark winter nights when the roads are covered in a thin layer of snow and everything's silent, the sense (to quote Moby-Dick, which I do) of feeling "like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal."

(And, if I'm being perfectly honest, you miss out on occasionally having total strangers tell you that you're a badass.)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A whole new Bank Street South

I have to thank the folks at Ecology Ottawa for getting in touch with me for a response to the Bank Street South Functional Design Plan reveal. I had meant to write something, but one thing drove out another. But I had wanted to talk about the design, and what a surprise it was. 

I was actually blindsided by how good the design was. It seemed to me as though there was more radical and more far-reaching work going into the pedestrian and cycling experience of the street than I've seen in any other proposal like this. I'm used to hoping for cycle tracks and getting sharrows. My jaw dropped when they led with “segregated cycle tracks on both sides of the street for the length of the project area.” It dropped further when they got into landscaped boulevards, tree planting, and fixing the traffic patterns at Riverside and Bank and the Transitway exit at Billings Bridge Station.

It looks like a lot of thought has gone into pedestrian and cycling traffic patterns – there are sections of the street where they're putting in bidirectional cycle tracks because the majority of people are just hopping on Bank for a couple of blocks and shouldn't have to cross the street at one point only to cross back. They've tackled the lack of points to cross by adding a couple of signalized intersections. I was only really disappointed by the lack of infrastructure to address the dangerous intersection of Riverside and Bank at the Billings Bridge – a pet project of mine - and what I thought was a bit of a missed opportunity to fix the two-lane left onto Bank at Alta Vista to make it safer for cyclists.

The Riverside intersection at the bridge is at the extreme edge of the study area and the bridge itself is not within the scope. This means that they have designed in, as well as they can, a transition from the protected cycle tracks south of it to the sharrows over the bridge. They step down the cycle track to an on-street lane for a bit before the bridge, to ease cyclists into traffic, but you'll still need to ride a shared lane over the bridge, and into Old Ottawa South.

The two-way turn off Alta Vista involves one dedicated left-turn lane and one lane where you could go left or right. Left-turning cyclists are required to take the lane at the intersection, possibly blocking and annoying drivers who want to turn right. The intersection itself is within the design area but Alta Vista is not, and at the moment there is not much being done to address that situation. It's a minor thing, though, and I'm happy to claim the lane on Alta Vista if I can turn onto a protected track at the end.

The addition of grass and trees (if they can manage it) will do a lot to make the street more pleasant: right now it's a bit of a concrete wasteland. I don't know if they can manage to have grass right up against the road – that whole part of the city is full of kill strips that are paved over because grass can't survive that close to the street. However, the cycle tracks might be a decent buffer. I think they're doing a lot of that streetscaping in anticipation of the area becoming more residential, with a few high density condos going in west of Bank. I was also sort of surprised that their traffic models showed a decrease in car traffic in the future. I guess that is because of the transit links that are coming with light rail and the development of other ways to get to suburbs like Riverside South, but at least one person in the presentation disagreed and yelled out “they're wrong!” when the planners said traffic was going down by 5% in the future.

Another advantage for the planners is that the businesses can't object on the basis of losing parking – there was never parking on this street. In fact, I can't really see a reason for businesses to object. Aside from a minor slowing effect, drivers aren't losing much here. I don't think they've lost a single travel lane. I overheard people who, before the presentation, were grumbling that “the only people who win here are the cyclists,” but he was complaining about the conversion of the two-way left turn lane in the middle to a standard alternating left lane, and once the presentation was underway it was pretty clear there was no real reason to object to getting rid of the two-way left lane.

No one really seemed to be able to come up with any actual traffic flow concerns. Objections seemed to generally cluster under the local community association's belief that they were trying to turn the street into “something it's not” and cut off access to side streets. One vehicular cyclist was vehement that the cycle tracks, which bend outward around the major intersections (Dutch style) were dangerous, but he seemed to be going from the VC perspective that cyclists should be traveling at 40-50 kph and in the car lane. (He also seemed to think that helmets were only really any use at slow speeds, because apparently you “fall backwards” more at slow speeds and, therefore, the Dutch, who don't wear helmets and bike slowly, have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to safety.)


I tried to muster my skepticism, but it was hard. The improvements to a street that I am forced to ride on, and that I hate riding on so much, were so sweeping I couldn't help but cheer. And they pulled it off without really “taking” anything substantive from drivers or businesses. I hope the implementation phase holds on to these changes.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Making connections. Or not.

There's a stretch of path that vanishes in the winter. (Well, there are many, all over the city: this is one of them.) It runs down the hill from the intersection of Laurier and Nicholas, through the trees, to the edge of Colonel By Drive, where there is a "crosswalk" (well, a bit where the curbs are cut down) over to the canal MUP. Another branch runs parallel to Nicholas, and takes you to the underpass to the University of Ottawa one one side, and the signalized crosswalk to the canal path, and the Corktown Footbridge on Somerset, on the other. Thusly:


In the summer, this is just about the only reasonable way to get to and from the Byward Market in this area. Your other options involve leaving the canal pathway, crossing Colonel By at an unsignalized intersection, and riding on Colonel By until you can get to Daly or Rideau, or crossing into campus and weaving your way through there until you can find your way onto, say, Cumberland?

In the winter, this path is not cleared. It catches me out at least once a year, as I cut across Laurier coming from an event in the market or something and discover that I can't get to the canal. Occasionally, I've had to pick the bike up and carry it through the snow down the hill to the crosswalk.

I've said before that the Byward Market suffers from an unbelievable lack of reasonable ways to access it by bike or on foot - especially for a market and nightlife district designed for pedestrian tourists to stroll and shop. It is cut off on all sides by highway ramps connecting the 417 with Autoroutes 5 and 50, or arterials leading to them, like King Edward, Sussex and Nicholas, or by dead ends and one way streets, or by the mess of car-centric, pedestrian-hostile intersections on Rideau around the War Memorial.

This path actually offers the most convenient and safest way to get in, for anyone coming from the east side of the canal. It links the Market and Ottawa U campus, not to mention the Corktown Footbridge on Somerset, which is a major bike and pedestrian link across the canal. It would be a key link in the cycling and walking network, if it were cleared in winter and reliably lit in summer.

I asked Councillor Fleury's office if there was any chance of getting the path cleared. I just heard back, and well. . . The path is owned by the National Capital Commission. Which should tell you something.

The NCC is not interested in everyday mobility. It is not their concern whether residents can get around on a day-to-day basis. The NCC's position is that they only maintain the pathways that support "winter animation programs," that is, the Rideau Canal Skateway. Basically. And those of us that use the Canal MUP to get across town also know that it's not cleared with an eye to using it for travel - especially not the Colonel By side. It's cleared with an eye to letting skaters schlep their skates to the stairways. Most of it is a slushy, puddle-clogged, or traffic-rutted icy mess.

They say they don't have the budget to clear this segment of pathway. But they own it, so the City doesn't clear it. (A similar confusion persists about who is responsible for the bridges across the Ottawa River, meaning that pretty much every year there is a discussion between cyclists, the City and the NCC about who is supposed to move the snow, and every year, it seems, the answer is different.)

My contact at Councillor Fleury's office asked if the City would be able to clear it, but got the answer that "the city's snow clearing budget is under tremendous pressure as it is" and they're not adding any paths. But they did outline a future route to the Market from the canal:


A new MUP would be built through campus, and from the underpass/crosswalk/bridge, you would do this:

"An alternative to the red dotted line route for cyclists heading between the Col By Pathway and the Market area is shown below as a blue solid line.  This new link is planned to be implemented just after the Confederation line opens. It incorporates the existing underpass at U Ottawa station and a new multi-use pathway planned east of Nicolas, which terminates at Laurier and Waller. Once a cyclist reaches the signals at Laurier and Waller, they can then either go along Laurier and east on Cumberland or West to Nicolas then north to the Market. The plan is to add the blue markings to a future Winter Cycling network."

The councillor's office rep basically said, "the bad news is that we can't get it cleared now, but the good news is that there are plans to address this link in the future."

So that's something? I suppose? In the meanwhile, I guess we keep MacGyvering winter routes using the available clear pavement.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Bring it, 2017

They did say that this was going to be a winter with a lot of precipitation.

They weren't wrong. Apparently we're now at 63.6 cm more cumulative total snow for this winter than the average. And it does seem like I've spent more time this winter wrenching the handlebars back and forth to stay upright as my wheels skidded right and left in the snow.

Today, it started snowing sometime in the middle of a hectic work day for me. My director came around to tell people that if they "felt like they were in a good place" they should get out early to avoid the inevitably snarled commute. But I was going to have to go over to my other office at the BUZZ to do a bunch of edits and upload the January issue anyway, and if I was going to be in town for a while, I figured I'd rather bike home late (after the plows had maybe had a chance to start catching up to the snow, and after the rush hour press of traffic) than brave the roads in mid-storm. Also, I had way too much to do to leave work early.

So, I wound up heading home at about 7:30 pm, in the middle of a full-blown storm.

It didn't look that bad until I got outside and realized how much snow was coming down and how white the streets were. There was no bare pavement at all on Gloucester. I hauled the bike out to the shallowest bit when the road looked clear, got on, skidded and counter-corrected my way to Kent, waited until there wasn't a car for a block before swinging out onto Kent, and then got myself to the Laurier lane.

I was not alone! As I turned onto the lane, I saw that a fellow frostbiker had been there before me. I felt a certain cameraderie with whoever that was.


The lane didn't seem to have been plowed - at least not in a while - but it was easy enough to cut through. Snow itself isn't the problem. Snow that's been packed down, squashed around, and piled up by car tires is a problem. Its texture is irregular. Fresh snow just swooshes along under your tires. Especially if you have studded tires. A thousand blessings on the head of whoever invented studded tires.


By the time I hit the O'Connor lane, I was even more not alone. There were a whole bunch of other tire tracks - and footprints, too, since the lane was easier to walk on than the sidewalks by now, for the aforementioned texture reasons.

All that was well and good . . . until I got under the highway on O'Connor and found myself on a side street. O'Connor beyond the highway was unplowed, has no separate bike lane and was impassable. I tried. I made it half a block. So my choice was, did I try to cut up to the canal and hope it was okay, or did I cut down to Bank Street and hope to be able to ride the rut? 

After slogging, pushing the bike, unable to ride it in the deep snow on the uncleared street and sidewalk, a short way, I decided that the canal would be a lost cause. It was Bank Street or nothing: the usual resort of the snowstorm biker is the most traveled street (sadly).

So I cut down to Bank Street. It was beautiful, but . . . the road was pretty white. Not all that busy though.


I took the sidewalk for a bit, I'll admit, but got tired of crawling along at pedestrian speed behind people walking (and I will not tell a pedestrian on the sidewalk to move over for me). So I hauled the bike over the snowbanks and into the road - again, during a lull in traffic when I knew no one was coming for a while - and then got rolling along in the slightly shallower snow of the wheel-rut. It meant I need to be way out in the middle of the lane, in order to stick to the part of the road where I had traction. If nothing else, winter teaches you to take the lane, and do it unapologetically, because you have no choice. The only place where you can be secure is way out in the lane. 

But it was surprisingly secure, except at intersections, where snow dragged out from the side streets was dumped in the street and then alternately compressed by bus tires and heaped into ridges. Those sections were less fun. Still, I managed to stay on the pedals most of the way through the Glebe and over the bridge at Lansdowne. It was as snow-covered as ever: I stopped to take a photo of the "supersharrows" mostly obliterated by snow. Thought it was telling. But still, there wasn't that much traffic to worry about and drivers generally gave me a wide berth because of the conditions. They must have seen my tires doing little micro-slalams as I steered for the clearest pavement.
Old Ottawa South was the biggest surprise - as long as I steered for the rut and bullheadedly ignored whether or not I was in anyone's way. I stuck to the middle of the street until I could switch out to the outer lane just before Billings Bridge. Drivers stayed back. They waited until there was time to pass. It was pretty nice, even if sometimes the rut ran out and I'd have to feel my way through all the snow to the next spot on the pavement that felt secure.
Changing lanes, Old Ottawa South style.
Probably the clearest pavement was on the busiest road - Bank Street. Higher speeds notwithstanding, the easier going was a relief after a lot of fighting the skid. That can get really hard on the core and lower back muscles. And the arms as you try to control the front tire. And the legs. And pretty much everything. 

At Heron Road, you're damn right I got on the sidewalk, after I saw that it had been plowed. Heron is narrow and scary on good days, and by the time I was heading up Heron, freezing rain had kicked in, and there were sharp hard ice pellets whipping into my face. Made my vision less reliable, and I just didn't feel like dealing with the fear of being in mid-lane on a road where people are used to going 70 or 80. 

But then the sidewalk got unuseable. There was Three Jeep Man, who owns so many cars that he typically parks with the ass end of one of them sticking halfway across the sidewalk. Annoying in summer, worse in winter.


And then the sidewalk vanished entirely under a dump of snow from the plow. . . 


. . . so I headed out onto the road. Again, I had to stop and wait until there was nothing coming at all before I carried the bike over the snow and put it down on the pavement in a clear patch. Got on it and then rode, quite comfortably, along the rut and home. 

Stuff I remembered on this ride (which took me about an hour, twice as long as usual, though I also stopped to take pictures): 

Standing in the car lane is an interesting experience. You feel like you have a target on your back, you try to get moving as quickly as you can. Even moving slower than the rest of traffic feels better than being stopped on the road. Being stopped on the road feels threatening. But I had to do it a couple of times today, because to get to the clear(er) pavement, I had to walk the bike, and then get set up on it, and then get rolling. 

Taking the lane is a scary feeling too. But when the snow is really flying, it's paradoxically easier, because the drivers stay away from you. The sidewalks can be safer, but more work; the road is scarier, but easier to ride on. The side streets - normally the best option - are useless. The segregated bike lanes, though, are fine. 

And even though everyone may tell you you're crazy, you'll still be glad you took the bike.