herb's blog

Please attend! Wellesley-Hoskin Cycle Tracks 2nd Open House on Sept 11

The second open house for the Wellesley-Hoskin cycle tracks (aka separated bike lanes) is next Tuesday, September 11 from 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm at Seeley Hall - Trinity College, 6 Hoskin Avenue (on the U of T campus, north side of the street).

It's important that we have a good showing from the public. It's clear from surveys that Torontonians are much more likely to consider cycling if they have some separation from car traffic. Wellesley to Harbord is one of the only feasible routes through the core (I enumerated the reasons previously). Still, we have to overcome the digging-in of heels by Councillor Wong-Tam, who seems to want to indefinitely delay the installation but has provided zero alternatives for safe cycling routes in her ward despite claiming to be a cycling-friendly councillor. Councillors Vaughan and McConnell are both supportive of the cycle track. Please consider thanking Vaughan and McConnell (and Councillor Minnan-Wong if he attends) for supporting the separation; while at the same time letting Councillor Wong-Tam that you support cycle tracks on Wellesley (talking points below).

The second open house will explore options for more detailed designs, based on input from the first open house. From the input received so far, staff have identified some key trends:

  • The majority of respondents are positive about improvements to the bicycle lanes to increase safety for cyclists.
  • Some residents are concerned about the potential negative motor vehicle traffic impacts which may result from the removal of all left turn lanes from Wellesley St.
  • So far, few concerns about the removal of on-street parking have been expressed; staff continue to investigate loading and delivery concerns.
  • Park users and cyclists would prefer a dedicated on-street cycling facility around Queens Park, to avoid conflicts which may result from heavy cycling traffic mixing with pedestrians using the Queens Park Multi-Use Path.

It's encouraging to see that the proposal is not raising a lot of opposition from residents.

Update: Talking points for the Open House

I'm providing some handy responses to some of the criticisms brought up by Councillor Wong-Tam. You could consider using them if they are brought up at the open house by her or others.

1. The proposal is rushed.

It's been a slow process, hardly rushed. City Council approved it July of 2011. It has been now delayed to 2013 when installation might begin. This is the second open house. Toronto is only now installing its first cycle track. New York City managed to install many more miles at a faster pace.

Far from being rushed Toronto is far behind other major cities in North America including New York, Vancouver, Montreal, San Francisco, Ottawa, Portland, all of which have started separating on-road bicycle lanes from traffic.

2. If we don’t get it right we might not get a second chance.

Toronto transportation staff are professional and competent and have studied how other cities have implemented cycle tracks. The plans they've shown so far show how they've learned from European and American cities.

3. There has been a lack of consultation.

The Wellesley-Hoskin cycle tracks have been raised at two Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) meetings (June 2011, May 2012). The first public open house was in June and this is the second.

A number of residents associations have discussed and support the cycle tracks.

The Bay Cloverhill Community Association supports the separated lanes (so long as it goes around Queen's Park instead of on the paths). The ABC Residents Association (Yorkville ) and the Moore Park Residents Association, both Ward 27 residents groups, have both written to Councillor Wong Tam requesting her support of the cycle tracks. The Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Associaton discussed and provisionally supported the cycle tracks.

4. Complete Streets need to be implemented.

"Complete Streets" is a vague term. Still, the changes to Wellesley are easily implemented and removed and involve temporary curbs installed in the road allowance. Changes can still be made to the road later on.

If by "complete streets" it means no separated bike lanes then we don't support this interpretation. Wellesley is the only street in the area with no streetcar tracks or significant on-street parking or retail.

5. Cycle tracks take space from pedestrians.

Cycle tracks reduce pedestrian injuries on streets where they have been installed. They provide a buffer for pedestrians. Pedestrian safety should be the priority, not just an analysis of the physical amount of space allocated to different road users.

6. Left hand turns need to be maintained.

Make a point of saying that you want as few left turns as possible.

All road users are safer - pedestrians, cyclists and motorists - when there are fewer left turns. There are fewer points of potential conflict. Transit will move faster. In downtown Toronto cyclists and pedestrians should have priority not automobiles with single occupants. There are already a number of intersections in downtown that prohibit left turns, let's make it safer here as well.

7. Loss of street vehicle parking.

There is almost on street metered parking on Wellesley. There are lots of commercial parking garages and on street pay parking in the vicinity, with more being installed.

We need to move away from prioritizing motorist convenience over cyclist safety.

8. Reduced access for retail businesses and hurting redevelopment of condos on Wellesley.

Obviously separated bicycle lanes make access more difficult to businesses and properties on Wellesley. Sidewalks for pedestrians do the same thing but no one questions that outcome. We have to have some streets where cycling trumps other modes of transportation. The car trumps everything everywhere else.

Why we need Wellesley-Hoskin separated bike lane and it needs political support

“Eventually you have to make some investments in cycling infrastructure and you can’t wait until there’s so many people demanding cycling. You have to take a lead in it and that way you’ll induce more people to cycle when they think it’s safer.”
-- Brandin O'Connor, Osgoode student, at the Wellesley-Hoskin first open house

The second public meeting for the Wellesley-Hoskin cycle track / separated bike lane project is coming up on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 from 4:30 to 7:30 PM, at Seeley Hall, Trinity College, 6 Hoskin Avenue. It's just west of Queens Park circle (apropos since it's one of the difficult and confusing areas to navigate).

Much of the criticism on Wellesley falls into the nitpicky category; we can easily lose track of the bigger picture. There are a number of good reasons why Wellesley-Hoskin is our best, realistic option for separated bike lanes. Let's debate the whole package. I do hope our councillors "take a lead" in building better bicycle infrastructure instead of their myopic "my ward is doing its own thing" view. Roads were never approved or debated on a ward-by-ward basis, it's not clear why, other than historical accident, that we do it with bike lanes.

Why Wellesley is the best choice for separated bike lanes:

  • There are no alternatives. Bloor is politically unattainable for the foreseeable and would only be possible then in short sections with pro-cycling councillors and retail owners. Mayor Miller only gave us a study of Bloor, nothing more. Councillor Wong-Tam for all her opposition, has suggested no alternative route.
  • It is linked to quite a few bike lanes. It helps improve the network.
  • It's long. From Parliament to Ossington if we get our way.
  • Queen's Park intersections are barriers. The intersection is dangerous on the west side of the park. Going eastbound from Wellesley to Hoskin is confusing. In fact there is no obvious route other than through the park where bikes are not technically allowed.
  • Wellesley-Hoskin is what's on the table. Even if there was a better option, if we don't approve this, there will be no other proposals for some time.
  • It will fill in the Harbord gap This plan will help us complete the route. Staff promised to fill it in 2010 but didn't deliver.
  • There is limited retail and limited parking. Makes it much easier to remove remaining.
  • There are no streetcar tracks. All the other long east-west streets around there, other than Bloor have streetcars and have little room for bike lane as is.
  • Goes through the university. Lots of students cycle.
  • Removing left turn lanes makes the street safer for everyone. If they remove left turn lanes to install the cycle tracks, the street will be safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and even drivers.
  • Removes the dangerous door zone. By removing parked cars we'll have fewer injuries and deaths from drivers opening car doors into cyclists paths.
  • Cycle Toronto is fully behind it. Cyclists need to squeeze benefits regardless of the politician. It's not like the progressive politicians got us a whole lot. We hear pro-cycling talk from downtown politicians but little action.
  • The Bike Plan is dead. The Bike Plan was a political document and it expired last year. We need to do what is politically feasible.
  • Cycle tracks are popular. They encourage many more people to cycle more regularly.
  • Cycle tracks are safer. Studies in Vancouver, Montreal and New York are showing that cycle tracks are safer.
  • The bike lane widths can increase. Most will become much wider than our typical painted bike lanes, with no interference from car doors.

Wellesley, unfortunately, may end up being one of the easier. But getting it means getting cycle tracks on streets like Bloor Street much more likely.

So let's build it already. (But first go to the September open house).

Cycling on Toronto streetcar streets: the typical scenario

Where do you ride on a streetcar street? Do you ride next to the parked cars, or do you truck along between the tracks of the centre lane? If you're like the vast majority of people you ride like in the image above, in the left part of the curb lane. I recently took a video on Dundas West to see how cyclists act in the wild (apologies for the sloppy phone video).

Toronto, unusual for North America, has a lot of streets with streetcar tracks. It's hard to avoid them or ride them safely. I taught Can-Bike cycling courses and took participants on downtown routes for years. I would show diagrams of a "regular" width lane where a bike and a car could easily share side-by-side (keeping 1 metre from curb), and a "narrow" width lane, too narrow to share. I taught the participants to take the lane but reality was more complicated. The theory didn't translate so well to streetcar streets.

In theory cyclists should ride in the centre of the centre lane on a streetcar street because the curb lane was usually blocked with parked cars and the centre lane is too narrow to share. As a group we would ride down the centre of the streetcar tracks. It looked impressive, but it wasn't very practical, especially when impatient motorists felt we were blocking them. We would do our best to ignore the yelling and honking but some would closely pass the entire group given half a chance.

Instead of encouraging participants to take the lane, it did the reverse. Numerous participants would tell me that on their own they would never take the lane on these streets. I couldn't blame them since I didn't ride like that myself except when making a left or if I had no choice and then only for a short stretch. It is too stressful. There are times when taking the lane does make sense such as when I wait behind the turning car in the video.

Comfort and Stress
Comfort and stress are mostly ignored in the theory. When it comes down to it, taking the lane can be very stressful and very few people would feel comfortable doing it on a streetcar street with parked cars. And it's not just the cars but also the streetcars breathing down your neck. Given the choice between being constantly under stress from cars approaching from behind and an elevation of risk of opening car doors, most people choose the risk they can't directly experience over the first-hand stress. People don't experience risk, we aren't good at assessing the riskiness of a situation, but we do experience discomfort.

Practicality
Taking the lane is often impractical on these streets. Bicycles have the advantage of being much narrower than cars and trucks. When approaching a long line of backed-up traffic the majority of cyclists will filter up to the front, much like I do at the end of the video. This can be done in a safe manner so long as the traffic is stopped. It's not practical to teach people to take the lane when filtering would get them further ahead. The trick is to give some pointers on when it's a good idea to filter and when it's not.

Minimize risk
We don't really know all the relative risks when riding on a streetcar street, nor how to rank them. There's the risk of opening car doors; the risk of being sideswiped; of a car turning in front of you; and the risk of being rear-ended. We also don't know the risk of being side swiped by an angry driver who passes as closely as possible, or threatens a cyclist. We have very little data, to help us decide if sharing the lane or taking the lane increases danger (I covered this in my previous post). In the moment you can only rely on your judgement and your skills.

How I try to reduce my stress and risk

  • When there are parked cars on the right, I try to stay far enough away to avoid any opening car doors.
  • I try to be vigilant for any people in cars and keep my hands on my brakes in case they open their doors.
  • By riding near the white line I try to avoid stressful conflicts with drivers. That will typically provide enough space for drivers to pass. It also reduces the number of unpredictable and potentially dangerous conflicts with drivers.
  • When there are gaps between parked cars I ride predictably in a straight line instead of swerving towards the curb. This helps me keep my place in the flow of traffic.

I wish some more practicality ended up in these cycling courses instead of sticking to dogma. If you agree, you may appreciate The Art of Urban Cycling, which takes a much less dogmatic approach to the business of safer cycling.

Like Wychwood, let's make it safer to cross streetcar tracks on busy cycle routes like Queen and John or Peter

This week a man died when his wheel got caught in some unused streetcar tracks on a residential street near the Wychwood Barns, just south of St. Clair. There has been some public outcry to remove these streetcar tracks to make the street safer. In fact, Councillors Layton and Mihevc are going to propose that the City remove the streetcar tracks on Wychwood Ave.

That will make it safer on Wychwood. What if our councillors put their attention and energy also on making the separated bike lane network crossing at Queen and Soho/Peter safer? If we are going to start building out a network of separated lanes we also need to think of how they will cross streetcar tracks.

Many cyclists use Beverley and John Street to get to and from downtown and they cross Queen at right angles. However, the needs of cyclists were largely ignored on John Street with the John Street EA, and we were told that cyclists would instead use Peter and Soho to cross Queen. The problem is is that the City hasn't made any plans to improve it yet. The average cyclist can't easily negotiate two quick turns across streetcar tracks especially in a mix of car traffic.

Cycle Toronto is still trying to ensure that John Street has adequate cycling infrastructure for cyclists. If that is just not possible, then it would be next best that politicians ensure that Peter and Soho are aligned so that cyclists can cross the streetcar tracks at safe right angles.

Aligning seems increasingly unlikely since the corner parking lot will soon be developed; it requires Councillor Vaughan and City Council to intervene by putting a hold on development. We don't know if Vaughan would support this. We are running out of safe options.

Councillors Perks and Layton voted on the Public Works committee to accept the John Street EA which would largely end it as a cycling route. If they are concerned with improving the safety of cyclists on streetcar tracks, I believe they could also take a much stronger stance on asking that the separated bike lane network has safe crossings. Let's use the opportunity of this media focus on streetcar tracks.

Crossing streetcar tracks: some tips on a tricky manoeuvre

Streetcar tracks are tricky and someone can get injured (or worse as in the case of yesterday's crash) if someone gets their wheels stuck in them. NOW Toronto covered the potential danger of streetcar tracks last week. But I'd like to just provide some basics of how you can deal with them better. It's making the best of a bad situation.

The key guideline is taking them as close to 90 degrees (at right angles) as possible so as to minimize the chance that your front wheel gets caught.

It's more difficult when you're riding alongside the streetcar tracks and need to cross them. Often it's because the right lane is blocked or the cyclist is trying to turn left. I will even turn a little away from the tracks first and then I can make a sharper turn across them. Make sure you slow down, signal and shoulder check first.

Or you can make an indirect left turn and avoid the stressful situations where you'd be trying to cross the tracks and watch out for fast cars behind you and coming towards you. It allows you to cross tracks at closer to 90.

Practice on a quieter street if you're uncomfortable. Toronto will have streetcars for a long time so it's best to focus both on education as well as on improvements to make them safer.

Taking the lane: when simplistic advice can make things worse

Taking the lane in theory

Take the Lane!

You may have been advised that the best way to be safe is to take the lane. Everyone from public space advocates to CAN-BIKE instructors to the League of American Bicyclists and CyclingSavvy promote taking the lane when a cyclist can't safely share the lane with a car. While taking the lane can be an effective strategy as a cyclist, it should not be taken as helpful in all situations. In fact, in many cases it may cause more problems than it supposedly solves.

Lane Position on a Wide Road

All the main North American cycling courses discuss lane position and largely agree that when lanes are wide enough the cyclist can easily share the lane with a motorist, so long as the cyclist rides far enough from the curb (about 1 metre out). The League of American Bicyclists states that a cyclist should:

  • Ride in the right third of the right-most lane that goes in the direction you are going
  • Take the entire lane if traveling the same speed as traffic or in a narrow lane

According to my CAN-BIKE handbook, the general rule is to "maintain one metre from the curb or from parked cars". But that rule only applies when there is enough room for the car and bike side by side. "If the lane is too narrow or there is an obstruction that narrows the lane then take the whole lane."

CyclingSavvy is more dogmatic in insisting that the lane be at least 14 feet wide in order to safely share. Very few lanes in Toronto meet this criteria. By any of the courses criteria, a cyclist would find themselves on a road that the courses would advise them to take the lane. But there's a problem with that simplistic prescription.

When taking the lane won't work

In the top diagram (I used the icons from the Toronto Cycling Map) we see how taking the lane is supposed to work. The lane is too narrow to share so the cyclist takes the lane. This, according to the courses, sends a message to the traffic behind that they should safely pass in the next lane instead of squeezing the cyclist into the curb. When practised in a large city like Toronto, results will be mixed. There will be drivers who willingly wait behind until it is safe to pass. In my experience, however, it is just as likely that the driver is impatient or annoyed. And, once in a while, we will even encounter an enraged driver.

The cyclist, particularly if they are young or elderly, will feel intimidated or be threatened by drivers behind them. Most of the drivers will keep calm and even if they are annoyed are willing to wait. But it's a crap shoot if we'll meet a driver who openly threatens by driving closely, swearing at the cyclist, revving their engine or honking, or even passing as closely as possible to "teach the cyclist a lesson". It's those situations that can leave even seasoned cyclists shaking, stressed or even injured if the driver manages to sideswipe. In those cases, any safety benefit of taking the lane is lost.

These drivers are not evil people out to get cyclists. Rather, annoyance builds up to such an extent from frustrating downtown traffic that they are more likely to get road rage and take it out on someone on a bike. Particularly if they've been conditioned to see cyclists as not having a "right" to the road and see them as blocking their path. Road rage can cause people to take risks that they wouldn't normally take when they are calm. It's not a medical condition per se, but Wikipedia mentions there is a link to "Intermittent explosive disorder", which is listed as a medical condition under impulse control disorder.

You can create your own experiment on the stretch of Shaw Street from Dundas to Queen. The lane is too narrow between the parked cars and the central meridian to share. According to the theory the best thing the cyclist can do is take the lane. Having ridden this stretch many times I have come to dread the sound of an approaching car behind me. Mostly the driver will wait, but a high number of them will start honking or even find any gap in the parking to try to make a quick pass.

Very few people would never get stressed or have some fear building up. Can we read the mind of the motorist? The only evidence of their intentions is by their actions. If they start honking or revving their engines they might be trying to just intimidate but who knows. It's a crap shoot.

In this situation we would best deal with it by pulling over and quickly getting out of the way of the driver, hoping that they'll just move on instead of also stopping to harass us.

Toronto's not exceptional in having frustrated drivers. As Easy as Riding a Bike notes that "[n]o-one seems to have told U.K. drivers about it. Putting yourself out in the middle [of the] road can, in my experience, appear to some drivers as an act of deliberate provocation. They don’t have a clue what you are doing." And Volespeed goes even further, stating that Taking the Lane, or "primary position", embodies a dishonesty.

The phrase, I believe, originally came from motorcycle training. But as applied to cycling, it doesn't make the same sense as it does in motorcycling. The "primary position" cannot be the primary position for cyclists on roads where the speeds are almost always far in excess of most people's top cycling speed. Some fit, young cyclists can cycle at 20 mph on the flat, but few of our roads have a 20mph limit, and in the more normal 30-limit urban areas, typical speeds are up to 45, in reality, where the roads can take it. So even fast cyclists stand little chance of maintaining the primary position most of the time. A more normal cycling speed, even with the current cadre of cyclists, would be 10–15mph. For them, in being sold this "primary position" theory, they are clearly being sold a lie. And this is to say nothing of the currently largely-excluded groups that we want to get on bikes: children, the unfit and the elderly, who are not going to do more than about 8 mph.

Fast suburban but narrow lanes
In Toronto's suburbs most arterial streets have high average speeds of greater than 60 km/h. Many of these suburban arterial lanes are narrow. It rarely make sense to take the lane on these streets. The high speeds and the fact that no driver is expecting to see a slow cyclist means that taking the lane can be inviting danger. In fact, CAN-BIKE teaches that on fast arterial streets that cyclists should actually ride close to the curb - 1/3 metre instead of the typical 1 metre.

Crowded downtown streets
In downtown Toronto the situation is different. We have arterial roads with on-street parking, narrow lanes, lots of traffic and often streetcar tracks. Streets like King, Queen, Dundas, Ossington, Dovercourt, College and Bloor. It would be quite hard for the typical Toronto cyclist to avoid these streets completely. What cycling courses don't teach is how the average cyclist can best deal with these streets. In theory, it would seem that taking the lane is the best and only option. The sanest approach to riding such streets is often to ride somewhere between the parked cars and the middle travel lane.

The above diagram is a typical streetcar street outside of rush hour: parking on both sides of the street and the middle travel lane is busy. Using the Take the Lane principle the best and only correct position would be A. This would be the best way to both avoid opening car doors and overtaking cars. In theory. In reality very few cyclists can ride fast enough to keep up with the peak speeds of cars. Cyclists may be able to easily keep up with motorists because cars often get stuck behind other cars, but when there is open road in front, all too often a cyclist who is taking the lane is seen by motorists as trying to deliberately anger them by blocking their path. These drivers will soon be itching to pass and will often pass quickly and unsafely. Riding out in the middle in front of a line of frustrated drivers is emotionally stressful. The average person can only handle so much intimidation from drivers.

Even if you're one of the very rare persons with an exceptionally thick skin that can take all matter of verbal abuse and threatening behaviour, you'll soon feel like a schmuck as you get stuck behind backed up car traffic while the rest of the cyclists filter up in the right lane.

99% (give or take) of all downtown cyclists ride in position B most of the time. It is a position that makes the best of a bad situation. I find that the best position is on the left edge of the right lane, as far as possible from opening car doors with enough room on the left for cars to pass in the left lane. It's not ideal but such is life living in a car-centric town.

Which position is safer?

Some educators claim that taking the lane is safer than staying to the side. The claim is that a cyclist is more likely to be side swiped than struck from behind. There are two issues with this conclusion: one, the statistics don't back this up, and two, even if there was evidence of this, the studies don't report what position the cyclist had taken on the roadway prior to their crash. From the available evidence we can't conclude that cyclists out in the middle of the lane are less likely to be struck than those on the side.

One of the best-known and comprehensive cycling safety studies was done in 1994 by Alan Wachtel and Diana Lewiston. They noted that being struck from behind accounted for only 5 of the 314 (1.6%) bicycle-motor vehicle collisions they studied. But side swipes were also only at 8 out of 314 (2.5%). It's not clear if either number is statistically significant., though given that most cyclists I've observed tend to stick to the curb, it doesn't seem to be a high number at all.

There is a further problem with trying to using Wachtel-Lewiston study to support taking the lane. The study doesn't report the position in the lane of the cyclist before they struck, only if they were on the roadway or sidewalk. Thus it's unclear if taking the lane will make any difference in either being struck from behind or in being side swiped.

I have had close calls being close to the curb as well as while trying to take the lane, for different reasons. The cyclist does not have complete control over the reaction of the driver. By being close to the curb a driver may see it as an opening and squeeze the cyclist to the edge. But by taking the lane a frustrated/enraged driver may find the first opportunity to pass and then pass as closely as possible so as to teach the cyclist a lesson. I've experienced both.

Two other studies are not much help either. The Toronto car-bike collision study 2003 and the major 1977 Kenneth Cross study (clearly getting a bit dated) only reported on collisions where the motorists were overtaking, and did not differentiating between "side swipes" and struck from behind. We can't draw a conclusion from either study that we're better off taking the lane. In the Toronto study the top three collisions downtown in terms of severity of injury were 'Motorists Overtaking', ‘Dooring,’ and 'Motorist Left-Turn Facing Cyclist'. Being more visible can likely decrease the risk of any of these, though it's unclear how far out a cyclist should ride. In the case of dooring, riding far enough out to be able to quickly avoid opening car doors is a good idea.

Holding to the dogma

Cycling education in North America still doggedly sticks to the take the lane philosophy with varying degrees of exceptions. These courses are mostly based on a cookie-cutter "vehicular cycling" philosophy that was developed in the 1970s by mostly fit, young people (the "father" of this movement was John Forester). Courses like CAN-BIKE or Cycling Savvy owe their roots to this movement, and continue to mostly stick to a worldview that is not always based on the best evidence. Instead there is a lot of the anecdotal evidence of a sub-group of people who were at the top of their faculties and fitness (obviously they're all elderly now). That these courses continue to hold whole-heartedly to this worldview does a large disservice to all the people who don't fit into that sub-group, particularly to those who are not in the prime of their life or fitness, or are too young.

There aren't hard and fast rules to cycling safely; there are many Toronto streets downtown and in the suburbs that defy the simple lessons taught in the cycling courses. Cycling educators have also tended to ignore or dismiss cycling infrastructure that makes it easier for different traffic modes to coexist. I have found a course like CAN-BIKE useful, and in fact, I had taught CAN-BIKE for a number of years. But I think it's time for CAN-BIKE to be rebuilt taking into account the wealth of knowledge coming out of Europe and increasingly in North America as young and old, able and disabled start cycling in our cities.

Cycling education shouldn't be about going fast, and safety should be available to the slow and fast, young and old. Education is also an alternative to improved cycling infrastructure. Really, we want both.

I hope to be looking at other cycling education themes in future posts and look at how we can think beyond a pure "vehicular cycling", one that acknowledges the inadequate infrastructure and that cyclists need to find a way to make good of a bad situation until things improve in our cities.

Cycle training with great infrastructure: the false dichotomy of education versus infrastructure

In the Netherlands, children have cycle training in school as part of the regular curriculum. Many of them bike to school so need good training in order to be independent. Most adults in the Netherlands know how to ride a bike, though increasingly there is training for adults as well, particularly for those coming from other countries. [Thanks to David Hembrow of A view from the cycle path]

The history of cycling advocacy in North America has been dominated by a debate on education versus infrastructure. Though increasingly passe as cities begin to improve their bicycle infrastructure, the debate had served a purpose of allowing policy makers to focus on doing nothing; even just focusing on helmets as if that is enough to get people comfortable with cycling. We now know that is just not enough.

In the Netherlands there is a sort of social compact, that the government will provide safe and comfortable cycling infrastructure and this will allow people to see cycling as a normal and safe part of everyday life. I believe that motorists, cyclist and pedestrians will all "behave" more sanely when cyclists are seen as a normal part of the equation instead of as "pests" or "outlaws".

A cyclist with iPod hears better than a motorist driving

The Ride On magazine of Australia has found that cyclists listening to music or podcasts with headphones hear more ambient noise than motorists who don't have their radios on (photo above is courtesy of Ride On). This innovative investigation by Ride On revealed that the reality if contrary to a popular misconception - commonly held by police and insurance companies with no evidence - that cyclists are riding dangerously if they wear headphones.

Ride On used a synthetic "ear" to measure the volume inside and outside the car.

"With the ear-bud in our synthetic ear but not playing music, we measured the ambient traffic noise at 79dB. With the in-ear earphones, the traffic noise was 71dB," found Ride On. The volume was set to a "reasonable" level, about 3 clicks below full volume on the iPod, which they measured to be 87 dB. They then had a cyclist call out "Passing" and ring a bell. The tester outside the car with headphones on playing music heard the call, whereas the tester in the car with the motor running and the stereo on at a moderate level (69 dB) did not.

We quickly established that cars are remarkably soundproof. We measured the average peak of ambient traffic noise inside the car (with the motor running) to be 54dB, which is 26dB quieter than outside the car. We rang a bike bell right outside an open car window and measured it from in the car at 105dB. With the window closed, the same bell registered just 57dB.

The decibel is a logarithmic unit, which means that the difference increases as the decibels are higher. On the decibel scale, the smallest audible sound (near total silence) is 0 dB. A sound 10 times more powerful is 10 dB. A sound 100 times more powerful than near total silence is 20 dB. A sound 1,000 times more powerful than near total silence is 30 dB. Normal conversation is around 60 dB and a lawn mower around 90 dB. Thus ambient sound inside the car is about 100,000 times that of silence and the ambient sounds outside the car, even with headphones, are about 10 million times.

There are two things I take away from this: one, that riding with headphones are fine so long as the volume is reasonable, and, two, a cyclist is better off being prepared to stop or serve rather than ring a bell at a motorist with their window closed.

Syndicate content