bike safety

Driving a potential weapon

From Christie Blatchford in the Globe and Mail on the cyclist death on behalf of the former Attorney General, a mainstream view that is surprising in its understanding of the power that motorists wield:

As city planners ensure that roads get narrower for cars (half-assed bike lanes, which give a measure of comfort but no protection, dedicated streetcar lines, one-way roads, various traffic ‘calming' methods, which may calm traffic but hardly drivers), getting around the city takes longer and longer, and cyclists and motorists, and sometimes cyclists and pedestrians, are increasingly at odds over the same shrinking space.

Even if it turns out that the man attempted to choke Mr. Bryant, as some witness accounts suggest, and that Mr. Bryant called 911 – and this is the most benign scenario the former politician can hope for – it isn't good enough.

The mismatch between car and bicycle is sufficiently enormous that the cyclist is inherently always right.

Describing a charity ride where Blatchford felt very vulnerable she concludes:

The Dupont and Dundas Bicycle Mural

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Last evening I decided to finally document the bicycle mural at Dupont and Dundas West.
Fine work indeed. Noticed several cyclist taking a walk along the mural just to admire it.
Sweet.

Editor's Note: We will have a full-feature article about these new murals soon, once they are completed. Stay tuned!

Responses to rolling stops

Toronto | Biking in Kensington Market
(Photo: ardenstreet

The Star last week counted cyclists at stop signs and found: " We watched 159 cyclists approach a busy intersection. Only 21 came to a full stop." Despite making motorists crazy and being illegal some make a counter-argument for the rolling stop, also called the Idaho Stop:

The rolling stop – or, in some cycling circles, the Idaho Stop – is as popular as it is illegal, and there are those who will tell you it's also perfectly safe. Bambrick, among other cycling supporters and bloggers, is advocating its legalization, citing common sense and a compelling precedent.

Cyclists in Idaho have been legally permitted to treat stop signs as yield signs since 1982. And though the Idaho law was brought in by legislators to help relieve the pressure on a crowded traffic-court system, cycling-savvy proponents of its further spread argue it would make cycling more efficient, more appealing and ultimately more popular. In places bent on curbing car usage, it's a compelling argument.

There was a flurry of letters supporting and opposing the Idaho Stop. One argued "zero tolerance" and that bicycles are vehicles under the Highway Traffic Act:

In this, the police should set an example and prosecute more often. The "zero tolerance" policy has been proven to work exceptionally well in the few places it has been pursued rigorously.

Joe LaFortune (commenter on this forum), argued that rolling stops by cyclists are no big danger compared to motorists doing the same. Cyclists need to maintain momentum yet are relegated to quieter residential streets with an abundance of stop signs.

While the offence may be identical for both vehicle users on paper, it really is not the same thing. Cyclists in Toronto tend to use one-way residential streets for the bulk of their riding, avoiding main roads whenever possible. Traffic is simply too heavy and too fast on major arterials and motorists regularly fail to afford cyclists the space they are legally entitled to, making it unsafe except for experienced cyclists.

Residential streets, the preferred routes for many if not most cyclists, feature stop signs at every cross street for the most part, but there is usually little or no cross traffic. A cyclist rolling through a quiet intersection is capable of stopping within a meter of applying brakes as the average bike is only travelling at about 15 km/h and weighs less than 10 kilograms.

How do you like your streetcar tracks?

San Francisco is looking at how Toronto cyclists deal with streetcar tracks. The answer: not very easily. Toronto streetcar tracks have been the bane of many cyclists, both experienced and green. Being one of just a handful of North American cities with streetcars, Toronto could provide valuable information.

What can San Francisco learn from the Toronto experience? What ways can cities improve the safety for cyclists crossing tracks?

Experienced bicyclists tend to figure out the best way to navigate the tracks, but what can be done to prevent less-experienced bicyclists from getting stuck in the rail depressions so regularly?

In Toronto, where bicyclists also have to contend with a maze of tracks, several at-grade railroad crossings are equipped with a rubber flange filler that is jammed down into the cracks of trolley tracks. The rubber is firm enough that it doesn't compress when a bike passes over it, but when a streetcar comes it squishes down and doesn't cause the train to derail.

The material is not used for Toronto's extensive network of streetcar tracks in the city's core, however, and bikes routinely get caught in the tracks. "The at-grade railroad crossings do have some of that incorporated, but certainly not the main hazards to cyclists, which are the arterial road streetcar tracks," said Yvonne Bambrick, Executive Director of the Toronto Cyclists Union.

"There’s a lot of places where several tracks meet and turn. They’re trickier to navigate, but folks that have been at it for a while have figured out how to do it. It’s not that hard: you pay attention and learn how to do it, it’s all good. It does catch people fairly regularly."

Defuse anti-cyclist road rage

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(Photo: torontobikechic)

Two blogs have come out with lists on avoiding or defusing anti-cyclist road rage. Treehugger has a 6 point list and Planet Green has four. Please share your own! I find their tips a bit underwhelming:

  1. Obey all traffic laws. (Drivers hate "salmon biking" and cyclists running red lights.)
  2. Be courteous.
  3. Avoid daredeviling.
  4. Keep a low profile. (Even if the driver is wronged, don't exacerbate it. Concentrate on your biking instead. Ask yourself, are the potential consequences worth it?)
  5. Drive your bike. ("One drives a bicycle, a scooter, or a motorcycle, not rides one. People ride in things over which they don't have control.")
  6. Lobby for the Idaho stop (rolling stop).
  7. Arm yourself with a smile and a wave.
  8. Don your finest, brightest plumage.
  9. Remember biking as a bell curve. (Remember that cycling is not particularly dangerous, and in fact the health benefits far out weigh the risks. The Raise the Hammer blog looks in depth at all the cycling risks including that you're just as likely to die in an SUV crash as a bike crash.)

Province - fast track bike lanes: Albert Koehl

PICT0897.jpg
(Photo: flickr user martinreis)

Lawyer Albert Koehl makes a good argument, Bells on Bloor activist, in today's Globe and Mail for why the province should put the heat under the cities feet to get more bike lanes before all our glaciers melt:

Ontario planning law already puts a healthy emphasis on cycling, walking and transit. Both the Toronto region's growth plan and the Provincial Policy Statement, which is currently under review, require cities to consider the safety of cyclists. The growth plan directs cities to ensure that bicycle and pedestrian networks are integrated into transportation planning “to provide safe, comfortable travel for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Unfortunately, the law has just enough ambiguity to allow a “business as usual” approach. By imposing minimum standards on cities - such as the requirement to install bike lanes on roads with specified cycling levels or when road redevelopments take place - the province will move the municipal debate about bike lanes from “if” to “how.”

A change at the provincial level wouldn't just help beleaguered cyclists but also benefit stressed city politicians. Why, for example, should Toronto Mayor David Miller have to spend political capital pushing for bike lanes when that's effectively what provincial law requires anyway? Freed from endless debates about bike lanes, Mr. Miller could spend more time dealing with other pressing issues, such as labour unrest.

He makes a great point: when the highways were built in the 1950s all levels of government were behind creating the infrastructure for cars. If governments are now serious about sustainable transportation they can't leave it to squabbles over individual bike lanes.

Will the Police bike safety blitz be different this year?

Intrepid blogger (and community organizer) Mez was the only media at the press conference for the Toronto Police's "Share the Road" bike safety campaign launch on Monday. Being the only one meant he had plenty of time to try to convince the police present to do a better of job of targeting the worst offenders both on bike and in car, and not just the everyday cyclist. Mez can't help but to inject a bit of activism into his reporting:

1. Don’t set-up ‘sting’ operations in locations where cyclists are breaking rules in a harmless way, just to hand out more tickets. For example, a favorite spot is College and Augusta, ticketing cyclists who are turning south. Technically, it’s a one way street (northbound), but everyone knows that cyclists go both ways in the Market, and it works just fine. Handing out tickets there does not increase safety. It increases anger. (Especially when the police are giving tickets to customers of Bikes on Wheels who are taking a bike for a test ride on Augusta – This happened last year). Riding two-ways on a one way street is considered safe practice in many cities, and in some places it’s actually written into the law.
2. Let cyclists use a ‘rolling stop’ at stop signs. This means that they slow down, look both ways, and proceed. Again, this is common legal practice in some jurisdictions and for good reason: it works and it’s safe. Toronto’s Bike Blitz often sets up on Beverly, north of Dundas, where officers give tickets to any cyclist who does not come to a complete stop (by putting their foot on the ground). No discretion. No warning. $110 fine. Please, please tell me how this increases awareness or safety? It’s annoying, immature, petty and fits my description of ‘harassment’ to a tee.
3. Don’t just go after cyclists. You want to “reduce the potential for cycling related injuries”? Then put tickets on all those cars that are parked in the bike lane! They are the people who are putting lives at risk, not the cyclists who slow down at stop signs, or bike slowly south on Augusta.

Bike safety according to Reader's Digest

Every spring the main media wants to get in on bike safety. I was recently interviewed for my thoughts on bike safety for Reader's Digest. Here's some shameless self-promotion:

“Cyclists have a right to use a part of the roadway, and are allowed to take an entire lane when their safety requires it,” says Herb van den Dool, a Toronto-based cycling activist and blogger with ibiketo.ca.

Whether you’re feeling squeezed out by traffic or you need to make it safely around a pothole that’s in your way, don’t be afraid to claim the space you need, even it forces the traffic around you to slow down. He also recommends riding at least a meter away from parked cars to avoid being hit by car doors.

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