education

On Chiarelli's 2012 Ontario Bike Strategy

On Friday November 30th, Bob Chiarelli, The Minster of Transportation, released a Cycling Strategy. You’d be well excused for not hearing about it because other news has rightfully captured the headlines. As an announcement, this strategy document was only newsworthy for being drivel.

If someone were to ask me how I would describe Ontario’s new Cycling Strategy in a word I would have to choose one of these: “vague,” “wishy-washy,” or “same-old, same-old” depending on who asked.

We are all free to share what we think of this Strategy directly with the Ministry. I encourage you to do so.

For a Strategy that is to cover a province as large and as diverse as Ontario, or even an activity as diverse as cycling, this document is really slim. Once the introductions, the cover page, the table of contents, the glossary, and the appendixes are removed, the actual strategy is a mere four pages. That does not provide any space for detail, so absolutely none are given.

For me, just the fact that this criticism to the proposed strategy is longer than the strategy itself is proof enough that this strategy is nowhere near comprehensive or detailed enough.

The introduction does mention some of the benefits of cycling, such as better health, reducing emissions, reducing urban traffic congestion, and providing economic development opportunities. But not once does this plan mention any targets for Ontario in reaching towards these benefits.

What the introduction also outlines is how little Ontario has been doing for, and how slowly and diluted it’s been dishing out any benefits to, those of us who ride bikes in Ontario. The rest of the strategy is not so much “new” as more of the same. Without clear goals, without areas of priority, without clear funding commitments, this plan is just more of the same-old, same-old.

Let’s step back for a moment, and, — even before we decide that we need a bike plan or strategy — let’s get a vision of what we’d like for a future Ontario to look like. Only then we can better understand how cycling fits in to that future. Only then we can create a plan and a set of strategies that will get us there. And, then we can have a plan that outlines the path that will get us to achieve this vision. However, there is no vision driving this plan, nor does the plan itself provide one. Nor can one even get a vision of what the province will be like from reading this document, nor what will change in the lives of those of who ride our bicycles anywhere in the province. That is because a plan which is this slim simply cannot provide any of this.

One thing that the plan does mention is the desire to fund cycling projects which will “connect communities,” but only those cycling projects which would fulfill these criteria:

  • Could form part of a province wide cycling network.
  • Have no viable alternate route.
  • Would connect with other existing or planned cycling routes.
  • Are consistent with local tourism goals.
  • Connect population centres and/or places of interest.
  • Allow access to services and accommodation.
  • Have demonstrated demand for cycling.
  • Are or can reasonably be made safe.
  • Have strong local support.
  • Are cost effective.

Really? This list reads to me more like a list of excuses to EXCLUDE funding for projects, rather than as reasons to fund cycling projects.

  • What is that “province wide cycling network” which is being referred to in the list? Earlier, the plan states that “The Ministry will identify a province-wide cycling route network to connect cycling destinations to create recreational and tourism opportunities.” However, the plan does not identify that route.
  • What would make an alternative route “viable”? No details are to be found in the plan.
  • What would make a place or population centre worthy of “interest”? This plan does not does provide such detail.
  • What is meant by “demonstrated demand for cycling,” and how would that criteria apply on routes that have been difficult or impossible by bike before? No details.
  • What does “reasonably safe” look and feel like? No detail.
  • What constitutes “strong local support”? No detail.
  • What are the measures being used for deciding if a project is “cost effective”? No detail.

The plan goes on to state that the Ministry will support municipalities in the development of local cycling networks. However, it already does this, even if not with that direct intent. Traffic engineers, the people directly responsible for the design and the implementation of our cycling infrastructure, already create and update designs of cycling infrastructure and their associated signage. This is done nationally, and becomes a national standard that traffic engineers use. Provinces then “cherry pick” which of these it wishes to include as part of its provincial standard. Ontario has always been included in this process, and Ontario’s Municipalities have always been a part of adding to, as well as choosing, these standards. Traditionally, the Ministry of Transportation has only ever blocked the inclusion of integrated cycling infrastructure, so perhaps the big change here is not so much the leadership role that the province isn't taking, but the fact that it will “get out of the way” and stop blocking cycling projects. That’s really the big change here.

Both Education and Legislation becomes the next key item in this plan. That it should have been two items is a fact we’ll overlook for right now.

Canada has a national standard for educating cyclists with on-road cycling skills; it’s called CAN-BIKE, and it is a program which is 27 years old. Being a national standard means that it is recognized by both our Federal Government as well as by industry. Toronto created, and has previously handed off to the Ministry of Transportation, a CAN-BIKE component for inclusion with driver education. But there’s no mention of that. Instead we get the usual banter of on-going consultations with whomever, and that that the driver handbook has been getting better and will continue to get better. Uh-huh.

There is no mention of getting more people taking CAN-BIKE courses, nor of making any cycling programs available for those who ride, or would like to. Cyclists’ education will be taken care of by having a sheet of paper with the URL so that one can find the on-line copy of the “Cycling Skills” handbook; this slip of paper (with the URL) will be attached to every bicycle sold in Ontario. This idea was buried in the appendix. So instead of placing a full copy of the Cycling Skills booklet into a bag along with other useful information which would be attached to the bike being sold, one will get a URL with the bike. Really. You can read it for yourself; I don’t make this stuff up.

The key legislative changes proposed are the one-metre passing law, and, potentially, mandatory helmets — pending study, of course. But these are only mentioned as part of the review from Ontario’s Chief Coroner, again in the appendix. The strategy, proper, only promises vague on-going reviews of the current legislation.

The final page of the Strategy covers Co-ordination as well as Monitoring and Research. However, without clear goals or outcomes, one has to wonder what will be researched or monitored. And the section on co-ordination reads like the kind of incomprehensible jargon we usually try to avoid if we mean to be understood. However, the Co-ordination section does mention an “Active Transportation Working Group” but it fails to identify who is (or would be) working in such a group, nor what it’s aims are. It reads as if such a group already exists, but there’s no description of what this group has done so far, if anything.

My wife, whom I usually find quite reasonable, and who keeps me grounded, said that this plan sounded like something a high school student whipped together the night before in order to have something to hand in. I think my wife is being a little bit harsh.

To compare:
Toronto’s 2001 Bike Plan is 137 pages long, and is not short on detail. Toronto’s Bike Plan only two had clear goals: 1) to double ridership and 2) to build the proposed network by 2011. But it also did outline a large number of policies and ideas to help those of us who already ride bikes, and ideas and policies which would both enable and encourage more people to ride bikes.

In 2008, the group “Ontario Cycling Alliance” (OCA) released a 42 page Bike Plan for Ontario which was far more comprehensive than the Cycling Strategy released by Chiarelli. It articulated a vision of Cycling in Ontario as well as specific plans and programs to achieve this vision. OCA’s Bike Plan included also proposed routes to connect communities with Ontario, and it identified those whom it would encourage to ride, and what kinds of trips they would be making by bicycle. What OCA’s Bike Plan lacked was timelines and costs.

In 2010, Share The Road Coalition released a 49 page Green Paper describing what they would like to see by way of Cycling Policy. The ideas presented in it are, by far, better than what the Ministry of Transport is currently proposing.

The people of Ontario deserve a proper, and comprehensive, Bike Plan that covers the whole province , one which outlines the timelines, the costs, and the benefits of investing in cycling infrastructure and programs across the province. Ontario deserves a Bike Plan with clear aims and Goals, better identification of who would be cycling as well as where and when we'll be cycling. And the Bike Plan should identify the means of achieving these objectives. And it's not like our province doesn't have any other options; two groups in Ontario have worked on, and produced, full Bike Plans that Ontario could easily adopt as its own.

What we, in Ontario, don’t deserve is a slim document merely designed to answer a report from the Coroner being passed off as plan (or even a strategy) to fit all of cycling in all of Ontario.

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.

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".

My visit to Central Commerce's new bike mechanics class

Central Commerce, a school in downtown Toronto, has launched an innovative course for students to learn the basics of bike mechanics. Last week I met with the period one class and teacher Ravi Mohan-Sukhai to learn how the course is coming along.

I met Ravi in the otherwise unused basement of Central Commerce where he was happily moving from student to student, helping them with their bike project. Twelve students in each of three daily classes meet in the basement of Central Commerce Collegiate Institute in Toronto, learning the basics on donated bicycles and parts. During the course they will fix up not only a bicycle for themselves but up to five other bikes that will be sold off to support the program.

There is a waiting list and the students clearly love the change of pace from the usual sitting in their desks, listening to teachers talk. One eager girl, Fahmeda tells me she also likes the hands-on aspect of the elective class and that she'll get a bike out of it at the end of the course. Omar signed up for the course soon after starting at the school, eager to learn the basics of bike mechanics.

Ravi is supported by two assistants, Matt Draimin and Eugene Chao, both Curbside Bicycles mechanics, who both come almost daily to help students with their bike education.

The bicycles are stored in empty classrooms in the basement and in the empty swimming pool. The bikes were provided by the Cabbagetown Youth Centre (CYC) to Central Commerce, which in turn were donated by the government to CYC as a settlement in prolific bike thief Igor Kenk's court case. Many of his thousands of stolen bikes that he bizarrely stored in garages around the city were unclaimed and were eventually given to CYC so they could be refurbished for youth. The bikes are finally being put to a good use.

Ravi, Matt and Eugene have sorted the bikes into those which are more easily refurbished, the bikes to be used for parts in the appropriately named "Boneyard", and those to be dealt with at a later date. Despite the large numbers of bikes donated, there are still a lot of supplies to be purchased. For this Ravi's approach has been to sell some of the refurbished bikes back to the community (there will be a spring sale coming up) and to offer bike repair to school staff. Ravi registers each bike with the Toronto Police so they're aware that these bikes that were once stolen now have a legitimate life.

Each semester Kristen Schwartz from Culturelink teaches bike safety to the students, gives them a helmet and a bell. Many of the students might not have been aware of road rules. They will follow it with a ride.

The class got quickly organized last fall as the thousands of bikes were sent to be stored. Instead of just letting the bikes sit, the school principal, Iwona Kurman, quickly organized for Ravi to be hired and gave him space in the basement to teach the elective. Given that the focus of Central Commerce is commerce, the class will eventually have a broader focus that will also incorporate an interdisciplinary study of environmental issues, physical activity, business and science.

The class, the first of its kind in the Toronto District School Board, started last fall with just two students but quickly grew as word got around. Ravi has been designing his own curriculum to meet the particular learning needs of high school students and to keep the students on top of the quirky needs of bicycles in need of various levels of work. All the bikes will require overhauling the bearings, brakes and gears but some will have more serious issues with the frame, broken drivetrain or other issues. The students - with the help of Matt and Eugene - are taught to identify such issues.

The object is not to produce bike mechanics; some students may end up working in the bike industry, but some will use the hands-on mechanical concepts as a foundation for other technical trades. And others may find that they are using their new bike to go to school or run errands and be able to repair their own bicycles. The course can help student become more mobile, more self-reliant and give them an understanding of mechanical systems like the common bicycle.


Looking for parts in the Boneyard


Ravi's office


Working bikes


The parts of the wheel


Matt providing tips on front brake


The bike mechanics class


How to assess for damage


Working on brakes


Eugene teaching Omar

Charlie's Bike Shop: new bike shop run by youth

Tino captured the opening celebration of Charlie's Bike Shop (as part of the organization Charlie's Freewheels, which opened recently just a few doors east of Sherbourne on Queen. Charlie's works with youth from Regent Park to provide training in bicycle mechanics and now running a business.

Charlie's Freewheels was named in honour of Charlie Prinsep, a Torontonian who was hit and killed by a car on the Trans-Canada near Brooks, Alberta while on a cross-country bike tour. Charlie loved everything about cycling: riding, fixing, going on long tours. (The site is not far from my parents home. I visited the site in 2007 where Charlie was hit; the wide, flat, straight, isolated Trans-Canada has plenty of room to avoid hitting anyone, but the driver was most likely falling asleep at the wheel.)


Click on the photo to see Tino's whole gallery.


Some of the organizers help launch the shop, including Emma McIlveen Brown, Derek Chadbourne, Joshua Farr, unknown and Aaron Marques.

See also the first award ceremony at Critical Mass;

Legislating cycling: for the good of cyclists or a form of punishment?


Photo of errant cyclists by Tino.

Even in the obscure corners that this blog occupies, we hear people enthusiastic about legislating cycling. Writing this post really feels like beating a dead horse long after its been buried and then exhumed and then beaten again. A small segment of the population remains enthusiastic about legislating cyclists and/or bicycles, so I feel a strong need to cover this territory again.

Toronto has studied the issue of mandatory licensing for cyclists a few times already. Each time the city's staff have studied the issue and come to the conclusion that it would be difficult to implement; and won't meet the assumed goals. The proponents aren't even clear on the means, whether it be licensing for cyclists or registration fees for bicycles or both, so the report has had to make guesses about the intentions and means.

What is the purpose of legislating cyclists? How is helping anyone? Let's look at the stated goals and see if they justify the means.

Make cyclists pay their fair share

Syndicate content