Cycling Wednesday June 11, 2008, 9 comments

Cycling to work for the last few weeks, when the weather is favorable, has been an exercise in both illumination and frustration.

After more than 260 kilometers (so far!), the changes in my body have been illuminating. Once the initial shock of regular physical activity faded, I find myself more energetic, more alert, and generally happier. Not to mention thinner.

It is also illuminating to see how road traffic works from a decidedly different vantage point. Interesting to watch the ebb and flow of traffic during rush hour in a major city, and learn that a bicycle making a steady 20 kilometers per hour will often arrive at its destination faster than a car that can move much faster, but is limited by the stop-and-go nature of driving in such a city.

Not being insulated from the environment, one quickly becomes aware of the pollution that automobiles generate. This applies doubly for North American automobiles and trucks that insist on having exhaust pipes aimed at sidewalks and bike lanes. Because cyclists are not insulated in steel and glass cages, one becomes aware of (and surprised by) how loud cars really are.

Nobody said illuminating must be pleasant. Hence the frustration. After watching how drivers behave from ‘the outside’, I find myself amazed there aren’t more car accidents. People on cellphones, eating, drinking coffee, applying makeup, crackberrying. Frankly, anything but operating a motor vehicle with attention and care. Not only amazed, but frightened.

People weave back and forth in their lanes (when they actually stay in them). They run red lights routinely. They drive in the cycling lane, or when they’re not driving in it, they’re parked in it. They bleat their horns, scream obscenities at me as I cycle, and drive dangerously close to me (in my cycling lane, no less) in order to force me off the road and onto the sidewalk, where I apparently ‘belong’. They pass me within inches, only to suddenly turn right in front of me. I have come to the conclusion that drivers in Toronto do not consider cyclists on bicycles to be vehicles. This might be because so few cyclists on bicycles act like vehicles.

Cyclists, I have come to realize, are doing themselves no favors. When it suits them, they act as vehicles on the road. The problem comes when cyclists decide that they are not vehicles, and therefore not subject to the rules of the road. They don’t stop at red lights. They weave in and out of traffic, taking advantage of their smaller size and maneuverability, and suddenly become pedestrians when they want to cross the road and don’t want to wait for traffic to allow them the opportunity. In short, many of the cyclists I see on the roads are as thoughtless, careless and dangerous as the people in the cars.

I count myself lucky that I don’t have to spend much time on busy roads to get to work. I get to ride on the multi-use path along Lakeshore for most of the trip. Closer to home I get to ride on the very low-traffic roads through High Park, and closer to the office, I get to ride on Queen’s Quay, which has bike lanes along most of its length, or through residential areas. It’s a pleasant trip, and for the most part, I am spared the danger caused by selfish cyclists and inattentive drivers.

I don’t know the solutions to these problems. By Ontario law, bicycles are vehicles on the road, and subject to all the rights and privileges of a vehicle, with certain restrictions (no 400 series highways). Perhaps the police need to start enforcing this status, and ensuring that cyclists are following the rules of the road in the same way that they enforce those rules for automobiles. Perhaps the police need to make a more concerted effort to enforce that vehicular status, to make those drivers aware that bicycles have as much right to the roads as cars.

Some tolerance from both the cyclist camp and the driver camp couldn’t hurt, either.


Comments

Thomas Wednesday June 11, 2008


Adrian,

I really wish my commute could be totally on bike – unfortunately there is no direct route available (except very narrow back roads that are neither safe nor time efficient). Many older (country) cities in America just don’t take bikers into consideration and make it very difficult to do any alternative transportation methods that are non-motorized.

My options at this point, to reduce my traveling by car (since I don’t need the overall space most of the time) are getting a moped (vespa would be nice) or a motorcycle (just need to get that license and road test out of the way).

If I can get one more freelance job this summer, it may pay for my alternative – but starting grad school will really put a crimp in my freelance time.

Anyway, good to hear about your transformations that you’re experiencing!

Adrian Wednesday June 11, 2008


I don’t know what to say Thomas. Cycling to work is not for everyone. It works for me, but obviously it won’t work for you.

What you are describing (smaller cities and suburbs being very cycling unfriendly) is indicative of the unsustainability of the petroleum/automobile society. What will happen to the suburbs when cars are so expensive to operate that its not worth it any more? Yet another reason I am so happy to live in a sizable city, where just about everything is within walking distance, or within easy public transportation range.

Now, back to the motorcycle/moped. Are you in a warm climate (the south)? Is it something you can ride all year round? Cos if not, it’s only half a solution. What will you do in the winter?

Thomas Thursday June 12, 2008


Unfortunately, yes, the weather does play a big role (in Southwest Michigan). For the most part, I’ll keep driving in the winter. Eventually I’ll end up looking for a small (smart type) car that I can take to and from work in the late fall to early spring months.

Daniel Black Thursday June 12, 2008


I was cycling last spring/summer until my bike was stolen. I have taken quite a while to get back to it, and even though I now have another (nicer) bike, I haven’t made sure it’s in road condition and started using it. I think this weekend is the time, maybe.

My commute is about 6 miles one-way, and includes two hills. I bus right now, so I’m not going to change the carbon footprint much; but my once-inspired exercise routine has faltered (justifiably, if sadly), and biking may be the only sustainable way to try to stay fit. For now.

Great that you’ve kept it up, too. Maybe there’s some kind of analogue to the Nike+Air thing, to track mileage online with a social-networky kind of thing. Or not.

Adrian Thursday June 12, 2008


Tommy, at least you’re making the effort. Even if you’re reducing the carbon footprint by public transport, moped, or cycling for half the year, you’re doing well. By adding a more efficient automobile, you’re doing even more.

I’m proud of you.

Daniel, I’m sorry to hear about your bike. I bought a new, good bike a few weeks ago, because my cheap one was not going to be up to the task. And let me tell you, the extra money I spent on having a ‘good’ bike was more than worth it. For the record, it’s a Gary Fisher Marlin, non-disc version. I couldn’t justify the disc brakes, since v-brakes work so well, and I’m not off-roading much. Commuter biking all the way.

For transparency’s sake, I’ve got about 312km this summer. 15% of the way to my goal!

My round trip to and from work is about 25km, about the same as your 6 miles, Daniel. You should get back out there, but with a really good bike lock. I’m lucky that my place of employment has an inside bike rack that requires walking past a security guard to get to.

I was thinking of tracking my mileage on the site here. Maybe I can come up with something more social-app-better. A cycling tracker app on the Facebook?

cristina Monday June 16, 2008


I remember reading about a blogger who was fond of cycling. I believe it was absenter.org (for reference). But I could never cycle to work. What an intense cardio workout!

I think I’ll just stick with Yoga.

Eran Monday June 16, 2008


I’m guilty of treating the rules like suggestions a lot of the time, however i do believe you must pick and choose when and where to use stoplights as yields for example.. i have no bike right now – i trashed it after the last accident.. i thought the frame had likely been compromised. there is no doubt that obeying the rules will make for a safer ride.. but if you are addicted to adrenaline there is nothing quite like barreling down yonge street during rushhour in the middle of all four lanes.. its better than a roller coaster!

Adrian Wednesday June 18, 2008


Eran, I hope I never have as many bike accidents as you!

As for the actual intelligence of the Canadian traffic system, especially where signs are concerned, I have few comments, except to say that I am told that in the UK, there are barely any stop signs – instead they are yeilds.

Eran Thursday July 3, 2008


Adrian, I am happy to report that i have not had an accident in months! (nor have i been on a bike lol) The UK is doing something right for sure. Yields are where its at. Yields are greener as well, takes a lot less burning of fossil fuels to yield as it does to stop and start every 2 seconds.

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