Friday, April 4, 2014

So I was wrong.

I was riding down to South Keys to see a movie this afternoon. To get there I have to go over a bridge, crossing some train tracks, and it's a bit harrowing on the best day. Right now, in early spring, the whole "bike space" area is coated in grit, broken pavement and mud, so it's a little sketchy to ride on. And traffic along this road usually goes somewhere around 70 or 80 kph. So I was on edge as I headed down the far side of the bridge, and toward the first right turn into the parking lot in front of the big-box strip mall.

And naturally, asI was trying to negotiate the strip of grit and mud, the potholes, and everything else, with cars zipping past me, I was passed by a brown UPS delivery van. He honked his horn: I shrank as he blasted past me, and I shouted, got mad, and gave him the finger as I coasted on down the slope. He cut over and turned right into the parking lot, a little in front of me. I turned right at the same spot, and decided I was going to follow him: guessing, since the van headed off to the back of the strip mall, that he was going somewhere in the mall and I could catch him. I gave chase. For once, I thought, I was going to confront the driver. Make him look the cyclist in the eye and explain himself. Even if it was scary, I was going to do it.

I followed him around behind the mall, and most of the way along its length. He parked, and got out, and started walking, and I kept after him, and then rode up alongside him. "Excuse me, sir," I said, as I got close, and he stopped. "I just had to ask. Why'd you have to honk at me?"

And he explained. He'd seen me, started to move left to give me some room, and some other driver had popped out of his blind spot, and not given him space to get over. "I was thinking, are you nuts? Don't you see the lady on the bike?" he said to me. "So I honked, to tell him to get out of the way so I could move over, but he just didn't," he said.

I felt awful. For assuming that the honk was meant for me. For not having seen what was going on just behind my left shoulder. For not being able to see past the big brown van to the cars on the other side and what they were doing, and mostly for assuming that all interactions are directed - and with hostility - at me. I thanked him for making the effort to give me space, and I went on my way. Chagrined.

Something to remember: it's so easy to assume all drivers are against you. I try to smile and wave at the drivers I see making an effort to give me room, but I don't see all of them. I need to remember how many drivers do see us, and try to give us space, and how many of them we just don't notice, for that very reason: because they gave us space and didn't scare us. How many of them are just as freaked out by the convergence of bikes and cars as we are. And not every honking horn is aimed at us. In fact, assuming the drivers are on our side might make everyone feel a whole lot better.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How did she do this I don't even

I'll admit, I stole that title. It was a tweet by Cassandra Fulgham (@cfulgham) in response to this:


I'll give you a chance to look at that. Maybe another angle?


Or an aerial view perhaps?


(The pictures are courtesy @auxonic, @rjeschmi, and @chrisjschmitt, respectively.)

Yup, folks. That is someone who actually drove down Laurier Ave., needed to park, and somehow pulled up into the space in front of the alley on the right, between the concrete dividers, and verrrrry carefully backed into the segregated bike lane, between the divider and the curb. Then got out of her car, fed the meter, and headed off to do whatever she was on Laurier to do. (I say "she" because the license plate reads "CF MOM" and I assume she was doing something in the Canadian Forces office at 66 Slater.) 

Unless, of course, she'd been driving in the bike lane for the last couple of blocks, thinking it was just some sort of . . . collector lane. Who knows.

What goes through this person's head? "Oh, look, segregated parking, how nice!" I can't begin to go through the things that hurt my brain about this. For one thing, if it's "segregated parking," how in the name of all that's holy would anyone else get in to use it, now that she's parked in the opening? Also, how did she miss the bike lane signs? What did she think the concrete dividers were for? How tricky was it, exactly, to back in between them? Did she wonder why the other two cars were parked on the other side of the barriers?

It's a baffling (and giggle-inducing) mystery. But also, it really kind of points out to me: this is one of only two segregated bike lanes in the city that I'm aware of (the other being on Wellington near the War Museum). Like the green bike boxes, it's not something people immediately understand when they see it. (Apparently.)

I'll give this person the benefit of the doubt: maybe she didn't see the bike lane signs, in the cluster of street signs that are all over downtown. Maybe she doesn't come downtown often, and hadn't known that Laurier had an SBL. If this kind of thing were more common, people would know how to use it, but like any new system, there's a learning curve. The fact that this lady, when confronted with an SBL, had no idea what to do with it, is maybe more of a sign that there's still a long way to go in informing the general public about the increasing amount of bike infrastructure.

I'm reminded of my father's metaphor (from a totally different context) of having someone over for dinner and, when the dinner's over, they get up, thank the hosts, and stuff all the silverware in their pockets as they're getting ready to go. They're not being malicious or criminal, they are just from a totally different culture.

We're in a world where drivers still think bikes aren't allowed on the streets, where they're utterly oblivious to the existence and use of bike boxes, and where they think it's okay to undertake a bike on a left turn, as long as they leave a metre of space.

There's a lot of misinformation and ignorance out there. It's just that very seldom is it as obvious and entertaining as this bit of boneheadedness.

(It should also be noticed that this whole flurry of pictures and the resulting Twitter conversation also illustrated something: if you want to get Mayor Watson's attention, tweet him. He reads those suckers, and responds, and passes the information along to the right people. He's a bit of a twitterbeast.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Student driver - no duh

Heading west on Heron tonight around 7:30, I was, as usual, preoccupied with dodging potholes while keeping an ear out for traffic behind me. It was twilight, a tetchy time of day, but I had all the lights going: a turtle on my helmet, a big flashing taillight, reflective patches on my pant legs and pannier.

And then, as I was coming up on a big field of potholes, I heard the engine behind me. I didn't realize it was an eighteen-wheeler until the massive cab loomed up beside me, far too close. Way, way too close. And then I hit the brakes hard, because there were potholes ahead of me and a gigantic transport truck passing me really, really close, and the damn thing just kept coming and coming like the Star Destroyer at the start of Star Wars.

When it was finally past me and I could start pedaling again, I found I was muttering, "'How's my driving? Call 1-800-yadda-yadda'" under my breath.

The truck had a left turn signal on that never seemed to amount to anything, although I wondered why the hell it hadn't gotten into the left lane before passing me: it's not like there was a ton of traffic. But I started to realize I was going to catch up to the truck, because it was at Heron and Bank waiting - and waiting and waiting - to turn right.

And then I saw the sign on the back that said, "Student Driver."

Great.

I whipped out my iPhone and got a picture of it before the light even turned green, hoping to get enough information off the back of the truck to identify the student driver in question, contact his trainers, and bring to their attention the fact that a transport truck should always, if possible, get over a lane to pass a cyclist, especially if their truck has no side guards.

But sadly, I'm not sure which bits of information on the back of this truck are actually useful: anyone have any ideas?



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Meg's bike

So, a comment on this blog, on March 9, said, about Meg's ghost bike at Bank and Riverside:

its still up..... its the most obnoxious and long standing memorial I have ever scene. I pass by it everyday and am utterly irritated that its been almost a year and its still there as if it was mother Theresa that died.

Hey, Anonymous (brave choice of ID, that): Cordially - wait, no, not cordially, not at all - fuck you. You have a problem with having to pass Meg's ghost bike? Does it bring you down? Oh, I'm so terribly sorry for you.

Meg's bike has been decorated since she was killed last July (incidentally, that was less than eight months ago). And it's not like the decorations are causing any problems to anyone: unless, of course, you find being reminded of the existence of cyclists to be a problem. And as a bike rider who goes by that intersection a few times a week, the tributes and the care lavished on her memorial have touched and encouraged me. In the fall, it was decorated with pumpkins and bats and ghosties and orange-and-black streamers. At Christmas it was decorated with pine and holly and ribbons. Last week, I took a picture of the bike festooned with Irish flags and green crepe paper for Saint Patrick's Day. Someone is going to that intersection and showing that the woman who was killed there is still a part of their lives. They're including her in their seasonal celebrations: “Hey, it's Winterlude, let's go put an ice inukshuk at Meg's bike.” Why, in all the worlds, would you have a problem with that?

That ghost bike reminds me, every time I pass it (on my bike, or in my car), that someone's deeply beloved sister, daughter, friend, and aunt was killed at that intersection. As a sister, daughter, friend, and aunt myself, I can only hope that if the unthinkable were to happen, the least that could come of it would be that the spot where it happened might be turned into a reminder, to cyclists and drivers alike, to look out for each other. No one should have to take their lives into their hands to get home from work. Not in a car, not on a bike, not on a bus or a subway.

I'm absolutely glad Meg's memorial is still standing. I'm glad that her family and friends look after her ghost bike the way they do. If you're irritated by it, maybe you need to think about why you are. What possible reason could you come up with to be angry with people for loving and remembering someone who's gone? If you've got a real corker of a reason, let me know. Otherwise, I'm just going to assume that you're made uncomfortable by the very presence of cyclists who - God forbid - feel they should be able to get around town without running the risk of dying.

Yes, we (as a group) remember our dead. Even the ones we were never lucky enough to know personally. That's because every day, when we get on our bikes, we feel like we're under threat. We're cut off, we're honked at, we're sped past, we're yelled at, and we're startled and scared on a regular basis, even though we keep telling ourselves we know the rules and we should be okay, because we read the comments (though we shouldn't) and we feel like if we got run down by a cement truck, like Meg was, there would be a frightening number of assholes like you who would say, “Come on, take the memorial down already, it's not like they were someone important.”

Also, ghost bikes are way better at signalling a dangerous stretch of road than any municipal sign: and, sadly, they're more common. Every time I pass Meg's bike, in my mind, I'm passing Meg: I didn't know her, but I know she rode a bike, and she was a daughter and a sister and a friend and an aunt, and I promise her – and the people that love me – that I will be careful.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Look, Ma, no gloves!



... I wasn't wearing a hat, either! And that's my spring jacket!

Admittedly, the weather people are calling for somewhere around 15 cm of snow for tomorrow, and someone said -20 is in the forecast, but today I biked to the office and back with no gloves or hat on. It was filthy and gritty and wet and the puddles hid deadly potholes, but I wasn't wearing gloves!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Cabbie confusion (or, why can't people just treat me like a car?)

I was mostly okay with the two ladies who slowed down behind me as I climbed Bank today, only to suddenly decide, just as I turned around to smile at them for hanging back, to accelerate past me fairly close so they could cut me off turning right into the Farm Boy parking lot. I mean, it seemed a little dumb to hang back for fifty feet, then suddenly decide you couldn't do it for another twenty, but what the hey.

But what happened with the cabbie a couple of blocks later baffles me.

Just as I swerved to the left to get around a particularly nasty cluster of potholes, a cab (what's the one with the orange signs?) passed me uncomfortably close. "Jerk," I said to myself, and shook my head. But then he put on his right turn signal, slowed in front of me, then swerved a little bit left - and stopped. In the middle of the street.

I had been moving left so I could pass him as he made his right turn, but when he didn't turn right, and in fact moved out and into my way again, I had to slam on the brakes and skid to a stop behind him. "What are you doing?" I said, loudly, and the driver waved at me to pass him on the right. He rolled his window down. Meanwhile I was trying to decide whether to pull out around him on the left, as I'd been going to do anyway, but as I was not at all sure what he thought he was doing I didn't think it was safe. So when the window rolled down, I moved up beside him and said, "What are you doing?" again. He waved at me to continue. "What are you doing?" I asked again, really, honestly, because I wanted to know what his thought process had been. He didn't answer, just kept flapping his hand at me to move on. So I did, and then he turned in to the driveway.

So, again, he'd passed me in order to start cutting me off, only to decide against it and wave me through, and when I stopped behind him he didn't just finish making his right into the driveway, he decided to sit there and engage in some utterly confusing signals.

Because he thought I had the right of way to undertake him while he was turning right (I don't)? Because he'd suddenly thought better of overtaking me and then trying to cut me off (if so, kudos, but don't try to make it right after the fact, buddy, just don't do it again)? Because I was on a bike and he just wanted me out of the way because he didn't know what to do with me (most likely, to be honest)?

This. This is why I wish people knew the rules about bikes. The well-meaning, the ignorant, and the just plain careless are kind of hard to tell apart and they're really hard to figure out or predict. If he'd just treated me like a slower-moving car (i.e., hung back and turned right behind me, or passed me, turned right, and expected me to move left to give him clearance) no one would have been confused, or wound up stopping in the middle of a major street.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Springy (and therefore splashy)

It's coming, it really is. Spring, I mean. Today I biked to the office and came back sometime around 7:00 pm, after dark. And the air didn't hurt my face!

Not that I've been desperately longing for spring. Really, I have been kind of annoyingly (I'm sure) chipper about the temperatures and the unrelenting snow this winter. I actually like winter, yo. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I like snowshoeing, skiing and skating, and to do all of those things, you need it to be cold and snowy. I wasn't always like this, and I'll admit the darkness gets to me at times, but this is Ontario and it's winter for like five or six months, which is way too much time to spend being miserable because the air hurts your face. 

And for most of this winter, I've actually been happier about biking when it's really cold out, because that means the puddles are slush, and slush doesn't splosh as much. But that has all changed, meaning I can now also enjoy the warming temperatures that are creating puddles on the canal ice and in the potholes and all over the gutters.

See, my long-suffering waterproof pants gave up the ghost a while back. But I wore them anyway, even though they had holes in the butt and had actually gotten too small. It got so I didn't want to have to wrestle them on and then ride in them, with them making it hard to actually lift my legs. I was actually reluctant to bike if I had to wear them, and I realized that was A Bad Thing. So, a little while ago I went out to MEC and got a fairly inexpensive pair of MEC-brand waterproof pants to replace them that were nice and big. 

Freedom! The new pants mean I get where I'm going without jeans soaked to the knee, and since they're really big, I have the same kind of freedom of movement I have when I'm not wearing an extra pair of pants. Joy! 

I mention this because today, coming home from the office, I zipped. I zoomed. I splashed through puddles and I cut through slush and I took up my lane and I dodged potholes and I had that springtime feeling of my shoulders being free, being able to turn my head, without scarves and hats and hoods and mittens locking me into one single position on the bike. It was somewhere around 0. Usually, what I like about riding in the winter is the cold on my face and in my throat, and the moment when the blood gets going enough to flood through my fingers and replace the ache with a burn, and the challenge of controlling the bike through ice and snow. But tonight I got the springtime fun of being able to zip through the dark without worrying too much about sliding or the cold.

We've got four seasons - unless we've actually got six, or seven: who knows? I had someone tell me it wasn't spring yet today and I responded by saying that when I can feel the sun through a window, and have to wear rain pants to ride, and can see the hollows in the snow around trees and rocks, then I start thinking about spring. However many seasons we actually get in this northern country, we might as well enjoy them all for their various pleasures.