Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Navigating the Baseline Wilderness

It's been a rough week, bike-wise.

It's been a great week otherwise: I just started a new job, at Agriculture Canada, working in my field (editing and communications) and on a project I think I'm going to enjoy, once I really settle in to it. All good things.

There is one downside. And its name is Baseline Road.

The building where I'm working is about seven kilometres from my house, directly along Heron (which turns into Baseline somewhere along the way). Heron/Baseline is four or more lanes of high volume traffic, with side streets, on- and off-ramps, and various other crap along its entire length. I've been trying to find a reasonable way to avoid Baseline. So far, I've come up short.

In a couple of months, things will be just fine: the Experimental Farm, an utter pastoral jewel in the heart of the city, will be clear of snow and will make up most of my trip. I'll zip along quiet country roads and pathways bordered by friendly cows, red barns and fields of corn, and that's not even a poetic exaggeration.

But they don't plow the roads or the paths in the Farm in the winter.

This leaves me with a couple of options. I ride straight down Baseline, in the snow, crowded by cars and sharing the outside lane with buses. Or, I find another route that will probably take twice as long (but be nicer). Or, I bow my head, surrender my badass card, and take the bus. So far, my solution has been a mix of all three.

On the first day, I drove. I had repairs to do on my winter bike, and I didn't know how long it would take to get there, and you can't be late on your first day.

On the second day, I took the winter bike, but stuck to the sidewalks (as no one actually walks on them.) Unfortunately, the winter bike's drive train took that opportunity to melt down spectacularly. Painful, back-wrenching gear-skipping ensued, and about a kilometre or two from the office the chain actually stopped speaking to the back wheel. I wound up pushing the bike a lot of the way. I was late for work and the bike is no longer rideable. My back is also still killing me. I took the bus home - surprisingly efficient, only took me about 45 minutes to get home.

So, this morning, I took the summer bike. I still stuck to the sidewalks, unwilling to risk sharing the road with crowded traffic on summer tires. Riding on the sidewalk sucks. It's covered in snow, and you're constantly skidding and slipping, or getting off to walk the bike across crosswalks that don't have curb cuts. Google Directions said it should take 25 minutes by bike. . . I made it in about 45. Good thing I left the house early. I locked the summer bike up with the winter bike and headed in to the office.

An hour into the day, an emergency with my other job came up, which meant I had to get home and re-export a file that needed - NEEDED - to be delivered by 1:00. There was no way I could bike home and back in that time. Plus, my back was still killing me from Day 2. So, I ducked out for a lunch break, called a cab, and went home. I exported and uploaded the file, confirmed with the recipient that all was well, and then grabbed my car and drove back to the office.

Now, I had three vehicles, all parked at the same building. If I had a bike rack, I'd have brought the bikes home with me. But I don't. SO. . . the bikes are at the office. I drove home. Tomorrow I will catch the bus to work, and take one of the bikes back with me at the end of the day.

So: so far, in order to negotiate a stinking traffic sewer of a road, I've used five different modes of transportation in the course of three days.

I can't keep this up.

Tomorrow night I find a way from the office to downtown, because I want to see a show at the NAC. And I will ride home from that show on the canal path, with a renewed appreciation for its glories. And then -- then I start looking for some route that will get me seven kilometres from my house without taking an hour or risking my life.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The brave little summer bike

Because I am a procrastinator (it is known), and also because it's been a weirdly snow-free winter so far and I could get away with it, my winter bike, Mike the Specialized HardRock, is currently hoisted on a borrowed repair stand in my living room with his brake-tendons ripped out and new ones waiting to be put in. Unfortunately, I discovered that I need one particular little part, the dongle thing that creates the V-pull, for his front brakes. So, for the sake of five inches of cable and a little joint thingy, I was caught, this morning, by the first proper snowstorm of the year, with only my summer bike (Long John, the lanky and laconic ProFlex).


I considered taking the bus, when I woke up and couldn't make out the windows of the apartment building down the street. I got ready, listening to the terrible-sounding traffic reports on CBC, looking out the window occasionally, certain that I was going to take the bus. I packed a book to read while I was on the bus. I got bus change out of the jar.


Then, just as I was about to leave, I thought, "No, I don't wanna take the bus!"


So I didn't.


Skinny tires and softtail suspension and dodgy, prone-to-freezing derailleur and all, I took the summer bike.


It was fine. Sure, I was a little less steady than I might have been on Mike's wide studded tires: the front wheel skidded around and the back wheel fishtailed a bit, but only on the sections of street that had been driven over enough to create that unsteady, uneven slurry stuff. On back streets I was fine: on the canal path, which had had one pass with a sidewalk plow, I was fine. Though I did wipe out once, heading down Kilborn Hill, when I tried to brake on the steep part and the front wheel slowed faster than the back wheel and, well, I skidded out. Hit the pavement, picked myself and the bike back up, looked around to see if anyone saw me, decided I didn't care, walked the bike the rest of the steep bit, and got back on. I wasn't even down long enough to set off the Incident Protection system on my camera.


I took the sidewalk on Bank between the Diocesan Centre and Riverdale because I value safety, and peace, and serenity, and because people in cars are not to be trusted ever, much less during the first snow.


And in all, it took me about 50 minutes to cover the 9.5 or so kilometres to work (a trip that usually takes about 30-35): I averaged about 11.5 km/h, according to my trusty Strava, and Long John really stepped up. I'm proud of him.


Which isn't to say that I shouldn't probably buy that little dongle and get Mike back on the road, with actual studded tires. ASAP. But for a summer bike, John didn't do half bad.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The first step is admitting you like it

At work last week, someone asked me about riding in to the office. "Well, you won't be doing it for much longer, right?" she said.

"Oh, no," I said. "I go all winter."

She said all those things, like "Isn't it difficult?" and "What about cars?" and whatever else, and I said, as I usually do, "It's just like riding in the summer except you need more clothing."

"Well, you're either very dedicated, or very crazy," she said.

I don't think I'm either of those things. "Crazy" I've been trying to disavow for a while, because it really isn't helpful when you're trying to normalize biking as a way people actually go places. I know people mean it admiringly. But I am not an adrenaline-crazed lunatic badass blasting "You Bet Your Life" while I dodge traffic for kicks. I'm just an editor on her way to her office, or a nerd on her way to her D&D game, or a radio host heading back from the studio.

And "dedicated" makes it seem like I do this out of some kind of moral conviction, a martyr for the cause of, I don't know, climate change or congestion or health or something. Someone who does a thing every day because it's the right thing to do.

Me, I just like riding my bike in the winter.

I mean, to be fair, I also like riding my bike in the summer. And in the fall. And in the spring. But in the winter I have the added advantage of that cold air. I spend a lot of time (at home and at work) online, at a desk, writing, editing, farting around on social media, listening to the radio, dealing with email, whatever, in a climate-controlled environment.

When I go outside, I get that little dose of . . . reality. The real world. It's cold, or the sun is super bright and all the heating vents are steaming, or it's snowing, or there's gusting wind. There's ice or snow on the ground, or there's dry salty pavement. There might be a challenge involved in getting where I want to go, or it might be a clean quiet ride. My fingers are cold and my cheeks tingle: my eyes water. Whatever it is, it's the real world.

I like being outside: in the spring, summer and fall, I'm usually out on the weekends hiking or rock climbing. Maybe that's given me a taste for things that some people might consider uncomfortable: cold fingers, wet clothes, fighting a headwind. I don't think those things are bad - I like them. They're real. Bring along a thermos of hot tea sometime, and stop for a second to swig some. It's AMAZING. That feeling when your cold fingers and toes suddenly get a rush of warmth back into them because you're moving? It's really nice.

I'm a lazy-ass person if I don't like the thing I'm doing. Ask my parents what it was like trying to get me to clean my room. I suck at doing anything solely "because it's the right thing to do." I would honestly not be out there pedaling through the -20 windchill if I didn't like it.

Friday, December 8, 2017

I am a terribly scary cyclist.

I was on my way to work this morning on the Laurier bike lane, when I spotted an SUV parked in the lane - in fact, on the green thermoplastic - outside (you guessed it) the Marriott. I rolled my eyes, and pulled up to a stop behind the car.

Generally, the options here are:

1) grumble and go around, with optional pointed glare at the occupant
2) shout something like "you're in the bike lane!" from behind the car with grumpily folded arms, then go around anyway because they won't move
3) stop beside the driver and try to engage

I don't often go for option three, because I'm not a fan of conflict, or of strangers for that matter. But today, maybe because it was a nice crisp sunny winter day and I'd been having a rather pleasant ride so far and I didn't appreciate this parked person harshing my mood, I pulled up beside the driver's side door. The man inside was bowed over with his head down and didn't see me. So I said, loud enough to get through the window glass, "Excuse me!"

"OhOH WHOA my God!!!" the guy literally screamed, snapping upright in what looked like total panic. "Aw jeez you scared me!" he said, and babbled some more stuff that I couldn't quite make out through his obvious adrenaline flood and the car window (which was partially down). I caught "Am I parked illegally?" and answered, "Well, you are in the bike lane..."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I'll move," he said, and started fumbling for his keys. At this point, totally disconcerted, I said, "Okay, thanks. . . Um, sorry for scaring you," and continued on my way.

It was all a bit weird. But good for me to remember that people parked in the lane aren't always entitled jerks. Sometimes they're just bewildered and easily startled. Everyone's different, I guess.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Checking out the new lights on O'Connor. . .

I was running down O'Connor this evening and I passed the new "smart bollards" at Waverley. I'd seen in passing that they'd been launched today, but hadn't given it much thought, till suddenly they lit up as I got close to Waverley and flashed as I crossed the intersection.



It was neat to see them. I talked about these with someone from the City at the Winter Bike Parade event last winter, and the idea sounded cool. The bollards, which are provided by a local company called SmartCone, use heat and motion detectors, so they're not triggered by cars, but they are triggered by cyclists, skateboarders, and people in wheelchairs, all of whom use the O'Connor lane. As you approach, they light up and flash, to give drivers that extra alert to your presence, which is probably even more reassuring after dark.

 

Monday, October 9, 2017

What the hell, Heron?

I have wanted so much to be happy about the small gains of the Heron Road cycle track. Despite the fact that it's only on one side of the road, it's only 800 metres long, and it connects the Heron Gate Mall to precisely nothing (well, okay, to the MUP through the greenspace between Finn Court and the community centre, I suppose). It is low hanging fruit, I get that. It was half built already, but then we knew this, because I and others pointed it out last year, and that's why anything at all has been put in. It's something, at least, on a terrible, unbearably hostile bit of road.

Then this. I rode the new track last week. And Ottawa. . . We need to talk. We need to talk about this.



What. . . what is this?

What. Seriously. Was. The. Rationale. This not only makes it dangerous for cyclists and for drivers, it also throws a wrench into any opportunity to extend this lane a little further west to Alta Vista, which is the obvious next cycling connection point.

I drove past it today. If anything, it's worse from the point of view of a driver. Don't just take it from me: there's a whole conversation on reddit about how messed up this is. My favorite comment:

That stretch is rather funny now.
Some people in the left lane don't realize that the lane bends over a little bit because of the curb so they think people in the right lane are attempting a lane change/cutting them off; many honks to be heard. Some people in the right lane don't notice the curb until its too late and make an erratic move to avoid it and I've seen people bump right over it.
Then at the Baycrest, Sandlewood, Herongate intersections with Heron, its not immediately clear that its a bike lane they've created because they haven't painted the appropriate lines or placed signage and so some drivers seem to think its a right turn lane to turn onto the streets/into Herongate Mall and I've seen bikers get cutoff quite often.

This is seriously dangerous.

And it definitely didn't look like that in the designs posted by the City:



The bike lane descending to grade just before the intersections is another confusing detail. Without paint (I assume the paint and signage are yet to come) it really is unclear what that is. It does look like a right turn lane. Albeit a narrow one, shared with bikes. In fact:

So the bike lane turns into a right-turn lane, but one that happens to also have bikes going straight on it. I can hear the explanation: drivers are meant to yield to cyclists, who will then take the lane. Except we know what will happen is that drivers will be honking their horns behind cyclists at red lights trying to get them to move out of "their way" so they can turn right, or they will be trying to pass cyclists and other cars on the right. This is infrastructure based on the "if everyone just" model. And as a wise person recently said on Twitter, everyone does not just. Everyone has never just. You should never build road designs based on everyone behaving properly. You should always assume that people are stupid, or ignorant, or distracted, and make mistakes.

And it wasn't like that before. Before, the intersections had plain old, ordinary right turns on them.

And then the bike lane comes to an end well before the entrance to the mall, dropping cyclists into the right turn lane to share with car traffic. If the cyclist's eventual destination is not the mall - say, they're trying to get a block or so east to Conroy, where there's a painted bike lane - they have to merge across that lane and join the traffic on the other side of the turn lane.

Here's the full experience, from Alta Vista to Heron Gate Mall. . .


Like I said, I wanted to be happy about this lane. I've been pulling for it. But I can't see that it improves Heron much at all. If anything, I think it creates more potential for conflict than just riding in the narrow (scary) traffic lanes. Especially since most cyclists (I predict) will still be riding on the sidewalk in both directions, with a few taking the bike lane and some staying in the road, which will make them even less easy to predict.

What I pictured, when we first started talking about repurposing those paved stretches at the side of the road, was a separated track, on both sides of the road, with protected intersections, which connected the bike lanes on Alta Vista and Conroy and gave people a reasonable link to some of the MUP connections to Pleasant Park and the rest of Guildwood. What we got was this, because of budget and design area boundaries (and whoever signed off on building that curb out into an arterial street).

It's discouraging.

Friday, September 29, 2017

You do not need a special license to rent a 24-foot cargo truck

It's not been a good day on the roads around here. A pedestrian was killed by a transport truck in Casselman. A teenaged girl was hit by a pickup around the corner from my house, and a cyclist was hit by a transport truck near the University of Ottawa and is fighting for his life (at least, the last I heard he was still alive, and I very much hope he pulls through.) And about half an hour before he was hit, this happened to me on Bank Street south of Riverside on my way to work:


As if we needed more examples of why the proposed separated cycle tracks on Bank Street could not conceivably come soon enough. No one on a bike should be sharing space with these monsters. Especially not a 24-foot, 10,000-lb truck driven by someone who doesn't even need a special license to rent it and drive it around.

You don't, you know. You can walk into Penske or U-Haul or Enterprise with your regular old valid driver's license and proof you're over 18 and rent a 24-foot diesel truck.

Maybe we need to rethink license requirements before we start renting heavy cargo vehicles out. And while we're doing that, maybe we need to build that protected cycle track on Bank yesterday.