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.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Small victories: Heron Road SBL is happening

Funny how I can ride through the same intersection every morning and evening, and not notice that someone is building a segregated bike lane on it until it's been underway for a week. . .

This is - or will be - the Heron Road bike lane. It's essentially a rebuild of the "kill strip" along the south side of the road, between Colbert Crescent and the Heron Gate Mall. It's something the Healthy Transportation Coalition and I spotted last summer and started making noise about to the city (and the ward councillor gave us credit for bringing it to his attention!).

I think it's probably also happening in part because Heron is being dug up and resurfaced just west of here, and in part because the area just beside Sandalwood Park - formerly row houses - has been bulldozed and is being redeveloped for mid-rise housing. (I'm willing to bet that the developer understands the increased curb appeal of cycletracks and appealing sidewalks.)

I wrote about this project when the public consultation happened back in April. And at the time I mentioned the misgivings that I still have: while it is amazing to hear the words "Heron Road" and "cycletrack" sharing a sentence, this particular build is only about 800 metres long, it doesn't connect to any other infrastructure (such as the bike lanes that already exist a few hundred metres to either end, on Alta Vista and Conroy) or even run as far as Saint Patrick High School, and it only runs on one side of the road. This is because on the other side of the road, and at other points on this side, the existing space where the track could run is punctuated by hydro poles, which would be expensive to move. So this lane is a great step, but it doesn't really solve Heron Gate's isolation problem.

However: I honestly did not believe construction would start this summer. I'm so used to four-year timelines. This is going in a scant five months after the consultation phase. And watching it go up I'm reminded of David Reevely's article about how it's actually cheaper to build roads with cycletracks than without. As long as they're rebuilding any road, cycle tracks should go in.

And riding by it tonight, I realized how much nicer the street already looks with a cycletrack on it. More liveable. Less forbidding. More like a place for people. Even if it's fenced off and full of traffic cones and still mostly gravel and raw cement. Even if it's less than a kilometre and doesn't go anywhere, this lane looks pretty damn good.

So now, the fun begins. Now we have to make a whole lot of noise to get this lane connected to other infrastructure, and expanded to the other side of the road. We have to convince the City to suck it up and move the damn hydro poles to make this stub of a bike lane into what it could be. This 800m project is low hanging fruit, yes. And the worst outcome would be this: no one rides on it because it doesn't really go anywhere, and people point to the lack of traffic to excuse doing nothing more. Once this lane is open for bike traffic, we need to start writing to the City, to the project manager, Jamie MacDonald, and to Councillor Cloutier, to explain why it needs to be connected to the network.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The right-on-red blues

There are things drivers do that aren't really all that dangerous per se, but that have started to pull the quick release on my pet-peeve reaction. One is nudging into turns through intersections while there are pedestrians crossing, crowding and bullying them as they cross with the light.

Another is drivers who move out around me when I'm stopped at a red light so they can turn right.

Like this, f'r'example:


I know it's not all that dangerous for them to do this: I'm stopped, I'm usually over at the side of the road with a foot on the curb. And in this particular case above, there are some weird, confounding factors, like the angle of the intersecting street and how far back the stop line is from the corner and how wide and quiet the street is.

But it's not actually legal. And at a couple of streets on my usual ride to and from downtown, I stop in the middle of the lane, because the street is narrow, because of where I need to be on the other side of the intersection, whatever. And I get honks, I get yelled at, and a lot of the time, I get people pulling out around me, sometimes into the left-only lane, to turn right around me. Sometimes they stop first and then inch around me. Sometimes they just cruise right past me on their way through the turn, and that's when I worry about it being dangerous, because if they're looking left for oncoming traffic, they can't be paying attention to where their passenger side mirror, or front tire, is in relation to me.

But like I said, most of the time it's not all that dangerous. I mentally shrug and sigh.

The other day, though, someone did it, and then I realized it was a driving school car. With an instructor in the passenger side seat. And our encounter went a little something like this:

It wouldn't have bothered me nearly as much if it hadn't been an instructor, obviously teaching his student that it's just fine to cut around a cyclist, and to ignore the cyclist's concerns when she points out that what he's doing is illegal.

And it's consequence-free. No one is about to pull anyone over for doing this. There are bigger fish to fry. But it touches off that pet-peeve reaction of mine that someone whose job is, theoretically, to be a stickler for the fine points of the law (I was failed on my first driver's test for leaving the clutch in through a turn) is so blasé about it.

Also, I don't think this is the first time I've had a less-than-stellar encounter with Jim's Driving School: maybe even with that particular instructor. . .

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Three cheers for the licensing "debate"

Bear with me for a minute, because I'm going to mention That Video. The one that shows the cyclist, clearly running a red light along the Laurier bike lane, getting terrifyingly knocked across the hood of a car, the driver of which had clearly not been looking when he decided to duck around the car in front of him without pausing to wonder why the other driver might have been slowing down.

I won't link to the video, because it doesn't really matter, and you don't need to see it. Both parties were in the wrong. Whatever.

The thing is that since that crash happened on Saturday, we've had literally multiple media cycles - four days of it now - devoted to finding out who that red light runner was, whether he's been charged and with what, and multiple interviews with the poor shaken driver of the car. And more than one news outlet has decided it's a grand idea to put a poll on social media to ask, "Should cyclists be licensed/required to pass tests/certified?"

It's infuriating, because We Have Already Been Through This. And we've got the arguments lined up. Licensing cyclists has been tried. Any jurisdiction that's tried it has backed off, because it's stupidly expensive to administer, with no noticeable benefit to anyone in terms of safety or incident reduction, or even recovery of stolen bikes. Also, many cyclists already have driver's licenses, which presumably cover the rules of the road as they pertain to cyclists. And then there's the evergreen argument: at what age do we require these tests and licenses? Seven? Twelve? Eighteen? So a kid rides to school every day until suddenly she's eighteen and she has to pass a test to do it? Or do you forbid seventeen-year-olds from riding their bikes on the street? And if you do, then what do you do about your no-sidewalks laws?

A moment's thought and you can come up with this stuff. Think for just one second, I want to yell, while shaking these bike-hostile Twitter trolls violently, just think before you rattle off your reasonable-sounding and oh-so-original proposal, accompanied by that damn "thinking face" emoji.

But this time around, I'm going to be glad of this pseudo-"debate." Because it's actually clarified another point for me. And yes, that point is equity. Even talking about licenses, or training, or mandatory cyclist education, is, like so much else about cycling discussions, middle class affluent bullshit. It's the sort of thing people who don't worry about trading rent for food say. "We should just make them all take a course," you say. Okay then. Who will pay for that course you're imposing, or for the licensing fees? The cyclist? Right, you're automatically reaching for that mental image of a cyclist, and it's a guy in Spandex on a more or less high-end bike on his way to his white-collar job. Or a hipster type on his way to his part-time barista job, which he does to supplement his freelance graphic design work. Or whatever.


Bikes are, unquestionably, the only thing cheaper than your feet to get you around. They're a vital form of transport for people who can't afford a bus pass, much less a car. Bikes are the one kind of transportation that, once you have it, costs almost nothing to keep on the road. They are vital for people with minimal incomes, people on disability support (yes there are disabled bikers and lots of them don't @ me), elderly folks on pensions, immigrant families, the homeless and the street involved, and children of all kinds. The last thing you want to do is to put some institutional financial barrier in the way of using bikes.

It costs $158 to get a driver's license in Ontario, and that's not counting any driver's ed courses you might need to take, which might run you $800-$1,000. Sure, maybe a bike course would be cheaper, but even Can-Bike, which relies on local partners to subsidize their classes, charges money; and their courses have to be hosted by a community partner. So if the government isn't fully, 100%, subsidizing the training, the courses, and the enforcement, you'd better not talk about requiring anyone to carry around a bike permit. (Even in that case I think it's dumb, but if you must insist, I've got some ground rules. And if you already bitch about your taxes going into building bikes lanes, I'd like to talk to you about why you'd like them to go into a license scheme.)

Blathering about licensing cyclists just demonstrates your privilege, and your blindness to the people that bikes help most: the working poor, the homeless, the people trying to get established in a new country, starving students, children, struggling families.

So thanks, stupid, logic-free license debate. You've given me yet more insight into the inequality lurking in the general public's view of cycling. You've caused me to go out and look up a few more facts and stats to put into my armory. And you've helped to remind me of all the ways bikes matter.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Encounter at Clegg

I was running a little later than usual on the way home from work this evening, and it was raining steadily as I pedaled along the canal. At the Clegg crossing, I turned and stopped over the signal loop dots as usual. I had noticed, as I rode up to the crossing, the flashing lights of a police motorcycle further down Colonel By, and while I waited for the light, he pulled up, parked in the middle of the intersection, and stopped traffic coming onto Colonel By from Clegg.

"You'll have to wait a few minutes," he called to me. I said okay, and resigned myself to standing in the drizzle for a bit, straddling my bike. The cop started waving traffic along Colonel By, heading toward Bank. There was no traffic in the other direction.

Another, older woman pulled up on her bike, and the cop told her she'd have to wait a few minutes. "What's going on?" she asked me.

"No idea," I said. A phalanx of police motorcycles, lights flashing, streaked toward downtown. "Maybe it's the Italian president?"

"No," she said, "they left yesterday. Oh well, I can't get any wetter, I suppose."

"I know," I answered.

"What did your app tell you? Mine said it was supposed to stop raining by now. Teach me to believe it."

Another cyclist showed up, and was warned to stop. "Can't we just - go? Like, when it's open?" he asked.

"I wouldn't recommend it," I said, "the cop is right there." Another group of bikes streaked past. They kept coming by in squads, at fairly high speeds.

"I was only ever in a motorcade once," said the lady who'd come up behind me, "and I hated it. It was in Shanghai, and I was a complete nobody, but I was in this motorcade. They shut the whole city down, and to be honest I was just embarrassed by it. I guess they're used to it because it happens all the time in Shanghai, but I was just so Canadian about it. You know, I just wanted to apologize for blocking up traffic."

At this point there were four or five of us on bikes, in the rain, standing at the corner. "Hey," I called to the cop, in a break between the groups of motorcycles. "What's up?"

"Charles," he said, and went back to waving cars along to clear the road.

"What, Prince Charles?" asked the guy next to me, in a fake British accent.

"Yup," said the older lady. "And Camilla."

"Which one is he?" asked the guy. "Is he the older one?"

"He's the oldest one," she said. "Of Elizabeth's kids. Princess Di's former husband."

"Wills and Harry's dad," I added.

"So we'll know him if we see him," said the lady. "Although, we won't see them, it's not like they'll have their windows down in this rain. Still, I guess that's something. Worth getting soaked here in the rain for, right?"

The road was cleared at this point. "Wait," the lady said, "here they come, I can see the lights..."

So we stood there as the motorcade of black cars rolled towards us. "Should we wave?" someone said,

"We should definitely wave," said someone else. "Welcome to Ottawa, here's a bunch of drenched cyclists to greet you."

So we waved. And as the cars rolled by, the window rolled down on one of them, and HRH Charles, Prince of Wales waved at the four or five soggy cyclists standing at the crosswalk, who'd been randomly stopped on their way home to let him go by.

There was a small squeal of surprise from the lady, and a couple of the other cyclists, and we all pretty much burst into laughter. "Well, that was pretty much worth it," someone said, "front row seats." The motorcade passed, and the cop in the intersection drove off, and the regular flow of traffic resumed. At our green light, we got moving again. 

"I can't believe he actually rolled the window down," said the lady. "That's something. What a welcome to Ottawa, a bunch of people on bikes in the rain." She was laughing.

"Nice meeting you all," said someone. 

"You too," said someone else. "Have a good night, eh?" 

As we filtered through the bollards and onto Echo or Clegg, I could still hear the older lady laughing to herself.