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.

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.