Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Don Valley Update

More news on the sabotaged bike bridges in the Don Valley: the police are looking into it. (Thanks to my friend Frank for sending me this update, by the way.) Cyclists have taken down the damaged bridges and are watching the area - they think it's one particular person doing it, and it's ongoing: the same bridges were targeted last year.

I'm still trying to get my head around what would cause someone to do something like this: do they have some kind of grudge against cyclists using the trails, the way some drivers have a problem with cyclists using the roads? Do they just think this is funny? The fact that it's been going on for more than a year is disturbing: too methodical and deliberate to be a prank. What could they possibly be thinking?

Cyclists took this bridge down for safety reasons.

Google Bike Directions Go Live

It's official! You can now get bike route directions on Google Maps by clicking the bike icon. There's a warning that they're in beta, and a link to report missing bike routes or unsafe streets, but it's up and running. I decided to plug in a couple of addresses and see what Google has to say about how to get around.

Popping in my home address and my workplace got me a very similar route to what I normally take: Hm, I thought as I scanned it, I don't normally take Pleasant Park, but that would keep me off the intersection at Riverside and Industrial... I may have to give it a try. Although, there is a bike lane all the way down Alta Vista, and not, as far as I know, down Pleasant Park. I also don't know what the proportion of stop signs is like on Pleasant Park, something else that may not have been factored in to the routing software (and really, it would be hard to do that. Although, if they can come up with an algorithm to figure out the most boring day in history, you'd think they could come up with a way to factor bike lanes and four-way stops into the route plotter...)

The site will, eventually, have different coloured routes for bike-only trails, but for now they look just like all the other streets. Except, notably, that they don't have names. Which works awkwardly in the directions text (note steps 4 and 5):

3. Turn right at Alta Vista Dr

1.6 km
4. Turn left at Pleasant Park Rd

950 m
5. Turn right

3.3 km
6. Turn left

400 m
7. Slight left toward Montreal Rd/Rideau St/Regional Road 34

1.8 km
8. Turn right at Montreal Rd/Rideau St/Regional Road 34

You also don't get Google Street View to help you out at these intersections. Ah well, this will probably improve. Fire back your input, cyclists: let Google's programmers know what you need!

Another note: year-round cyclists are going to have to remember that Google Maps will be marking routes as viable even if they're not cleared of snow and ice. This route sends you down the bike trail alongside the river, which has had a marvellously slippery, inch-thick coating of ice since the freezing rain last week. I'm still riding it, precariously: but come snowfall this won't be a possibility. I'm willing to bet Google Maps will still list it as a route, though. You can't expect them to have programmed for weather.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Malicious, and dangerous... if it's true

I came across a link to this warning on Twitter this afternoon - I know I don't live in Toronto, so the state of the Don Valley mountain bike trail isn't really high on my radar, but this struck me as a particularly infuriating class of assholery. Apparently someone decided to walk in and sabotage the wooden bridges by sawing through the support beams. According to the person who posted this, that entails a nine- to sixteen-foot fall if the bridge were to break. (He - or she - posts a few more pictures of the sabotage as well.)

It just strikes me, if this is true, as a really malicious thing to do. What reason could they possibly have? And does anyone have any idea if this is true... or if it's one of those razors-in-the-apple stories?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting around

The City of Ottawa has a cycling newsletter? When did this happen?

Yesterday, I got an e-newsletter from the city, with an announcement that a new bike lane's been opened on Lyon Street - another step toward developing an official, workable cycling system downtown. It runs down Lyon, from Wellington (which is pretty much the northernmost edge of the downtown map) to Arlington, with sharrows marking off where the bikes are suggested to be from Wellington to Queen, and then a full painted bike lane from there on.

I haven't given it a try yet, but I'll have to go down and have a look. It looks from the pictures as though the lane is only on the southbound side: so it's only good for getting you south. But I seem to remember Lyon being one-way anyway, and I have a problem with contra-flow bike lanes, so that's okay.

And kudos to the city for moving forward on this bike infrastructure project. There's a presentation planned for tomorrow night, 6:30-8:30, in the City Hall Rotunda, to present what's happened so far, since the East-West Segregated Lane Pilot Project was announced earlier this year. They've chosen Laurier Ave W. for the lane, and this meeting will involve consultation with the community about things like design and construction (i.e., will the lane be separated by parked cars, a concrete barrier, posts, flowerpots, what?)

My question, which I would pose if I could be there (I can't: prior commitments) would be: is any thought going to go into making it more comfortable for bikes to get over the bridge and across Elgin? All I'm asking for, I think, is a marked, painted bike lane that continues past the ramp from Queen Elizabeth and gives a cyclist some breathing room at the lights, where we have to stand between the traffic coming through and the right-turn lane. In fact, what I want there is a bike box, so if we are turning left we can get over to the left. As it is, there is no way to turn left down Elgin without feeling like you're taking your life in your hands. Not to mention it's one of those intersections where you're only allowed to turn left between certain hours, which information is posted on a sign that's too small to read. Gah.

Oh, yeah, and my other question would be - how much does it cost to add a bike lane, versus how much it costs to keep the bike paths clear through the winter? And are there any plans to do so? The Canal path gets plowed (which is the major reason I can bike year-round) but if the others were cleared too it would help get cyclists out of the way - and out of harm's way - in winter, when real estate at the edge of the streets is at a serious premium due to snow buildup.

But, again - thanks to the city for taking cycling seriously. Seriously enough that Ottawa just hosted the announcement that Canadian cities will now be getting Google's Bike Directions, and is one of the first seven pilot cities. Awesome! The feature will be launched later this week, apparently, and will allow cities to include designated bike lanes, bike paths, and roads that are safer for cycling, as well as allowing you to plot for things like shortcuts and topography (you can pick the least hilly route, if that's the sort of thing that excites you: it's not so much for me.) It's user-contributed, too: so cyclists will be able to flag and suggest routes. Can't wait to give it a spin once it's live! Nice to know Ottawa will be among the first cities to get this service.

Slowly but surely, it's getting easier to get around.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Seven Things Evan Thornton Learned About Ottawa

Spacing Ottawa is one year old, and Evan Thornton, the editor, posted a piece about the things he's learned about his city since the site's inception - and my story on abandoned bikes from last winter got a mention! Have a look and click around - there are some neat little bits of information about what rob mclennan calls "Ottawa: The Hidden City..."

Friday, November 19, 2010

It begins...

This picture was snapped for me by my friend Marie (who has a cell phone camera with a flash incidentally, how cool is that?) as we left the Barley Mow Pub last night around 11:00. Yup, that's snow. And this morning it was -8 out. Here we go . . .

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bikes on Bronson - the impossible dream?

I just came across a wonderfully detailed and thought-out blog post on the blog Images of Centretown, outlining where and how Bronson Avenue fails as a bike route, and what could be done to fix it. The author is involved in the Rescue Bronson project: and to be sure, Bronson is in need of rescue.

I often find myself on Bronson because it's a direct route to Chinatown and the west end of downtown: one of my regular climbing partners lives on Bronson, and if I'm heading to Sushi 88, Raw Sugar, Umi Cafe or the Shanghai Restaurant, it makes sense - given that I'm not that squeamish about major roads - to take Heron down to Bronson, cross the river above Carleton, and then brave Bronson the rest of the way downtown. It's also a good place to hook up with Carling if I'm on the way to Westboro or Hintonburg.

But I understand that my tendency to stick to major automobile routes is a strange one. If I had any actual sense, I'd work out ways to get north/south in Ottawa without being stuck on Bank or Bronson. In particular, trying to take Bronson downtown is a terrifying experience: there's a bike lane past Carleton where the traffic often hits speeds of 100 km/h, but it vanishes as you enter the Glebe, depositing you on a narrow, fast road with some of the most abysmal pavement in the city. From there on in, it's a nightmare, the worst point of which is probably the underpass at the Queensway, where you're stuck in a dark, rotten-asphalt corridor underneath the highway, hemmed in by concrete and a little too close to the highway on-ramp.

The suggestions and observations in this blog post make a lot of sense to me. Putting Bronson on a 'road diet' might be step one: decent pavement might be another: but making it more intuitive, and easier, to take one of the side roads, such as Percy, should also be a serious consideration.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bright? I think it's brilliant.

Out of the soup of information online that I'm usually semi-immersed in (honestly, it's part of my job) comes this link from Bicycles 4 Humanity, to a Ghanaian organization called the Bright Generation Foundation.

I found a picture of a bamboo bike a while back and posted it here: at the time I thought of it as a high-end, performance bike sort of thing. It looked cool, and certainly lightweight, and all I had was the picture, with no back story or anything. I hadn't seen anything about where the bamboo frame had come from: turns out it was one of these, produced in Ghana. The Bright Generation Foundation runs a project that manufactures bamboo bicycles because bamboo is much more abundant and cheap to use than any other materials, and there is a lot of bamboo in Ghana. It grows fast, is cheap to grow, is renewable, and produces tough, inexpensive bikes for use on Ghanaian roads (and I've already written about the advantage of bikes for people in rural parts of Africa.) Production of the bikes promotes bamboo growing as a cottage industry and provides employment as well as affordable transportation. Plus, they're looking into exporting the frames to North America, through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and reinvesting the proceeds into anti-poverty and environmental groups back in Ghana. How awesome is that?

The organization also provides organized sports for social change among youth, trains women in organic farming, and runs a women's microfinance project.

Ah, it's things like this that remind me how much bigger bikes can be than just a form of transportation. There are so many groups out there using bikes to do so much more than get people from place to place.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

More on the downtown segregated lane

I wrote a while back about going to the public consultation on where to put the proposed downtown east-west segregated lane; looks like they've gone with Laurier Avenue for the pilot project. Thinking about it, I suppose I do use Laurier most often as a way across town, and it could stand with being a little more bike-friendly. I just got the following email, and I thought I'd pass it along:

Public Meeting #2


East-West Downtown Segregated Bike Lane

Pilot Project


Thursday November 25, 2010

6:30 to 8:30 p.m. (Presentation at 7 p.m.)

City Hall – Rotunda

110 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa
What is this meeting about?
The City of Ottawa is finalizing a study for an east-west segregated bike lane through the downtown. A segregated bike lane is an on-street bicycle lane that is separated from motor vehicle traffic through the use of physical buffers (curbs, planter boxes, parked cars, etc.).  This second public meeting is to POH2_study_area_english_Nov4gather feedback on the preferred route (Laurier Avenue West) and functional designs. 
Why attend?
The purpose of this meeting is to:
·         Present the route evaluation criteria and analysis;
·         Present the preferred route (Laurier Avenue West) and
functional designs;
·         Provide opportunities for you to become involved in the identification of local issues and
the development of the facility.
Need more information?
If you are not available to attend the meeting or would like additional information, please visit the project website at www.ottawa.ca/bikelane or direct your comments and questions to the project manager listed below.  The presentation material for the meeting will be available on the project website after November 25, 2010.
Colin Simpson MCIP RPP
110 Laurier Avenue West, 4th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 1J1
Tel: 613-580-2424, ext. 27881
Fax: 613-580-2578
E-mail: colin.simpson@ottawa.ca

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rush Hour

Encountered a bit of a traffic jam on the way to work this morning. I thought they'd all have been gone by now: by the time I need to buy a toque for under the helmet and break out the gloves, I sort of expect the migratory birds to have left. But, apparently, no.

These folks are just one of the road hazards of November. There's their poop - it's gross - and the fact that a bird this size feels no need to flee before an oncoming bike. They just gaze at you sideways, like they're daring you to violate their personal space. But there are other hazards on the roads this time of year. . . for one thing, I also notice more roadkill in the late fall. I'm not sure why: maybe animals like squirrels are slower at this time of year. And it's mostly squirrels. (There are more disgusting things to accidentally roll over with your tires than one of those sad flattened patches of fur in the bike lane, but not many.) But it's also birds - seagulls, mostly, although there are pigeons too.

Then there's the pack of wet fallen leaves. The undercarriage of my bike gets plastered with shredded leaves on wet days: and I have to remember to clean and oil the gears more often. I start worrying about the drive train, and whether it'll make it through the winter. (And if not, is it worth replacing it now, or waiting till spring so I don't have to worry about destroying a new set of parts over the winter?)

Ah, the hazards of fall cycling. It's not all grim, though. The bite in the air feels great in the mornings - cleaner in my lungs. I get wide open stretches of the path with no one else on them. As I get warmed up, I can feel the heat flushing through my chilly fingers. And the tingle in my face when I get to work is great, and flying along the bike paths by the grey river over carpets of yellow leaves makes my afternoon.

Now, shove off southwards, geese. Get out of my way.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How cool is this?

This here is the Hövding. Just when I think I've found the most extreme, most ridiculous-yet-somehow admirable example of bike-innovation design (I still kinda lust after the handlebar-mounted flamethrower and deployable front ski of the BOND Bike) I get something like this brought to my attention (thanks, Shelly!) and the bar is raised once again. 

This thing is, essentially, an airbag for your head. When you're involved in a collision, gyroscopes and accelerometers in the collar determine that it is in fact a collision, and trigger the helium that inflates the collar. All before you hit the ground. 

(Listen for the stifled snicker when the bike flips end-for-end in the last test. It's cute.)

Yeah, you may say, but that's a bit iffy, isn't it? You can do lots of things while you're wearing this collar that might look to the sensors like you were in an accident. Like suddenly looking over your shoulder - POW! Airbag! Or leaning over to check your panniers - POW! Airbag! Bending over to tie your shoe - POW! Plus, what if you just weave into the curb and topple over (I've done it: I'm not proud of it, but I've done it, back when I was first on the road and got between a bus and the curb)? That's a pretty gentle accident, but you could still whack your head - would the sensors know in time to deploy?

Apparently, though, they've tested for all that, the two Swedish industrial design students - Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin - who designed this as a masters thesis. They've run it through tons of variations, using both dummies and (very brave) stunt people. Plus, this thing learns. It connects by USB to a "black box" that saves the last ten seconds of data before your crash and stores it for later prediction. (It also uses the USB port to recharge.) No, really. Come on, how nifty is that?

And what I admire about it is how much effort and talent and thought went into making something only because it looks cooler than the existing technology. I don't know if I'd go to that much trouble, just to not need to wear a traditional helmet. Not even sure I'd trust a helium-filled bubble more than my good old-fashioned foam-and-casing helmet. But someone did, and that's pretty cool. That's a whole lot of engineering in order to be bleeding-edge stylish and still ride a bike. Trust the Swedes.