Friday, March 17, 2023

I'm going to try coming back to blogging. (Thanks Elon?)

It's been more than two years since I posted anything here, but these days I have been, in the back of my mind, sort of longing for my old blog. I admit that over the last few years I fell into doing the majority of my commentary on Twitter: the #ottbike community was robust and friendly and funny, and I got a job that really did take a lot of my time so the ultrashort form started to be easier for me. And it also got to be a habit during the pandemic, like I think it did for a lot of us, to doomscroll and consume content and yell at clouds (or, you know, at trolls). 

But lately I've missed having a space to write things out at length. And a lot of the people I really enjoyed talking with on Twitter have left for the mammoth site or other alternative social media. Twitter now kind of feels like the sort of party where you thought it would be cooler but it's in fact kind of awful, and all the cool people are slowly just checking out, and a group in the corner is starting to shout drunkenly at high volume about something mindnumbingly dull. So, I thought, maybe I should start writing here again. Yes, blogging is probably a deeply deprecated Gen-X form of content creation and I should go get a TikTok account or something, but I'm not cute and I can't talk that fast, and I want to write. Besides: blogging is just subscription-free Substack, right?

So yeah: it's the very acromion of the shoulder season right now in Ottawa. Many, many years ago now, March 17th was the first day I started riding again after the snow started to clear. Tonight, it's misty and drizzly outside, the five-foot-high snowbanks are slowly granulating, and I'm noticing, from my apartment, that someone with a Honda Fit has obviously had it parked on the street below me for at least two weeks.

That car is about seven feet from the actual curb. It's parked at the outer edge of what was the snowbank, and it's clearly been there since at least the last time we needed to break out the snowplows, which was two weeks ago in the last massive snowstorm of the season. 

It occurs to me that there are two things eloquently shown in this picture. One is that although everywhere in the city there is a three-hour parking maximum, in point of actual fact that is bullshit and you can store your car pretty much anywhere you want for as long as you want. The plow came by on March 3 and politely went around this vehicle and all the others parked on this street, and the car stayed there for two weeks, untouched, while the spring thaw kicked in and the snowbanks around it turned to corn snow and started to slump into the street. 

The other: this is the very definition of a "sneckdown." 

If you don't know what a "sneckdown" is, it's a sort of portmanteau of "snow" and "neckdown." A neckdown is where a sidewalk widens to narrow the street: it's a form of traffic calming (not my favorite, honestly, but that's as may be). But a "sneckdown" is where you realize just how much of the pavement that's been handed to cars is not actually needed, because snow has accumulated and no one's cleared it. No one's needed to. No one has even had to drive through the uncleared area. So, obviously, you could just take that area, hand it back to active road users, narrow the street down to what cars actually use - thereby calming traffic because drivers have to slow up more to use narrower turns - and call it a day. 

If it was that easy. 

Not that the street I'm looking down at from my building should be the first priority for something like that. It has reasonable sidewalks on both sides. It's in a quiet neighbourhood, one where kids actually do play on the street in places, and where even though some streets have no sidewalks, it feels safe to walk in those streets. This street doesn't need the sneckdown analysis that others do. But look at that car. Those cars. How far they are from the actual curb right now, without interfering with traffic on the street - it's still plenty wide enough. Look at the amount of space claimed by decaying snow because no one actually needs it. Does that space really need to be paved over? Could we put some grass there? Trees maybe? 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Great Cycle Challenge 2020: Plot twist!

I've been doing the Great Cycle Challenge again this year, to raise funds to fight pediatric cancer. This is my third year, and every year I've kind of been raising the stakes. First time around I aimed for 750 km ridden in a month. That turned out not to be too tough, so last year I aimed for 800 and ended up beating that too. So this year, sure, I set my goal at 1,000 km. 

It had apparently slipped my mind when I set my goal that there is a pandemic and I'm not bookending my work day with a 10- to 12-km ride every day. I posted my fundraising page on social media, and people started responding with variations on "A THOUSAND kilometres? Wow, good luck!" and only then did I do the math. 

Thirty-three km a day. I'm not the speediest, so that's about two hours per day on average.

Hoo boy. 

But I was doing okay. August kicked off with a long weekend, and I got some 40- and 50-kilometre rides in right off the bat to try and front-load my mileage. And with a few long evening rides (including one 30-km push on the way home from friends' at midnight) I had made it, by August 7, to 250 kilometres. A quarter of the way in the first week, so I was on track. 

Then, on Saturday, August 8, I was riding toward Britannia Beach when I ducked off the path onto the Mud Lake trails, just for some variety. I wound up behind a family who were walking the trail and stopped: they noticed me and stepped aside so I could go by. I said thanks, stepped on the pedal, and there was a crack and the chain spun uselessly. Broken pawl in the cassette. 

I have had this happen before, so I knew what it was. I waved off the helpful family, who couldn't help me, stopped my Strava, and walked the bike despondently to Britannia Beach. A friend came to save me with her van, and got me and the bike home. 

The kilometres I still have to ride are slowly gathering. 

McCrank's doorway - shop full of bikes and bike parts
Luckily, McCrank's is open on Sundays and is a delightful shop. I gave them a call the moment they opened Sunday morning, and brought the wheel down to have a look. 

Angie pulled the hub out, and tried heroic measures to get one of the parts they still had around the shop to work, since there's a real run on bike parts right now (who would have expected a global pandemic to be so good for bike shops? Apocalypse movies without bikes in them are now outside my suspension of disbelief.). 

She couldn't get any of the bits in the shop to work, so I did have to order a new wheel. But, wonder of wonders, there was one available at fairly short notice: it's due in tomorrow, so I'm still in the game! (I did also have offers of spare bikes from a couple of friends. And I would have had a second bike to use if my Trek hadn't been stolen a couple of weeks back, alas.)

Also, have to say that McCrank's is technically closed on Tuesdays, but Angie said she'd give me a call anyway to come get the wheel. All hail the small bike shop!

I see this as Stage Two in the four-stage story structure. This is the Upping the Stakes section, where we smash cut from the montage of our protagonist working away at the challenge to the moment where something Goes Wrong. Cue the "dun dun DUNNN!" sound effect. 

(You can support my ride by donating on my page, or by offering moral support over on social media.) 

Friday, June 12, 2020

A . . . win? Sorta?

Way back in the Before Time, when there were Other People and I got to ride my bike every day to a magical place called An Off Iss, an article appeared on CTV News about an unsafe pass of a cyclist by an OC Transpo bus. And there was a reply that still, to this day, unnerves me.

That word "vermin" was chilling. I've heard it all in the comment section but "vermin" is some murderous shit. I wasn't the only one to notice it, and there was a quick flurry of conversation among a bunch of Ottawa bikers. I went to the guy's profile to report him (in vain, I knew) to Twitter, and as I scrolled through it I started to get really disturbed. This guy was a bus driver. And he really, really hated cyclists. 

I'll spare you the rest of it, but he hated transit riders, too, as well as the police, the City, his coworkers, his management, women, minorities and immigrants. His timeline was sickening. I started grabbing screenshots and when I'd gone back far enough I had to get up and walk away from my computer to compose myself before I came back to file a report with OC Transpo. The rage and hate and contempt oozing from this account was scary. I honestly believed I was looking at someone who could turn violent. I pray he is single. 

I filed the report, and didn't hear back. But I couldn't forget about this guy. Almost every time I'm near a bus, now, I can't help wondering if he's the driver. On Twitter, a number of people I know can refer to "that psycho" and we know who we're talking about. 

And he's one of a number of toxic, anonymous accounts run by City employees that target and harass advocates for pedestrian, cycling and transit rights. Some of them switch between sock puppets, and their harassment has caused a few people to lock or protect their accounts, or shut them down altogether. 

Anyway, nothing happened for a couple of months. And then I saw someone post on Twitter to complain to OC Transpo about a driver who had nearly hit them while they were waiting on a street corner. Drove right at him, could see him, didn't apparently care. And I remembered, as I do once every couple of weeks or so, about "the vermin guy." So I posted in response to remind them that I never heard back.

I was kind of amazed to get an email back the next day, and not just that, an email from a real person, a supervisor, who had clearly seen the tweets and looked me up in the system by name to find my report and contact information. He thanked me for flagging this again, and said he'd been looking into my complaint from March. He agreed that the user's comments were disturbing, "and does not represent the views or attitudes we seek out in employees (to put it mildly)." 

He added, "I can tell that this complaint was investigated back in March when it was made. However, I don’t have specific details around the resolution. I hope it’s obvious that we take this type of language very seriously. I wonder if we may have had some trouble identifying the user."

He asked if I had any other information about the guy that might help. So I went back out to the Twitterverse, remembering that others had found some possible alternate accounts for him, and put the call out. Pulled together what I could. Someone else had collected screenshots of a number of troll accounts that had been harassing people, a couple of which might have been him; another person sent me a letter he'd written to his councillor about it. I pooled it all up and sent it back, with sincere thanks for taking it seriously at last. 

Even if we can't find this particular guy, I hope there's some small step toward fixing the culture (or subculture) at OC Transpo that has produced these angry, vicious trolls. They've driven people off their accounts, they've harassed citizen transit commissioners and advocates and councillors, and they're increasing the volume of the online hate against all of us not in cars. 

Getting a real person, who had clearly seen my post and gone looking for my report, and been disturbed by what he saw, was also hugely heartening. So often you get form letters back: "Thank you for your feedback, we will investigate." This was a human being, who wrote like a human being, and even that much felt like a win. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Just take the lane assertively, right?

A moment from my ride to work this morning:

I have to take Prince of Wales - a pretty high volume parkway - for a couple of blocks on my way to work in the winter. The rest of the year, there's a painted bike lane which transitions to a separated cycle track ahead of a protected intersection, which I can use to turn left onto Dynes Road. But in the winter, the painted bike lane is buried, the cycletrack and protected intersection aren't cleared, and so here's what I have to do:

Turn right using the slip lane from Hog's Back. Merge with traffic in the right hand lane. Usually not terrible, because the right hand lane vanishes, merging with the inside lane, after a block or so, so the drivers don't use it as much. I have to take the lane even at the start of this, though, while there's still half a painted bike lane, because of the pinch point further down.

Then I have to merge left into the inside lane for 100 m or so, so that I can get to the dedicated left turn lane that allows me to turn onto Dynes Road.

So this morning, I did that. I had the green light so I could easily establish my position in the outside lane coming off of Hogs Back, but then a long line of cars started going by in the inside lane. So I stuck my arm out as I started getting close to the merge point, signalling that I needed to move left. I shoulder checked. That white sedan wasn't slowing, so I let it pass, but I was really running out of lane, so I stuck my arm out more emphatically and waggled the hand to get attention, while shoulder checking. There was a bit of a gap before the School Transport van behind me, so I signaled hard and started my merge. The driver of the van just kept coming, clearly not about to give me any room, and I realized if I did continue changing lanes he'd probably hit me. So I swerved back out of the lane and yelled a couple of profanities as he passed, shoulder checked again, signaled again, saw the driver behind me leave a gap, and took the lane just in time.

Passing the school transport driver on the left, once I was in the left turn lane, I slowed up to look through the driver's side window at him, stick my arm out, and yell, "This! Is! A! Left! Signal!" at him.

People who bang on about Vehicular Cycling will tell you to do exactly what I did here. Taking the middle of the lane; no stopping at the side of the road to wait for the traffic to all go by; no sticking to the right hand side of the road and then using the pedestrian crosswalk to make the left; clear - nay, assertive - signaling; and shoulder checking. And in this situation this is what I have to do, because the City doesn't clear the cycling infrastructure, forcing me to ride in the street among cars on a high volume, four-lane parkway.

And in this situation it still doesn't help. Either my left turn signal meant nothing to the drivers traveling in the inside lane, or it did and they still didn't care. It does no good to ride assertively if the driver behind you in the large, heavy, fast-moving vehicle doesn't recognize or respect your right to do so.

So I'm going to keep arguing for that protected intersection to be cleared, and for there to be more separate space for people on bikes in general. Because dammit, we are not motor vehicles, and we don't get treated as though we are.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Strobe Light Steve

It's the darkest part of the year. The sun's rising at 7:00 and going down around 4:30 and a lot of the time you wind up riding in the dark. And I get it, you feel kind of invisible: somehow the dark in winter often feels thicker and darker, like your headlights just aren't cutting through it the way they do in the summer.

That is still absolutely no reason to do this.

Ultrabright lights are bad enough. Look at how blinding this guy is. I had my left hand up to try and shield my eyes, which isn't a great thing to have to do in winter when you want both hands on the handlebars to be prepared for snow or other bad road conditions. But then you add the strobing effect and it's so much worse. Hard to pay attention to much else around you with that flashing light forcing your attention, for one thing. But also, people who do this think it makes them "more visible." It actually doesn't.

Watch this guy. You can see he's there for quite a long time, from a couple of blocks away in fact. But you can't really tell how far away he is, can you? And one effect of the strobing light is that he appears to be a fairly long way away for quite a while, until suddenly you recalibrate your perception and he's right there. 

That's how drivers perceive it too. They can't tell exactly where you are, or how fast you're going. Not exactly safe.

Add to that the reports that these flashing lights have been known to affect people with seizure disorders and migraines, and now you're just being a jerk. 

Don't strobe. Especially not at this brightness. One of those little blinky turtle lights you get for $4 at the bike shop? Okay. But 400+ freaking lumens? GTFO. I'm still blinking away retinal afterimages.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

My winter route just got an upgrade

I helped a couple of friends move last weekend: they've moved to the apartment buildings just off Brookfield. Brookfield happens to be part of my winter route to work, so I was pleased to notice, after a couple of trips between their old place and the new, that there's a two-way cycle track on Brookfield that wasn't there before.

In the winter, I have to take this route: the Experimental Farm isn't plowed and neither is the Rideau River pathway. I have to take side streets through Alta Vista, cross the highway and train tracks on the connection between the Sawmill Creek path and Brookfield, then ride along that until it turns into Hog's Back Road and take the sidewalk beside Hog's Back to the locks.

Brookfield is one of the nasty parts of my winter route: it's not super busy but traffic on it is very fast, and it's no fun to ride on in either direction. And now, there will be a multi-user, two-way bike path, cleared in winter, between Riverside and the traffic circle. I was excited, so I went to ride along it today to check out the connections.

You still have to ride the sidewalk between Hog's Back Falls and Riverside (apparently that's getting converted to an official MUP in a year or two) and getting onto the cycle track at Riverside still requires you to use the pedestrian crosswalk, as does getting from the end of the Brookfield track and across the traffic circle (there will apparently be a connection but they had to rethink it on discovering some buried cables). But, it is meant to be kept plowed to "sidewalk standard" in the winter and it will take out one high-alert stretch of my commute, so yay!

A review in video form:

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Bank Street Revisited (again)

Tonight was another public session/workshop on the Bank Street South redesign. I covered this way back when and was astonished to see reasonable cycle tracks along the entire project, fewer slip lanes, and generally intelligent and humane design. So after my radio show tonight I jumped on the bike and pedaled (along Bank Street just to remind myself what a hostile hellscape it currently is) over to the Jim Durrell Arena, to see what had been done with the plans.

We're still in the functional design stage, and really it's after this that the rubber hits the penciled-in bike infrastructure, if previous experience has any weight.


The cycle tracks are still there, y'all.

I have been keeping an eye on a couple of things with this design. To my mind, there isn't really much to object to, from the point of view of the people who usually object to cycling and pedestrian infrastructure: the plan doesn't actually eliminate any motor traffic lanes, the street remains a "designated truck route", entrances and exits to retail parking pretty much stay the same, and the only real inconvenience to drivers is a lower number of dedicated right-turn slip lanes (thank you) and a few sharper turns. And from the point of view of a cyclist, the whole thing is so much better that I want it now. now. now. NOW.

Raised intersections aren't possible on a street like this, but the increased number of raised medians might actually contribute to lower speeds.In a couple of places, the proposed separated left-turn lanes have been reverted to two-way "suicide lanes" - I asked one of the consultants there about it and he couldn't tell me why, but thought it had something to do with the businesses on either side of the road (businesses that aren't in strip malls and so don't have a controlled-entrance parking lot) wanting people to be able to turn easily into their lots. I left a note about the risks of left-turning drivers at this point not considering cyclists on the cycle tracks before beginning their turns.

But the cycle tracks are still there.

There's a lot to be optimistic about in this plan. We've got a year or two to keep an eye on it: we don't want to let it slip. There are also a couple of spots where we might want to dig our heels in: mostly at the north and south ends which, unfortunately, end at the bridges. The cycletracks dump you unceremoniously into traffic at both bridges: I think we might be able to do something to make it less dangerous at the south end, where the cycle track takes a sharp left across the exit ramp by the Home Depo. That should be signalized or controlled in some way, because otherwise drivers won't expect that sudden jag to the left from pedestrians and cyclists and bad things could happen. At Billings Bridge, we're still, unfortunately, left to the tender mercies of the merge and sharrows that already exist.

But it is still so good. On the way out, I spoke with a man who seemed to be connected with the BIA: I said I had a couple of comments and that I rode my bike on Bank a lot - more than I want to, really - and he got my number and seemed really interested in talking to a bike rider. I'll see if he calls, and what he wants to say. I think, in this one case, that there isn't much reason for the BIA and cyclists to come into conflict: we might even have a lot in common. Just this once.

I'm hopeful, still. Again. Don't mess this one up, Ottawa.