Thursday, March 31, 2011

Arnie on a Share Bike

Just spotted this as it popped up in the Twitter feed. Arnold Schwartzenegger (he of the multiple Hummers, yes, but also he of the proposed electric car infrastructure) riding along in London, with Mayor Boris Johnson, on "Boris Bikes" - their version of BIXI (actually Barclays Cycle Hire.)

Just saw Arnie and the Mayor of London ride past, on "Boris Bikes" - Imgur

Gotta say the Governator looks pretty good on a bike: wobbles less than His Mayorship at least. And 6000 bikes in London is pretty good. Makes our 100 look kind of sad. (Then again, having watched the Top Gear cross-London race, I don't know if I'd want to take one of these through central London's traffic. Eek!)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Surprising Statistics

I just came across this article: a list of the 15 most bike-friendly cities on the planet. Prepare to be surprised (at least, I was):

According to the article, Ottawa claims the highest percentage of bike commuters in North America, beating out Portland, Boulder and San Francisco. (Come to think of it, why are most of the USA's accepted 'cycling Meccas' in mountainous regions? I know that hills are fun - for the athlete-cyclist - but they're a serious deterrent for some friends of mine trying to take up cycling for fitness. In those initial months when you're not yet in shape to tackle them, hills can really discourage a person from sticking with cycling. At least here in Ottawa, so much of the city is pancake flat that you don't actually have to expend any extra energy to keep rolling, just touch the pedals a bit to keep the momentum going.) 

While the article doesn't give numbers for Ottawa, it does claim that Portland's bike-commuters make up 10% of the population, which is the highest proportion in the USA - so that would mean that Ottawa boasts more than 10%. This in the national capital with the highest temperature extremes in the world.

Seriously? So I decided to do some intensive research on the subject. (That is, I Googled "Ottawa Cycling Statistics.") The page I found on the City of Ottawa's website claims much different numbers. They admit we have more bike commuters than any other Canadian city, but report that only 2% of the population bike to work. On closer examination, though, I found that these numbers came from the 2001 Census. . . 10 years ago. Is it possible that in 10 years, bike commuting has jumped by 8% or more?

So, more poking around the City website ensued. This is the City of Ottawa's Cycling Plan, published in 2008. By then, apparently, Ottawa was already considered to lead the country in cycling, and to have the highest bike share of travel on the continent. In 2004 an article in the Citizen (quoted in the Plan) put the percentage at nearly 3% - 900,000 people. Then I ran into the difficulties of statistics. In the 2008 Cycling Plan, the "modal share during afternoon peak period" for cycling is reported at 1.7%, with a stated goal of getting it to 3% by 2021. "Modal share" is defined as "percentage of person-trips," so I gather than the peak period modal share is different from the percentage of people actually commuting by bike. (Hm, I think to myself: so cyclists are more likely to commute at off-peak hours? Is it that it's often quicker to travel by bike than by bus at odd hours when fewer buses are running?)

Still not more than 10% though. And the survey that the Cycling Plan cites for its statistics dates from 2003. It also has a few fascinating tidbits: 73% of Ottawa households have at least one bicycle; of the 'utilitarian' cyclists, far more use their bike for errands, visiting, and shopping than to go to work (I assume because of the notion that you can't ride in work clothing.) The City's 2010 Cycling Accomplishments Document claims that between 2000 and 2009 160 kilometres were added to the cycling network, and that in 2010 alone, another 115 kilometres were added, including the bike lanes on the Pretoria Bridge and a number of multi-use paths. Which is a pretty impressive leap for one year.

But still, I don't see the number of cyclists quintupling over the last two years. . . over the last eight years, though? I can't find current statistics; the most recent numbers I found were from 2003. Is it possible? I wouldn't think so, but... you never know.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Femme Biking? Femme Attitude!

Just reposting this link from a friend's blog, in which she discusses the connections - the parallels - between cycling boldly, and being boldly feminine. I hadn't made the connection myself but now that she has, I find myself sitting back and applauding. I also know the cyclist she's talking about - the 'femme cyclist' - and I've watched her firmly and confidently take the space she needs to take - riding smack down the right tire track in the middle of a snowstorm, when the roads were buried in snow and even the tire tracks were dodgy.

Femme Biking? Femme Attitude! (AKA: What is Femme – Part II)

It's true, that cyclists shouldn't have to feel like they need to apologize for being there. As long as they're obeying the rules (and really, that just makes sense: that way everyone knows what to expect from everyone else), cyclists shouldn't constantly feel that they're 'inconveniencing' drivers. Yet we do. At least, I do: when I ride in the through lane, not the rightmost, right-turn-only lane; when I have to come out into the street to avoid potholes, drain covers and roadkill; when it takes me longer to make that left turn than it would a car. I feel like I must be annoying and holding up all the drivers around me, and I feel that I should be ... acting more invisible, rather than less. Squeezing over dangerously far to the right. Not taking up my space. This post reminds me not to feel like that.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Look ma, I'm on TV! (Sort of)

So, as promised, here's the CJTV report on potholes that appeared in Centretown News Online. And Mike actually gets his name mentioned! He's very pleased. I can tell by the glint in his googly headlights.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Just for fun

Today I got to head out for the first strictly recreational ride I've done this year. While I do ride through the winter, it's not exactly what you'd call 'fun' most of the time. Enjoyable, yeah, I suppose it can be: that cold air on your face and the way the bike can just swoosh over a thin layer of new snow. But generally, even though I do kind of like the winter rides, I don't go out of my way to go anywhere just for the ride. And, a lot of the recreational routes are buried under snow in the winter, meaning that your winter rides are sort of grimly purposeful at times, clotted with cars and traffic lights.

But then comes the first day of spring, and a nice, bright, above-zero one at that. So I had to go for a quick ride.

One of my favorite short rides is to Mer Bleue Bog. It's basically a massive wetland in the middle of the city, sandwiched in between Anderson Road, the Navan Road, and the Trans-Canada Highway. From my place in the South End it's a fairly short ride down Walkley Road, past the 417, and then into sudden, startling bucolic rural farmland on Russell Road. I can basically decide I want to do this ride on a whim and not need to, say, get an earlier start or pack food and water.

The first bit of it is a bit hairy, down Walkley Road and across a set of off-ramps to the 417 that scare the pants off me. But once past those, you're suddenly on a tame rural road. There are farm houses and barns, pleasant-faced Appaloosas looking over white fences and highway signs warning drivers to watch out for turtles.

You turn on Ridge Road fairly soon after the Walkley/Russell corner, and then that winds along until eventually it's a gravel road (watch out for the erosion dimples, which can be pretty large.) There are a few parking lots along the length of Ridge Road, and trails that lead (purportedly) to the bog, but I found, when I tried using one of them, that they're usually about a half-foot under water in the summer. (That was a long, tiring, fun, but very muddy off-roading experience.) I don't know what they're like in the early spring: I'm guessing they're under a few inches of corn snow and mud.

Ridge Road takes you to the bog, where there's a couple of picnic tables, some "interpretive signage" about the bog, an environmental art installation (new since the last time I was there), and a boardwalk that takes you for about a kilometer through the bog.

So I locked Mike up in the parking lot, walked along the boardwalk, bumped unexpectedly into some friends, walked back with them, and then got the bike unlocked and headed back to the city.

Short, but quite satisfying, for the first 'just for fun' ride of the year. Happy vernal equinox, everyone.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

We Are All Brothers/Sisters In Pothole Pain

I got contacted this afternoon to do an interview with some journalists for Centretown News about potholes and cycling. We arranged to meet outside my apartment, where there is a bumper crop of hideous potholes (if you want to see them you'll have to wait for the piece to come out at Centretown News Online, probably before the weekend.)

As I wheeled Mike along the pavement, I saw a van with the hazards flashing, and thought it might be the camera crew's vehicle. But, no - they were piling out of a hatchback just beyond the van. The van, alas, had just broken an axle.

The owner was gracious enough to give an interview. In fact, when the tow truck driver arrived and saw the cameras turning to film as he towed the van away, he also stopped and leapt out of the truck to cross the snowbanks and say, "This is the twelfth car like this I've picked up today!" to the camera. He was blocking the entrance to the parking garage, though, so had to pull the truck up and out of the way. But then came back to do an interview (all the while filming the interview on his own cell phone.)

At least by the end of the whole encounter, the poor driver of the van had a smile on his face from all the journalistic attention.

This isn't very bike related except to say that yowch! potholes affect us all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bike VS Boat VS Car VS Tube

Yeah, I've been told about this episode of Top Gear before, but I hadn't seen it till just this evening (thanks for the loan, Paul!) Top Gear's terrific: I'm not even a car person and I love this show. They're hilarious. And they do shit like this ... because they can. This clip, if you have ten minutes, is worth watching.

London Calling: the Top Gear guys race across London by car, transit, bike, and boat.

This is an abbreviated version of the race from the show (it misses a lot of the phone calls back and forth, and the others' slightly gleeful speculation of whether Hammond, on the bike, is still alive), but still really entertaining. Even if it's just to listen to Hammond swearing at the buses. Or his line "Cycle lane! One... two... three meters of it and now I'm back under that bus..."

Gotta say I wouldn't want to have to cycle in London, although, given how congested the traffic is, at least you'd know the cars wouldn't be moving particularly fast.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Road Rage (or, my jaw's still on the floor)

I was horrified, earlier today, by this Ottawa cyclist's account of what happened to him on Thursday, when he was stalked, threatened, deliberately sideswiped and struck, then physically tackled by an angry motorist.

I haven't heard much more about the case except that I understand when the issue was raised with Police Chief White the response was quick and courteous (in contrast to how the officers on the scene behaved.) Still, the precedent is scary as all hell. For one thing, the police telling the cyclist that he had a responsibility to stop at the scene of a "collision" is - in my opinion - nonsensical. The driver struck the cyclist in order to get him to stop, or to get out of the way at any rate, and had he stopped, the driver would have continued on his way, mission accomplished. Leaving the cyclist with no recourse.

Sure, maybe the idea is that a bike, as a 'vehicle,' should be subject to the same rules as all other vehicles. Which I am all for in most cases. But in a car/bike collision, a whole lot of things are different from a car/car collision. For one thing, face it, most of the reason anyone stops and gets out and talks to the other driver is insurance. Damage is incurred on both sides, and you get out and exchange the names of your insurers. That just doesn't happen with a bike, because, well, most bikes aren't insured, and the culture of insurance isn't built into people's concept of bike ownership. Besides, the damage is very likely to be one-sided. (As an illustration, I accidentally rear-ended a car, with my bike, a couple of weeks ago on Montreal Road as I was trying to get into the left-turn lane and my brakes slipped. She didn't even notice.)

The power difference is huge between a bike and car, as well. When a driver behaves aggressively, the aim is to scare the cyclist out of their way. Maybe it goes the other way, too, maybe some extremely bold cyclists are out there biking with the intent to frighten drivers, but I can't quite see it. An angry cyclist cutting into traffic suddenly, or whacking someone's hood or threatening to - what? - key someone's car? Sure, that would be damaging, and criminal, and reprehensible, but it's got nothing on trying to hit, or nearly hit, another person with several thousand pounds of high-speed metal. It certainly isn't going to scare the driver out of their way.

The power discrepancy is such that when a driver decides to use their vehicle as an extension of their anger, it often (usually) works - the cyclist coming away from the encounter shaken, if not actually hurt, and the driver just speeding off - and that just reinforces the behaviour in the already maladjusted driver. And the police letting this driver just walk away from the scene reinforces that behaviour as well. Aggressive driving like this is assault. With a deadly weapon.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I left VERSeFest last night and found Mike locked up to the rail as usual... but with the right handlebar grip missing. Someone had gone by and just decided to - hyuk hyuk - pull it off.

Seriously. Who does that? I've learned not to leave the headlights on after losing them - twice - to someone who walked by and decided it would be hi-LARious to - hyuk hyuk - take them off and pocket them. So now I take them with me.

And I know that in fact, it would be way worse if someone decided - hyuk hyuk - to take off the saddle, which is also removeable.

But it's just insulting to have someone take something as petty as an aging, rubber handlebar grip. Leaving the handlebar beyond the grip shift bare and sticking out. Why do I feel like it would almost be better if what they took had some vague value? It would certainly be less senseless, or thoughtless. Not that I didn't need to replace the grips anyway but come on, people.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Epic snow

Everything seemed fine when I left the house around 5:00 last night to go to VERSeFest at the Arts Court. I'd checked the weather report and everything looked pretty tame. (They lie!)

On the way downtown, I was reminded why you just shouldn't take the Queen Elizabeth side of the canal. For one thing, there's construction that's torn up the multi-use path for a few blocks near the creek. For another thing, I reached the underpass of the Pretoria Bridge and my tires went splosh into an ice-lined, built-up puddle of trapped floating slush puppy, and I came to a grinding halt.

The interesting question is: how do you put your feet down to move the bike without soaking them?
I did manage to get myself out of the puddle without getting my feet wet (what was I thinking, wearing my combat boots? Oh, wait, yeah, I was going to a poetry show.) And the rest of the trip was pretty easy, although the ice on my brakes was a little unnerving.

I got to Arts Court, around behind the Rideau Centre, and locked Mike up to a rail on the stairs. (It bothers me that there's no bike parking around Arts Court. Given that it's a centre for so much independent art, and there are a lot of bike-riding artists and art fans, you'd think they'd put in a bike rack. But they don't. And in fact, even the street signs are a little sparse and dodgy - and short: you could lift a locked bike up over most of them. Arts Court. Get bike racks.)

But that's beside the point. I went inside, had a great night with a lot of great poets, and round about 11:00 pm the show was over and it was time to go home. When I picked up my helmet to head out, a few people who had arrived halfway through the night said things like, "Are you cycling? Are you nuts?" Apparently, I learned, it had been snowing for the last five hours.

Mike looked like this.

But, I wasn't the only one leaving the event on a bike. And local writer and generally impressive urban individual jwcurry, who knows whereof he speaks, said, "It's beautiful for cycling tonight! Whoosh," he added, and mimed gliding silently along. He also advised me just to bike on the canal instead of the path, although I wasn't so sure about the possibility of slush hiding out under the few inches of accumulated snow.

He was right, you know. It was beautiful. It was hard work, but it was quiet and there were hardly any people on the path. As long as I didn't make any sudden moves or stops my balance was okay, even with the layer of glassy ice that was underneath the snow. I stayed off the streets though - something about the texture of snow that's been compressed by car tires is just unpredictable and greasy.

I got to Pretoria Bridge and had to stop to take pictures. I've always liked Pretoria Bridge. It's actually a lift bridge; the centre portion can be raised to make room for boat traffic, and I really enjoy the moments when I arrive at this bridge in time to watch the mechanisms cranking up the central section.

The bridge looking unearthly.
Looking back toward the 417 overpass and the Hawthorne skateway entrance sign. I loved what the falling snow did with the coronas of light.

You'll note, too, that there had been another bike through, ahead of me. I felt a strange sort of cameraderie with my unseen companion in stormbiking.

Along the canal path the going was okay. Hard work, as I said, but except for a couple of patches that had been puddles before the snow came down and were now slushies, I could crank the gears way down and more or less swoosh (slowly, and with much effort) along. And it was silent.

The trees and huts are still up on the Skateway, even though it closed last weekend.

Once I got off the pathway, at the Lansdowne Bridge, it was another deal. My brakes had lost almost all grip, and like I said before, snow that's been smooshed around by cars isn't much fun. Climbing the ramp to Bank Street from the canal level involved some shouting on my part, and a lot of sliding around on sheets of buried ice under compressed snow. And the back tire skidding uselessly when I tried to get moving again. But, god bless the City snow clearance crews - the little sidewalk plows had already been out on Bank Street. I don't know what I would have done without that. There was still a good inch and a half or more of snow on the sidewalks, but it was flat and smooth underneath and - oh yeah - everywhere else there was a lot more snow. It was still snowing, by the way, and blowing pretty hard too. Drifts were forming. I got myself onto the sidewalk - since the streets were pretty treacherous - and edged down the slope through Old Ottawa South (which was tricky, since my brakes were iced up.) 
Brakes? What brakes?
Coming past Billings Bridge shopping centre, around 11:50 pm: cleared sidewalks, for which I was almost pathetically grateful.
The uphill run from Billings Bridge was hard, and I learned that if you run into a drift and stop, it's going to be really hard to get rolling again. I learned that quite a few times. And pushing uphill against that much snow takes a lot out of you. Especially at the end of the night, when you started the whole thing hungry. But I made it as far as Heron Road, on the semi-cleared (and rapidly filling) sidewalks, puffing and panting. I was soaked with sweat at this point too, which meant I really didn't want to stop for long for fear of getting chilled. 

... and then I realized that Heron's sidewalks hadn't been plowed yet...
Oh, Heron Road. Uphill from Bank, and the sidewalks hadn't been cleared yet. The drifts were formidable. I wound up walking/shoving the bike through the snow up the steepest part, which was cold, in combat boots. (Again, why did I wear my combat boots? Oh, right. Poetry show.) It was after midnight by now. 

As the road leveled out, I bullheadedly got back on the bike and started trying to forge my way ahead through the snow. It was hard work, but stopping meant trying to get started again, so I tried to avoid stopping to puff and pant. Couldn't avoid being thrown sideways and nearly off balance by the drifts though, skidding to a stop, kicking the pedals, getting back on, trying to get traction with the back wheel.  Making more loud shouty noises.

I was really starting to feel it by the time I took the first actual fall of the night: at the corner of my street, no less.  You can see the slaloming trail of epic disaster leading to Mike's sadly fallen form:

But I picked him and myself up, walked across the intersection, and - hooray - the sidewalks on my street had been cleared an hour or two previously. So I rode, defiantly, the last block. 

By the time I got home, the journey from the Rideau Centre had taken an hour and a half. Mike's back end looked like this:

His front end looked like this:

 And I looked a bit like this:

(Oh, yeah, and then when I got into my apartment building, the elevators were on the fritz again, so I got to carry a snow-covered, dripping, heavy Mike up nine floors to cap it all off. By the time I got to sit down and have some toast and a cup of tea it was almost 1:00 a.m. and  I was trembly-tired.)

But what's a winter without an epic?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

That's it.

I am officially done with winter. The honeymoon is over, the bloom is off the rose, it's been swell but the swelling's gone down, it's been fun if your definition of 'fun' is 'something overly protracted, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and really not particularly fun at all.' That's it, winter, you're cut off, adios, BUHbye now, don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out. Have a nice life.

I'm sick of gritty rutted and uneven patches of ice at the side of the road, of potholes, of puddles of dirty, salty runoff that spray up onto my clothes. Never having clean clothing. Having to find places to stash armloads of grimy, salty, grit-shedding waterproof gear when I go out with friends. (Where do you put a pannier, set of rainpants, gloves, helmet and jacket, in a pub or a theatre or a booth at Zack's Diner, without taking up someone's seat? For that matter, how do you gracefully shed a pair of rainpants when you arrive at the social event you were heading to? "Excuse me while I bend over, unzip my ankles, and ignominiously wriggle out of my pants, looking like I'm about to strip in front of all your guests...") I'm sick of trying to juggle helmet, gloves, hat, groceries, and my wallet, at the grocery store. Of wearing so damn much clothing all the time. Of having to carry around wet-wipes so I can clean my face off when I get where I'm going.

I'm sick of sniffling my way along the street, or the bike path. I'm sick of there only being one bike path I can use.

I'm tired of being shoved out into traffic by the snowbanks. Of having to decide whether to worry about the oncoming cars or the upcoming slush-ridge. Of my hood, or coat, blocking my view when I try to shoulder check. Of the patches of slush that accumulate at the edge of the road. Of puddles. Of potholes. Did I mention the potholes? Of having bits of my bike gum up with crap and malfunction, when replacing them will be kind of pointless before spring. Of having to watch that my pedals don't catch on the chunks of semi-solid snow that have calved from the dirty snowbanks and are lying in the middle of the bike lane. Of boots. (God, am I sick of wearing boots.)

And then there's sweeping the entrance of my apartment every day because of all the road salt and grains of asphalt, not to mention the blackish puddles of water that form under my bike on the floor. That's it, that's all, I'm done. I am done with winter.

I get the sinking feeling, though, that winter is probably not done with me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ow. My pride.

I have no idea how or why it happened. About 10:30 or so last night, I was just about to turn left into the parking lot of my apartment building. It was dark, it was cold, it was really damp out. There was a car coming out of the lot, with no turning signals on. So I stopped, unsure of which way they were going to turn. Then noticed an SUV coming along the street toward me. I stopped in the middle of the street, near the centre lane, to let them pass, tried to think who, in this conglomeration, had the right of way, and then, for some reason unknown to me, I fell as I was coming to a stop. Maybe I was trying to put my feet down and the heavy boots I was wearing caught the pedal? Maybe there was some ice underfoot, or under my tires? I don't know. Maybe I was tired (I was) and it was windy and wet and cold (it was.) Maybe my really quite extraordinarily bad balance had finally caught up with me. I don't know. My feet tangled with my bike, it slipped, and I fell over.

Quite aside from the embarassment, it is frankly terrifying to fall down in the middle of a street. With two cars pointed at you (the driver coming up the street had stopped, seeing me stopping at the centre line to try and turn.) And then the driver of another car, behind the SUV, decided that the stopped SUV was an obstacle, and pulled out to pass him - whether or not he was aware of the cyclist trying to pick herself up in the middle of the road I'm not sure. I scrambled to my feet, freaked out by the accelerating car that was passing the guy who'd stopped for me (how was I supposed to know if he'd even see me as he was getting back into his lane?) and got myself and the bike off the street as fast as I could. The SUV honked. At me? At the car who'd endangered my life by pulling out to pass? Not sure. And then the car that had been waiting to get out of the parking lot honked. At me? At the SUV, for honking? At the jerk who'd endangered my life? I choose to believe that the other two drivers were honking at the jackass who hadn't noticed the fallen cyclist. It makes the whole thing a lot less nervewracking, in hindsight.

And now I just have to nurse a bruised knee and some seriously dented pride. I haven't fallen on my bike in years. I don't know why or how I did last night. But I do know that cyclists can fall, unexpectedy. If there was ever a convincing argument for the 3-foot law, that's it. The bike you're passing may look fine. But she might hit a pothole, or a chunk of snow, or a puddle that splashes up into her eyes, or a rough patch in the road, or something. Or she might be at a full stop, waiting to turn left, and suddenly have some sort of brainfart.

Not sure which hurts more - the bruise on my knee or the one on my dignity.