Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All in the Wrong

Sometimes - maybe because I read too many comments on news articles - I make a mistake (miss the yellow light and wind up accidentally running the red; wind up in the wrong lane; go at the wrong time at a stop sign) and I imagine the drivers around me thinking the sorts of things I see in the comments: "cyclists are out of control," "they're a danger to themselves and others," "why are these crazy cyclists allowed on the roads when they just disregard the rules," etc., etc., etc.

It drives me nuts to think that, because most of the time I'm pretty obsessively conscious of sharing the road. And because I hate reinforcing anyone's misguided stereotypes.

So what happened was this: I was heading to a friend's. I was tired, and shaking off the last of a cold, and maybe a little less alert than I could have been. I wound up at an intersection where I needed to turn left. You might know the intersection - at Bank and Kitchener.

So I pulled up at the red light, facing Bank Street. Across from me was the entrance to the parking lots of the LCBO (right) and Home Depot (left). But it gets a traffic light because people can continue straight through from Kitchener into the parking lots. There's a left turn lane on Kitchener, which I was in. But when the light turned green there was a car facing me, with turning signal on indicating the driver was turning left. I was also turning left. But I guess I have been in too many situations where a car facing me, when we're both turning left, has been visibly freaked out by not knowing what I'm going to do, so I hesitated before heading into the left turn, not able to figure out why the other car wasn't moving. Then saw the driver was waiting for a pedestrian to cross the road.

Then a car behind me honked, and pulled out to pass me, on the right side, although he'd been behind me in the left turn lane. So I turned to try and figure out which way he was going to go - worried that he was going to try and make the left turn around me, and possibly into me - and he pulled out, turning right onto Bank across the through/right turn lane, while a delivery truck behind him took the opportunity to pull past me on the other side and turn left, pausing long enough to yell something out the door of his truck that sounded to me like "... mumble something going straight something something cut off..."

Helpful, buddy.

I shouted, "He's turning! I was waiting! I'm turning left!" but by then he had driven off, having illegally passed me and cut me off for the turn, and the other driver having illegally passed me and cut across a lane to turn right.

I realize that in fact, if the car facing me was turning left, then what I was supposed to do was just continue with my turn. But since I didn't know what he was going to think of a bike heading into the intersection toward him, and because I was a little fuzzy-headed with a cold, and I momentarily forgot what my right of way was, I hesitated. Then the drivers behind me honked, fumed, and each did their own version of 'the wrong thing' to get around me - which they would not have done had I been in a car, hesitating in the left turn lane.

And I'm now bothered by the fact that I may have been taken for a 'stupid cyclist who doesn't know the rules.' Yup, I had a momentary brain fart. Sure, we were all wrong. But the end result of the whole incident was that my moment of insecurity was made infinitely more dangerous by the reactions of the drivers around me.

It's things like this that make me hate left turns with a burning firey passion.

Ride of Silence

I just spotted this listing in Culture Magazine, thought I'd repost here as an FYI. Not sure if I'll be able to make it but I'll report if I do. 

Ride of Silence - Gatineau
Date: May 18, 2011  Time: meet at 6:30 pm
Location: Maison du Citoyen, 25 rue Laurier, Gatineau (Hull sector)
This annual event started in 2003 in Texas in memory of cyclists injured or killed on the road.  The ride now takes place in over 320 cities worldwide on the third Wednesday of May.

The Ride of Silence is like a funeral procession. We will be riding  at around 15 km/h. No talking is allowed, as silence is how we can remember our deceased sisters and brothers. Black arm bands will be worn in memory of the deceased, and a red arm band will be worn for those injured or intimidated by motorists. A bicycle helmet is mandatory, and red and white flashing lights are a good idea to be seen.

We also take this opportunity to raise the drivers' awareness that we are here.

For more information consult website:  http://tourdusilencegatineau.com/RoS/

Ride of Silence main page

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

So how much do you know, really?

I just took a quick skim through Transports Quebec's cycling site. Partly because I'm working on a piece about cycling and traffic laws (which are, basically, provincial, so the rules change a bit when you cross the border.)

I'm actually rather impressed by Quebec's cycling policy: check out their site and have a gander for yourself. But what entertained me most was their set of quizzes. You can go through them (four questions each, I think) and pick your answers, get a score, and if you get one or two wrong (which I'm willing to bet you might) it will tell you how many are wrong, but not which questions, so you have to rethink your answers and try again. I learned some things!

Check it out for yourself. I bet you learn stuff.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bike lanes for Wellington!

Sure, I bike on Wellington downtown. I don't *like* it. It's not fun to ride along a street with your knuckles whitening on the handlebars. Your hands fall asleep from all the tension and the adrenaline gets you all jittery. But I do ride down Wellington. I'm not at all surprised, though, when people ride on the sidewalks. For one thing, if you're trying to get anywhere other than just straight along Wellington - if you want to turn off the street anywhere between the Rideau Mall and, say, Lebreton Flats - then may the Force be with you. There are so many weird intersections, oddly spaced lights, double turn lanes and nasty leftward merges that I tend to give up and use pedestrian crosswalks. And even if you're just going east or west down the street, you're dodging buses (lots of them, OC Transpo and STO alike), taxis, and cars. Oh, and the buses are weaving in and out of the far right curb - you can't really pass them on the left or the right without running serious risk. No wonder people are on the (wide, spacious, built-for-postcard-pictures) sidewalks.

And if you want to get through that part of town on the riverside multi-user-path ... well, may the Force be with you then too. I've never managed to find my way through the maze of paths that run alongside the river without sooner or later winding up stranded, somewhere near the War Museum, on a sidewalk, with no clue where the next bit of the path picks up.

So when I heard about the NCC's plans for a segregated bike lane on Wellington, down near the Library and Archives, a few weeks ago, I was pretty happy. And it's all official and stuff now - it's on the news! I'm particularly heartened by the comment from Richard Daigneault, the NCC's project manager for the lane: "Up to date, we've always worked on pathways, more the recreational end of things. But now it's a matter of how to connect this network into the city."

Yes, yes, and yes. Yay.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My new least favorite intersection

Least favorite intersections are like favorite bands: they change and morph, depending on what sort of emotional and physical place you're in at any given time. Right now, my least favorite intersection is - predictably, and perhaps aptly, since it's the time of year when these kinds of intersections become part of my life again - one of those places where road meets bike path.

I've started taking Smyth, and Main Street, to get downtown, like to the Market, lately. It's quick and direct, if gritty. And Main Street is pothole hell, but that's not the part I hate. The part I hate runs from the intersection of Main and Hawthorne under the Queensway, and ends at Colonel By Drive.

Heading down Main, you first have to make it through the little jog that Hawthorne does. That's not so bad. But then on the other side of the intersection you're suddenly in a right-turn lane. Like most right-turn lanes, I tend to stay right on them, and try to shoulder check and move across them into the through lane as I'm coming up to the intersection, rather than ride the block or so with cars passing on both sides. It just seems to freak the drivers out to have me in the centre lane. (I know, legally I should just be taking up my space in the centre lane. Tell that to an aggressive driver.)

So, once I've negotiated that block, my next problem arises. Assuming I've managed to get into the centre lane, I'm now faced with this ickiness.

Heading toward Colonel By, you have a choice. If you don't want to go with the flow and just keep right onto Colonel By (and how many times have I heard drivers complain about bikes on Colonel By when "there's a perfectly good bike path along the canal"?) - if you want to get onto the bike path, that is - you wind up having to move to the inside of the centre lane - along the yellow line - and then ducking off the road and onto a sidewalk/multi-user path/bit of Echo Drive, just before an island that separates the two lanes between Echo Drive and Colonel By. And you have to duck across the oncoming lane, where there is virtually no marking, crosswalk, or indication of what anyone, car or bike, is supposed to be doing.  

Then the task of getting onto the multi-user path is only half over. Now you're stopped on a grassy median between Echo Drive, which is barely a street anyway, and Colonel By, staring at the bike path across the way, helpfully paved to the edge of Colonel By as if to say, "here, hop on!" However, you have two lanes of traffic - traffic that hasn't seen a stop light since Ottawa U campus in one direction, and god knows how long in the other - to brave before that happens, and no crosswalk, light, or signal. You can even see in the satellite picture, and in this one, where exit ramps have been paved up to the edge of Colonel By from the path.

I cursed this intersection at several places the other day. I know, I could have taken the easy road, and hung a right straight onto Colonel By. And given how many people were out walking, jogging, and cycling on the canal path that day, it might have been faster, if more harried, to take Colonel By as well. But that just results in more unpleasantness further down.

Again: these spots, where you have to somehow get from streetside riding to the NCC's beautiful network of rec paths, are far more annoying than they really should be. I'd take a ramp and pedestrian bridge, I would. Like the Corktown footbridge at Somerset, only over the parkways too. That would be awesome.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

IHollaBack (or not...)

It happened again Sunday night. I don't know how often this happens to anyone else, but for me, at least, it's every few months. A car will be passing me (usually as I'm chugging up Bank Street, somewhere near Ohio, on that hill south of Billings Bridge) and a guy will shout, loudly and suddenly, out the passenger side window as they pass me. Presumably in an attempt to see me jump, flinch, jerk the handlebars, or otherwise look startled. Apparently this sort of thing is a laff riot with a certain demographic of youngish males.

It doesn't bother me that much, I suppose (it's never actually caused me to have an accident, although I guess there is that risk), except that there is no recourse for me. I can't shout back: by the time I can react they've passed. And shouting back would just amuse them more. All I can do is what my mom told me to do back in elementary school: ignore them. But if you ever tried that tactic in elementary school, you know that even if you know you have the moral high ground you also can't help feeling a little foolish, a little powerless, and a little pissed off while you're ignoring the idiots. And there's no way I can have a conversation with them about why it's not a great idea to race past a cyclist and deliberately try to make her fall. For one thing, it would be pointless: for another, they're already a half mile away.

So I shrug, call them names in my head, and continue on my way. The same when someone cuts me off, buzzes too close, or tries to play "chicken" at an intersection when I've got the right of way. Or yells "Get out of the road!"

There's been a lot of news lately about the website IHollaBack.org getting an Ottawa branch... it's a website where people can post incidents of street harassment. I know that sexual harassment can be way more serious than the kinds of things that happen to me on a bike, but you know, there are similarities. In the worst cases, a cyclist can feel very threatened; in some road rage cases people can even get killed. Although in most of the cases I've been aware of, I just felt angry that the person yelling, driving aggressively, chasing, tailgating, or cutting off the cyclist, felt they had the right to do what they did. The video blog Bike View in Ottawa - because he has a camera mounted on his bike - is like a treasure trove of those kinds of incidents for cyclists (and, also, to be fair, of the joys of riding and good things that also happen.)

Not that you want things like this to happen at all. But it is really nice to know you're not the only one. Because as I'm cranking along, I know I, for one, do not hollaback.