Sunday, July 31, 2016

You know this means war. #MegsBike

The story of Meg's bike just keeps snowballing.

By now you probably know the back story, and if you don't, most of it is in the link above. Anyway, I have started keeping an eye on the corner of Riverside and Bank, and keeping a box of Crayola sidewalk chalk in my bike panniers. After it rained, I'd stop, usually on my way home from work, and chalk the bike back up. I got a bit creative at times, mixed it up a bit with bike styles, even with the direction the bike was facing (although I found I could only competently draw a bike facing left).

The idea was that I'd keep the chalk bike there, as much as I could, until something was done about the dangerous intersection. To date, three whole years after Meg was killed, nothing has been done to fix the infrastructure problems that led to her death.

But then the bike started disappearing with disturbing regularity. When it hadn't rained.

It poured last Wednesday night. I got caught in it, and drenched crossing the bridge. It was intense. But, I have chalk. So I put the bike back up Thursday night, on my way home from work.

On Friday morning, I rode past it on the way to work. But when I went by Friday evening, it was gone. It hadn't rained. Clearly, someone had come by and washed it off. But, I have chalk.

On Saturday - July 30 - around noon, I headed downtown to meet a friend, and was stopped in my tracks. The bike I had drawn about fourteen hours earlier had been washed away, at some point in the night. But what was in its place brought tears to my eyes.

That last one? It's a little washed out by the sunlight, but it says, "Bless whoever draws the bike." 

So yes. I cried on a street corner. Meg's family came to put the chalk bike back up, on the third anniversary of her death, and they thanked me. No: they blessed me.

So guess how I felt this morning when I saw this. 

Go ahead and guess.

Only the bike has been washed away. Not the hearts, not the other tributes written on the wall. Even the plea, "P. L.On," is still there. Meg's photo is still duct-taped to the wall. It's just the bike. This is the work of someone who, for whatever reason, specifically objects to memorials for people on bikes. Someone so threatened by a drawing of a bike done in white chalk that they find a watering can, fill it full of water, lug it all the way to the bridge, and sluice the chalk off in a fit of self-important rage.

Don't even get me started on the utter insult to Meg's family that this represents. On the eve of the anniversary of their loved one's death, this troglodyte marched down there and washed away the chalk bike. They went down there and drew it again, on the day she died, and actually asked him to leave it up. And the day after the anniversary of the death of their friend, daughter, wife, sister, aunt. . . he went back down there with his pathetic little watering can and his sense of entitlement.

This is someone who feels foot-stampingly righteous about removing even the chalk ghosts of the ghost bike that was once there; this is someone who thinks he "won" some kind of "battle" when the City came and cut the locks on the white bike that had been locked to that rail since August of 2013.

This is someone, in short, up with whom I will not put.

Chalk is cheap, bro. I can do this all day.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Can we talk (again) about Billings Bridge?

Billings Bridge is rotten, although it's far from the biggest trouble spot on my commute (that honour will forever belong to Heron Road). Really, as long as I can take the lane sometime before I cross Riverside on my way north, and have the guts to hold it until I can duck onto Riverdale, it's just about tolerable. But it's precisely that lane-taking that led me to a realization.

There are sharrows painted on both outer lanes on that bridge. I don't know, maybe they give drivers some notice that bikes are allowed to take up space. It could happen. (Though, today's news that OC Transpo is investigating a bus driver who crowded a cyclist, opened his door, and said, "You got your one metre, now get out of the middle of the road," is not really encouraging on that point.)

In my experience, though, as I defiantly take the lane across this bridge, I can't just ride along where the sharrows are. If you ride, as I suppose you're expected to, through the middle of the "sharrow space," there is still just enough room for a driver to try to squeeze past you without crossing the dotted line.

And they will try. It happens all the time.

So, I actually ride even further to the left of the sharrows, right down the middle of the lane, because it's the only way to stop some idiot driver trying to squeeze between me and a car in the inside lane.

And that's when I realized. If there is room for me to ride along the outside of the "sharrow space" and still have there be enough space that a driver thinks they can pull off a pass, then there is more than enough room to hack a foot - or maybe a little less - of width off each of those lanes, and carve out an actual, painted bike lane. It would slow traffic to a (legal) 50 kmh instead of the 70 most cars are doing. It would give cyclists a little more breathing room across an unavoidable bridge. It wouldn't require any major reconstruction of a "heritage" structure.

Do this, and you'd be making a bridge many cyclists outright avoid (meaning they don't cross the river to Billings Bridge Mall or points south, opting for their safety over, say, shopping) a bridge that would actually feel less suicidal to cross. It would extend the established bike lane on Bank in front of the mall to connect with a popular downtown-bound bike route (Riverdale, leading to Echo and the Canal). It only makes sense. Why hasn't anyone done this yet?

Oh, right. This city thinks sharrows are adequate infrastructure.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Chalk Bike Anti-Massacree Movement

So, a while back, the City of Ottawa decided that there needed to be a time limit on so-called "spontaneous memorials" (in response to about seven complaints). By that they meant ghost bikes. And down the ghost bikes came, including Meg Dussault's much-loved bike at Bank and Riverside. 

In late June, I noticed that someone had drawn a bike back on the wall where Meg's bike had been: something I'd been wanting to do. 

But rain and the elements being what they are, it was gone again some time after that. Or, possibly, the city washed it away. We don't know. 

I said at the time that I wanted to get some chalk and go put it back up, but then got overwhelmed by Canada Day and a fairly busy couple of weeks. But never fear: Darlene McLeod (otherwise known as @UrbanSlowLife) was on the job. 

By the time I saw her tweet, the rain had washed it out again. But I said I'd grab some chalk and stop by on the way home. So I did. And we agreed, over Twitter, to keep an eye on the place and keep putting the bike back up as long as we can.

I pulled over on my way home, broke out the sidewalk chalk, knelt down by the concrete wall, and started drawing. Personally, I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. Apparently when I draw a bike, it's a stepthrough cruiser. 

The next morning, I told someone at work about it, and she said, "Oh, that was you? I saw that chalk bike this morning when I went by there!"

This weekend, it bucketed down rain. So, on Sunday, on my way home from a proofreading meeting, I stopped and put the washed-out bike back up. This time I gave it fenders, and added Meg's name in red behind the back wheel. 

I said, on Twitter, that I thought people should just adopt a site where a ghost bike once was, and do the same. Just chalk it back up every time it washed out, until something was done about the infrastructure that had resulted in there being a ghost bike there. Because there ain't no bylaw against drawing things with sidewalk chalk. Yet. 

I mean, if THREE people do it? Can you imagine three people walkin' in, drawin' a chalk bike and walkin' out? They might think it's an organization! And can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day . . . walkin' in, drawin' a chalk bike and walkin' out? Friends, they may think it's a MOVEMENT, and that's what it is! The Chalk Bike Anti-Massacree Movement!

Well. We've got at least three. At least an organization. 

Tonight, I was on my way home late, and as I rolled over the Billings Bridge, I glanced over to see how the bike was doing. And stopped, and went back. Because someone had been by, and embellished the bike, and left a neatly lined up set of sidewalk chalk on the rail beside it. 

I don't know who it was. But it made me really happy. 

Cause that's what it is, friends - the Chalk Bike Anti-Massacree Movement! And all you gotta do. . . is join in the next time it comes around on the guitar.