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. 

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Idaho Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

My workplace has enough people who bike to work that there is an email group. Generally, it's pretty quiet. But yesterday, a colleague wrote to me and the manager of the group to ask a question.

"I've been riding to work lately," she said, "and I've had some drivers honking at me for continuing through stop signs. Am I supposed to stop? Do you always stop at stop signs?"

I wrote back with my usual response, to wit: According to the HTA, cyclists are supposed to come to a full stop at all stop signs before proceeding. But, also according to the HTA, so are drivers. People seem to pay attention when cyclists roll through: people seem to disregard the fact that drivers do too, almost all the time. What I actually do at an intersection with a stop sign is slow up, look to see if there are any approaching cars, and do a calculation of when each of us will arrive. If there's any chance at all the driver will be near the intersection at the same time as me, I slow to nearly stopped. Then it's a matter of deciding whether the driver or I have right of way (applying the rules of turn taking at stop signs), and proceeding. Do I stop entirely? Sure, if there is more than one car, or if the driver has right of way and doesn't take it right away. But in most cases, honestly, I don't come to a complete stop, I wait on a slow roll, let the driver go (or slow up themselves), then take my turn. There's usually plenty of time to do that, and usually it's pretty smooth. And guess what? Most of us do this calculus every time we reach a stop sign, regardless of the vehicle we're in charge of.

And if no cars are nearby I have plenty of time to ascertain that, look both ways, slow up enough to be sure, then continue through.

And I added, to my colleague, that this is commonly called an "Idaho stop" and something I really, really would like to see adopted by the province of Ontario.

Today, the manager of the email group (who had agreed with me on stop etiquette) posted to the entire group. He'd just seen a cyclist pulled over by the police, on the quiet residential street behind our building, for rolling through a stop sign. He asked the group at large: what do they all do? Did they know about "Idaho stops"? Did they agree?

The response was about what you'd expect: everyone responded that they don't stop at a stop sign unless there is a car involved, at which point communication and turn taking take charge.

And also, agreement that the police are wasting time and resources hanging out on Central Park looking for people on bikes rolling through stops, when on the other side of our building is an intersection where a friend of mine had her car totalled just trying to pull out of the parking lot, and where, daily, pedestrians are bullied through crosswalks, and people race through right-turn slip lanes, and run red lights virtually every cycle.

On Twitter, when I vented about this, I got a bunch of agreement, and this reply from Ottawa Police:

Okay okay okay, I get it, "The Rulez" apply to everyone. But almost 100% of cyclists roll through stops defensively and in a way that does not endanger them or anyone else (because honestly, if it would endanger someone else, it would also endanger the person on the bike), which is more than can be said for drivers.

In short: a rulebreaking behaviour which doesn't actually endanger anyone, versus a rulebreaking behaviour that is utterly normalized, and does.

Oh yeah, here's another one.

Every day, at every intersection, I watch drivers blast through red lights. Because they feel like they waited too long. Because they were in the left turn lane and there was opposing traffic for the whole light cycle, so at least they ought to be allowed to go. Because they weren't paying attention. Because it was a T intersection and they didn't think it would matter.

The kneejerk response to a cyclist pointing out that those people are far more of a danger to themselves and others than a cyclist on a side street is just plain boring. And stomping your feet and insisting that you're being perfectly rational by saying "everyone should obey the same rules" is just stultifying. Just no.

Yes, the rules are in the books. No, they don't make sense. The lived experience of every cyclist will tell you that in many cases it is safer to proceed through an empty intersection, and so get out of it before a driver shows up to muck up the calculus. And that - given the speed, weight, braking distance and reaction time difference - the consequences of a driver breaking this rule are far, far higher than the consequences of a cyclist breaking it.

When you stamp your feet and say "we should all be obeying the same rules" it's usually a sign that the rules work to your benefit over other people, and you're scared that if they change, you'll lose that power. It's not a good look.

Also: the HTA is going to be opened up to revision not too far from now and we should totally get on adopting the Idaho stop in Ontario. Think of all the police resources we'd free up to deal with actual dangerous behaviour.

Friday, September 6, 2019

A Friday Evening on Laurier, or, Hey Uber Customers, Can You Not?

Leaving the Centretown Buzz office at Gloucester and Bank this evening, I encountered a rather impressive display of Laurier By Night. First, there was the guy who thought it would be just fine to go the wrong way up Gloucester for half a block, but wasn't banking on the cop parked at the corner who just walked out in front of him, blocked him, and turned him around. Then, there were two (probably) Uber drivers making full use of their Four-Way Flasher Freedom on Laurier. Good times.

Really, this is something I would love to have catch on as part of Uber etiquette: I personally might never make use of ride apps like Uber and Lyft, but it would be terrific if those who do could give some thought to where the driver will wait for them. Laurier is bad: the two spots where the drivers are parked in this video are particularly common. If you're using Uber, arrange to meet your driver in a nearby parking lot, or on a side street, not on Laurier. Ask them to wait for you where they won't be blocking traffic. You can do that.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Here's Where You Can Park Your Afterthought

I came home last night to a sign on the bike room door in my apartment building. Due to construction in the parking garage (they're digging it up and putting another apartment building on top) everyone with a bike in the bike room has to move it in the next two days. They're asking us to put them in our storage lockers (each apartment comes with a 4'X8' locker in the basement).

The bike room. Not great, but not awful.
I get that this building is so old that a bike room naturally wasn't in the original plans (bikes? as transportation? in Greber-Plan-era Ottawa?), but the underlying assumption that a bike is a recreational afterthought is so built in that I keep butting my head against it. Right now the bike room I'm using is a plywood structure built over a block of three parking spaces in a corner of the garage. It doesn't have any racks, and bikes without kickstands are leaned up higgledy-piggledy wherever they fit. At the back of the room, stacks of dust-covered bikes that haven't been moved in over a year; near the door, we few regular riders jockey for position and try to avoid getting on each other's nerves.

The first "bike room." At least there were racks?
It's not perfect, but it was an improvement over what I was offered as a "bike room" when I first moved in this winter, which was a 6x10' or so concrete room in a storage locker area, which I discovered unpleasantly was locked between 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. (or whenever staff got around to locking the door). The other, larger bike room was for another building in the complex, and I couldn't get into it with my building key.

I objected, telling the landlord my bike was my main mode of transportation and it was unacceptable not to have 24-hour access to it. To their credit, the landlord sent me a key right away for the other building and said I could park in their bike room. Which was fine. I did that, and despite having to jostle with the other users it worked out. I keep two of my bikes, my repair stand, and my tools in the storage locker, and the bike I'm riding most in the bike room.

But now, that bike room is getting wiped out, and the few dozen bikes (at a guess) that are in there are going to have to go somewhere else. And the landlord suggests our lockers. They'll be leaving the locker areas open 24/7 now, because there are more security cameras, so we'll still have access to the bikes. But I still have concerns.

I'm going to guess that most of the people who have bikes in that room also store stuff in their lockers. Like, a lot of stuff, and probably too much to make it easy to get a bike in there. I planned on having my locker just be a space for extra bikes and bike gear: but lots of other people put extra possessions, bulky camping gear, spare mattresses, Christmas decorations, what have you, in a storage locker. Lockers in apartment buildings are like garages in private homes. Lots of people fill them up pretty easily.

Also, one of the bikes in the bike room is a large adult trike, and I don't think it would even fit in a locker.

And then there's accessing the lockers. Getting to mine you have to get through two large heavy doors from the garage, down a narrow hall, turn right, then right again, then left, then left again, and down to the end of the row. Then unlock the locker, wrangle the bike in, lock the locker, and head back out. Sure, it's not impossible. But it's a pain in the ass.

I want to know if this is a permanent situation: will we have parking space in the new garage? Are we just being asked to move permanently to the lockers? Has anyone even given it any thought? 

And seeing as the landlord is ripping up the whole back lawn to put in surface parking for the cars that have to move, I feel like some parking accommodation could have been thought of for bikes. A shed in the back yard, maybe? Since all we need is the space of about three parking spots, something in the large, unused, paved court next to the gym and pool building?

Like literally any of these places that are used for nothing else?
So now I get to be annoying to my landlord again, because once again they thought, at the last minute, "oh, shit, there are bikes" instead of recognizing biking as A Thing That Legitimately Exists.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Parking it in the 529 Garage

A couple of Sundays this month now, I've spent the morning down at the Sunday Bikedays on the Sir John A Macdonald Parkway, where they close the parkway to cars all morning so that people can take their bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, or feet on it. Me, though, I was there to help people register their bikes with 529 Garage.

This is a joint project between Bike Ottawa, the Ottawa Police Service, and the Ottawa Safety Council. 529 Garage itself is a non-profit that started about six years ago and is now, apparently, the biggest bike registry in the world. It launched in Ottawa in mid-May.

I first found out about this organization when Bruce Fanjoy brought it up at a Bike Ottawa board meeting (to ask if we thought we wanted to be a partner), and was blown away. You always want to look for the catch, or at least I do, but there doesn't seem to be one at all. Registry is free: Project 529 pays for itself by selling "shields" - little tamper-proof decals you can put on your bike to mark it as registered - and with subscriptions to the database paid for by cities, police services, and organizations like Bike Ottawa. The bike owner doesn't enter any personal information, nothing requiring security: an email is all, and a photo of you with the bike (if you want to include it, though, really, you should). No data mining.

You can go online to their website, or download the 529 Garage app on your phone, create an account, and register a bike in five minutes. (I was averaging between five and six minutes per bike this morning, logging people in through the Ottawa Police Service account with a tablet at our tent near Deschenes Rapids on the Ottawa River.)

Getting a photo of the serial number.
You'll want to include photos of your bike, its registration number (usually found under the bottom bracket, right underneath your pedals), any identifying details (like that sticker from a charity ride you did, or the custom basket, or unique handlebar tape, or a dent in the back fork from that time you tried to jump a culvert and failed) and the shield number if you've got a shield. Add a picture of you with the bike so people know what the owner looks like, and all that info goes into the database. You can add as many bikes to your garage as you want.

Then, if your bike gets stolen, you hit the alert button and the notification goes out to anyone who has the app in a 15 km radius, letting them know to have an eye out for the bike. If you think you see a bike that's been flagged as stolen, you can take a picture and send it in, with information about where it was. And the police have access to the database, so if the bike is recovered, they can search the system with the serial number and description, and email the owner of the bike. I have been calling it "Neighbourhood Watch for bikes."

In some cities, they've recorded staggering results. Vancouver logged a reduction in bike theft that was 30-50% depending on the part of town.

The uptake has been wild. People have heard about it, through word of mouth or social media or via the news, and they are keen to register (and to get the shields, which the Ottawa Police Service are giving away with registration for a limited time. If you want, though, you can buy one for around ten bucks at some bike shops. Also, if you're in the system, you can stop off at a couple of police stations and get a free sticker - for now. Supplies are limited).

The two Sundays I volunteered, I was there around 8:30 am, and the parkway closure goes from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. We would be flat out, three or four volunteers deep, signing people up at maybe ten minutes a person, and not have time to sit down for the whole four hours. Today, in 30-something humidex, we at least had a cooler of ice water to keep loading our own bottles from and Bruce brought chocolate chip cookies in a cooler full of ice. A steady stream of people came by, lined up, got registered, and pedaled off for four straight hours. We're well over 2500 bikes registered locally since May and managing over 100 registrations per event.

For me, it's been fun to see all the different bikes that people bring by to register, from carbon road bikes (the registration number is always easy to find on those, they're always just so clean) to forty-year-old steel frame commuters, to one lovely royal blue full-sized trike, to ebikes, to tandem bikes and trailabikes with kids on the back seats. I got to register a brand new, shining Electra Townie this morning (cream, with teal rims): the woman who'd bought it two days earlier was glowing with pride and delighted to be able to add that layer of protection.

The more people are signed on the better it works: so if you're not signed up, really, what are you waiting for?