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.