Monday, August 10, 2020

Great Cycle Challenge 2020: Plot twist!

I've been doing the Great Cycle Challenge again this year, to raise funds to fight pediatric cancer. This is my third year, and every year I've kind of been raising the stakes. First time around I aimed for 750 km ridden in a month. That turned out not to be too tough, so last year I aimed for 800 and ended up beating that too. So this year, sure, I set my goal at 1,000 km. 

It had apparently slipped my mind when I set my goal that there is a pandemic and I'm not bookending my work day with a 10- to 12-km ride every day. I posted my fundraising page on social media, and people started responding with variations on "A THOUSAND kilometres? Wow, good luck!" and only then did I do the math. 

Thirty-three km a day. I'm not the speediest, so that's about two hours per day on average.

Hoo boy. 

But I was doing okay. August kicked off with a long weekend, and I got some 40- and 50-kilometre rides in right off the bat to try and front-load my mileage. And with a few long evening rides (including one 30-km push on the way home from friends' at midnight) I had made it, by August 7, to 250 kilometres. A quarter of the way in the first week, so I was on track. 

Then, on Saturday, August 8, I was riding toward Britannia Beach when I ducked off the path onto the Mud Lake trails, just for some variety. I wound up behind a family who were walking the trail and stopped: they noticed me and stepped aside so I could go by. I said thanks, stepped on the pedal, and there was a crack and the chain spun uselessly. Broken pawl in the cassette. 

I have had this happen before, so I knew what it was. I waved off the helpful family, who couldn't help me, stopped my Strava, and walked the bike despondently to Britannia Beach. A friend came to save me with her van, and got me and the bike home. 

The kilometres I still have to ride are slowly gathering. 

McCrank's doorway - shop full of bikes and bike parts
Luckily, McCrank's is open on Sundays and is a delightful shop. I gave them a call the moment they opened Sunday morning, and brought the wheel down to have a look. 

Angie pulled the hub out, and tried heroic measures to get one of the parts they still had around the shop to work, since there's a real run on bike parts right now (who would have expected a global pandemic to be so good for bike shops? Apocalypse movies without bikes in them are now outside my suspension of disbelief.). 

She couldn't get any of the bits in the shop to work, so I did have to order a new wheel. But, wonder of wonders, there was one available at fairly short notice: it's due in tomorrow, so I'm still in the game! (I did also have offers of spare bikes from a couple of friends. And I would have had a second bike to use if my Trek hadn't been stolen a couple of weeks back, alas.)

Also, have to say that McCrank's is technically closed on Tuesdays, but Angie said she'd give me a call anyway to come get the wheel. All hail the small bike shop!

I see this as Stage Two in the four-stage story structure. This is the Upping the Stakes section, where we smash cut from the montage of our protagonist working away at the challenge to the moment where something Goes Wrong. Cue the "dun dun DUNNN!" sound effect. 

(You can support my ride by donating on my page, or by offering moral support over on social media.) 

Friday, June 12, 2020

A . . . win? Sorta?

Way back in the Before Time, when there were Other People and I got to ride my bike every day to a magical place called An Off Iss, an article appeared on CTV News about an unsafe pass of a cyclist by an OC Transpo bus. And there was a reply that still, to this day, unnerves me.

That word "vermin" was chilling. I've heard it all in the comment section but "vermin" is some murderous shit. I wasn't the only one to notice it, and there was a quick flurry of conversation among a bunch of Ottawa bikers. I went to the guy's profile to report him (in vain, I knew) to Twitter, and as I scrolled through it I started to get really disturbed. This guy was a bus driver. And he really, really hated cyclists. 

I'll spare you the rest of it, but he hated transit riders, too, as well as the police, the City, his coworkers, his management, women, minorities and immigrants. His timeline was sickening. I started grabbing screenshots and when I'd gone back far enough I had to get up and walk away from my computer to compose myself before I came back to file a report with OC Transpo. The rage and hate and contempt oozing from this account was scary. I honestly believed I was looking at someone who could turn violent. I pray he is single. 

I filed the report, and didn't hear back. But I couldn't forget about this guy. Almost every time I'm near a bus, now, I can't help wondering if he's the driver. On Twitter, a number of people I know can refer to "that psycho" and we know who we're talking about. 

And he's one of a number of toxic, anonymous accounts run by City employees that target and harass advocates for pedestrian, cycling and transit rights. Some of them switch between sock puppets, and their harassment has caused a few people to lock or protect their accounts, or shut them down altogether. 

Anyway, nothing happened for a couple of months. And then I saw someone post on Twitter to complain to OC Transpo about a driver who had nearly hit them while they were waiting on a street corner. Drove right at him, could see him, didn't apparently care. And I remembered, as I do once every couple of weeks or so, about "the vermin guy." So I posted in response to remind them that I never heard back.

I was kind of amazed to get an email back the next day, and not just that, an email from a real person, a supervisor, who had clearly seen the tweets and looked me up in the system by name to find my report and contact information. He thanked me for flagging this again, and said he'd been looking into my complaint from March. He agreed that the user's comments were disturbing, "and does not represent the views or attitudes we seek out in employees (to put it mildly)." 

He added, "I can tell that this complaint was investigated back in March when it was made. However, I don’t have specific details around the resolution. I hope it’s obvious that we take this type of language very seriously. I wonder if we may have had some trouble identifying the user."

He asked if I had any other information about the guy that might help. So I went back out to the Twitterverse, remembering that others had found some possible alternate accounts for him, and put the call out. Pulled together what I could. Someone else had collected screenshots of a number of troll accounts that had been harassing people, a couple of which might have been him; another person sent me a letter he'd written to his councillor about it. I pooled it all up and sent it back, with sincere thanks for taking it seriously at last. 

Even if we can't find this particular guy, I hope there's some small step toward fixing the culture (or subculture) at OC Transpo that has produced these angry, vicious trolls. They've driven people off their accounts, they've harassed citizen transit commissioners and advocates and councillors, and they're increasing the volume of the online hate against all of us not in cars. 

Getting a real person, who had clearly seen my post and gone looking for my report, and been disturbed by what he saw, was also hugely heartening. So often you get form letters back: "Thank you for your feedback, we will investigate." This was a human being, who wrote like a human being, and even that much felt like a win. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Just take the lane assertively, right?

A moment from my ride to work this morning:

I have to take Prince of Wales - a pretty high volume parkway - for a couple of blocks on my way to work in the winter. The rest of the year, there's a painted bike lane which transitions to a separated cycle track ahead of a protected intersection, which I can use to turn left onto Dynes Road. But in the winter, the painted bike lane is buried, the cycletrack and protected intersection aren't cleared, and so here's what I have to do:

Turn right using the slip lane from Hog's Back. Merge with traffic in the right hand lane. Usually not terrible, because the right hand lane vanishes, merging with the inside lane, after a block or so, so the drivers don't use it as much. I have to take the lane even at the start of this, though, while there's still half a painted bike lane, because of the pinch point further down.

Then I have to merge left into the inside lane for 100 m or so, so that I can get to the dedicated left turn lane that allows me to turn onto Dynes Road.

So this morning, I did that. I had the green light so I could easily establish my position in the outside lane coming off of Hogs Back, but then a long line of cars started going by in the inside lane. So I stuck my arm out as I started getting close to the merge point, signalling that I needed to move left. I shoulder checked. That white sedan wasn't slowing, so I let it pass, but I was really running out of lane, so I stuck my arm out more emphatically and waggled the hand to get attention, while shoulder checking. There was a bit of a gap before the School Transport van behind me, so I signaled hard and started my merge. The driver of the van just kept coming, clearly not about to give me any room, and I realized if I did continue changing lanes he'd probably hit me. So I swerved back out of the lane and yelled a couple of profanities as he passed, shoulder checked again, signaled again, saw the driver behind me leave a gap, and took the lane just in time.

Passing the school transport driver on the left, once I was in the left turn lane, I slowed up to look through the driver's side window at him, stick my arm out, and yell, "This! Is! A! Left! Signal!" at him.

People who bang on about Vehicular Cycling will tell you to do exactly what I did here. Taking the middle of the lane; no stopping at the side of the road to wait for the traffic to all go by; no sticking to the right hand side of the road and then using the pedestrian crosswalk to make the left; clear - nay, assertive - signaling; and shoulder checking. And in this situation this is what I have to do, because the City doesn't clear the cycling infrastructure, forcing me to ride in the street among cars on a high volume, four-lane parkway.

And in this situation it still doesn't help. Either my left turn signal meant nothing to the drivers traveling in the inside lane, or it did and they still didn't care. It does no good to ride assertively if the driver behind you in the large, heavy, fast-moving vehicle doesn't recognize or respect your right to do so.

So I'm going to keep arguing for that protected intersection to be cleared, and for there to be more separate space for people on bikes in general. Because dammit, we are not motor vehicles, and we don't get treated as though we are.