Tuesday 15 October 2013

No big theme today, just some miscellaneous observations from the last few months on the road. I thought I would do a cheers and jeers, just for fun.


1. To the City of Toronto road works guys and gals for being diligent about what they do. First off, they are plugging holes in the road that make my life difficult. A particularly deep hole around a sewer grate just North of Wilson on Keele (my regular commute route) was filled in recently, and has made my ride significantly safer. Many cyclists trumpet new cycling infrastructure, but I’m just as happy when a regular route is paved and holes are fixed. Bumpy roads with holes force me out into traffic, always a bad thing (you should control when you enter traffic, not the road), so maintenance and repair are key.

2. And again to the City of Toronto road works guys and gals for being decent about what they do. Here I have in mind things like where you put your traffic cones around road work. If you locate them past the lane boundary line and into the next lane over this squeezes the cars and forces me to have my ass hanging out into traffic. If they place the cones just outside of the dividing line (inside the lane where construction is done) that gives me a de-facto bike lane, and makes things considerably safer. The crew working the road improvements from Lawrence and Keelt to the South side of the 401 did a great job, leaving me enough room. In addition, they created a space between the lanes going straight North and branching off to enter the 401 that I can use to negotiate the transition as cars pull off to the on ramp.

3. Several weeks ago going North on Keele I had a truck come up beside me that had a rake sticking out of the back and coming dangerously close to my head as the truck went by. It ends up it was a City of Toronto Parks vehicle, and it had various pieces of gardening equipment in the back. Things had pretty clearly shifted while they drove. I caught up to the truck at a light further up and I cycled up to the passenger side window, got the attention of one of the two men inside, and mentioned the rake to them. One of them saw it, jumped out and fixed the problem, and apologized to me. I cycled up ahead and as it happens found myself at an intersection further up when the truck pulled up again beside me. This time the passenger spoke up and thanked me for waiting for the red light, as he had seen so many cyclists blow through them. The longer I ride the more I come to value interactions like this. Not angry confrontations or challenges, but respectful exchanges between road users that improve safety and accentuate the positive.

4. They are installing a contra-flow bike lane on Shaw. Finally. For years Toronto cyclists have been cycling the wrong way on Shaw, and thanks to parking rules (cars are parked on the East side of the street) when you come to Shaw from a side street going West you cannot see the bikes coming from the South. They are practically invisible. Combined with the sheer volume of cycle traffic going the wrong way this made Shaw a dangerous road for motorists and cyclists. I am firmly against cycling the wrong way on a one way street. But adding a contra-flow bike lane will legitimate what is being done, and highlight where cyclists are supposed to be, which is good for cyclists and good for motorists. Good job!

1. I am often asked for soundbite advice I could give to drivers to improve the safety of cyclists. My #1 piece of advice is this: signal! For the most part my goal on the road is to get out of the way of the motorists to let them pass me. I don’t want to have someone stuck behind my slow moving vehicle and “riding” my back wheel. There is nothing more disconcerting than a car driving very close to your rear wheel. So I really like it when cars signal in advance so I can see what they are doing and react appropriately. What I find particularly irritating is cars that pull up to a red light and wait there with no signal on. Then when the light changes to green they put on their right hand turn signal and make a turn. It’s so frustrating, they save the turn indication to the last possible second, even though they have been “parked” at the red light for a good amount of time. If you signal when you are behind me I can switch lanes to let you by. If you want to make a right turn up ahead of me and you put on your signal I will generally switch to the left lane and wave you through. If you have your signal on at an intersection I will go around you to the left and let you make the right turn without complications.

Signal, it’s the law, and it helps me immensely.

2. Don’t wait for me. I can’t tell you the number of times I have approached an intersection, arrived well after someone coming in the opposite direction, so they very clearly have the right of way. They often have their left turn signal on so they will be crossing my path. However, as soon as they see me coming they stop and won’t do anything until I go forward, even though they have right of way. I think many drivers have been burned so many times by cyclists blowing red lights that they just want to let them through before going further. However, when they do this, I never know what to do, as sometimes they will change their minds and decide to go ahead with the turn anyway. Once they deviate from traffic rules everything is tossed up in the air.

Obey the law, drive when and where you are supposed to, don’t prejudge my actions as a cyclist based on what others have done.

3. Don’t honk unless you are about to hit me. Motorists love to honk at cyclists, to “let us know” they are there. That’s a decent sentiment, but motorists don’t “hear” car horns the same way cyclists do. When I hear a car horn when I’m on a bike I don’t hear, “Hey, I’m coming, stay where you are”, I hear “YOU ARE ABOUT TO DIE! MOVE!”.  A car horn at close proximity doesn’t produce as much of a reaction as it used to, but it still makes me jump in the saddle and immediately look around to see if I’m about to be run over. If you are insistent on honking to let me know you are around please do so when you are NOT close to me. A distant honk will make me check my mirrors or shoulder check to get a bead on where you are, without making me jump out of my saddle.

4. Observe basic cycling etiquette, and wait for room to pass on bike paths. When I’m riding downtown (say on the Harbord bike lane, or on College), faster moving bikes constantly pass me. I have no problem with that, and I ride to the right of the path to ensure that there is as much room to pass me as possible. However, parked cars also  push me out to the far side of the path sometimes, as I want to avoid the possibility of a door prize. But even when I’m to the far right of the path, I have been crowded out and forced even further aside by faster cyclists hogging the path. Use some common sense, if you are blowing up the bike path super fast and see riders ahead of you, ring your bell so they know you are coming up. As soon as I hear a bell I will check my mirror and my position. Also consider riding in traffic if you want to go that fast. It may not be possible in all cases, but if you want to travel that close to traffic speed (and downtown this is possible) then by all means join the cars. The flip side of this is that tandem riding in busy bike lanes is inconsiderate. If there is heavy bike traffic there will always be those who want to go faster, so tandem riding is just inviting crazy maneuvers like whipping in between two riders on the path rather than going around them.

That’s it for today.



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