Friday, December 16, 2011

Angry Cyclist

One day last week, a rainy morning, I got on my bike to pickup my oldest from school. We were then going to ride a few blocks to watch the the younger one's Christmas Concert or Spectac. This is amazing, December in Ottawa can be hard on cyclists. Sure it was raining, but it was not freezing rain, or blowing snow. It was cool, 6 degrees or so, but it should have been 6 below (Celsius). I was riding my bike and was going to see my kids in the middle of the day, how could I not be happy?
Still in my neighbourhood waiting to turn right at a red-light, the car behind me lurched to my left and moved to make the right turn. The road was clear so I made my right ahead of the car on a fairly busy street. The car made the turn and then tried to get beside me, with his window open the driver (who I couldn't see) was yelling something at me. Well, that was it: I became that ANGRY CYCLIST!!! I yelled back and gestured wildly, and asserted my place in the lane. I wasn't going to take being yelled at or honked at by some inconsiderate driver, I was just doing what I had to to keep safe. I require respect and space, if drivers don't like it they can suck-it. When the car finally passed me (safely); I realized the inconsiderate driver was a father of my kids friends, a cyclist and all round good guy. I instantly replayed the proceeding events, without the drivers hate me template. He was trying to be friendly, not aggressive. He was going to the same place I was he just wanted to say hi. I over reacted, I was wrong. The worst of it, he apologized to me; wouldn't accept my apology and has probably forgotten about the incident by now. Me, I'm writing a blog post about it...
I can't generalize for other cyclists, but I think maybe, just maybe, it is not that drivers are out to get me. Maybe. Riding my bike makes me more happy then angry. I can be a bit tetchy and aggressive, and on the road is no different, maybe that is the problem, not aggressive drivers. Of course there are aggressive drivers out there, so it will be a challenge to change my attitude. This video should help keep me in a good mood:
Junior Cyclocross Racers 2010-2011 from 53 x 11 on Vimeo.
Ottawa's cyclocross series is great for the kids, and a ton of fun for for adults too. Hopefully next season Ottawa's Parks will be available again.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Another Coroners Report, Waiting on the Shelf

In 1998 the chief Coroner of Toronto wrote a report "Recommendations for reducing cycling injuries and death". This report detailed cyclist deaths and injuries over an 11 year period with an aim to enhance cyclist safety going forward. The report made 15 recommendations in five broad areas:
  • Better bicycle collision data collection and analysis
  • Education programs and enforcement for both motorists and cyclists
  • A review of the Highway Traffic Act sections affecting bicycles
  • Roadway engineering design improvements for bicycles
  • Investigation of design modifications for large vehicles to reduce injury severity
What happened when this report was released? Well, like most Coroners reports it looks like it was shelved. I can say for sure that in the last 15 years any review of the Highway Traffic Act has not produced any of the recommended changes. Design modifications for large vehicles to reduce injury severity? Moved forward in Europe, DOA here. It was revived as an issue in the federal Parliament by Opposition MP as a Private Members Bill, of course Private Members Bills never go anywhere in Canadian Parliament. Toronto's police may have acted upon the recommendations to improve collision data collection and analysis. Unfortunately, I can't judge as this is not open or available data. This leaves two recommendations that may have been acted upon: Education and Engineering.
Most serious cyclists know where the political effort and attention has been placed. Infrastructure, has been a political hot button. The rhetoric has been mighty, the results tepid. That leaves Education as the only area that may have been addressed. For cyclists the city of Toronto offers a large selection of Can-Bike courses. Online videos and tips, as well as other resources. Nothing for other road users...
Still the call is to educate cyclists before other road users, instead of other road improvements. Proven strategies are ignored and fantasies are indulged.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cycling Education. Who could be against that?

Recently the Office of the Chief Coroner set about to conduct a review of cycling deaths across the province. This was in response to the deaths of two young women in the space of a couple of weeks. These deaths and a spat of other incidents, aroused public concern over the safety of cyclists. Corner's reports are long processes and the report will not be released before spring 2012, so I can't really talk to the report. Although, the Chief Coroner did allow for public input as part of the review and that has sparked a reoccurring debate in the cycling community; Infrastructure vs. Education.
The Education Activists are an interesting bunch, they don't like being called activists. They usually portray themselves as "Responsible Cyclists". They are scandalized by the behaviour of cyclists they see every day (or think they see) they know that cyclist safety is suffering because of this poor behaviour. They think Infrastructure Activists are irresponsible for advocating for policies that will attract more people to cycling. These new cyclists will, by definition, be "poorly trained and unskilled", and inevitably the victim of some horrible tragedy as they transition from protected cycle-track to regular streets. The solution to these problems is Cycling Education and if the there is no money left over for infrastructure, so much the better. Of course this is nonsense. Cycling fatalities and injuries have been on a bumpy downward trend for nearly 20 years. This is at the same time that cycling is increasing, so these poorly trained and unskilled (new) cyclists are not being killed off in number. Adult returning cyclists are most often licensed drivers, who should know the rules of the road. Convincing large numbers of them to take a Can-Bike course, devoting an entire weekend (or several) to being lectured about “cyclist inferiority complex”. Well, lets just say I wouldn't want that marketing job. Ah, what about the children? Surely there is value for Cycling Education in the schools? After all "cycling education has entirely disappeared from the public education system". Maybe, but probably not. This is a bit of a good news/bad news story. School age children are not being killed on bikes. This is most likely because school age children are not riding bikes. At least not to school, shops or even friends houses. I'm a parent of two elementary school kids, the bike racks are mighty bare. Besides, traffic safety is taught. Kindergartners know stop-signs, and red-lights.  They know to look both ways before crossing the road. Every year they get a school-bus safety refresher. These kids know safe, a specific cycling program, while maybe nice, is not necessary. 
Let's be clear calls for Cycling Education as a safety program, are really calls to not spend money on other programs or infrastructure. They ignore the real dangers of our streets and the real actions that can make cycling safer objectively and subjectively. Calls for Cycling Education are obstructionist strategies, and should be seen as such.
*Update 2011-12-16*
Kathleen Wilker's blog FamiliesonBikes has some relevant information on this issue. The City of Ottawa offers Can-Bike courses through City Wide Sports a division of Ottawa's Parks, Recreation and Culture Department. Not only is the city already delivering cycling education, they piloted a program that offered free cycling education to Ottawa schools: "All told, 2000 kids received some kind of free bike education at their schools in Ottawa last spring". Further according to Kathleen's blog Gord MacGregor, who leads the program is planning to expand the schools cycling education program for next spring. 
So the Cycling Education is there. Will this make the "Responsible Cyclists" happy? Probably not, and that is sad.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ahh, Those Were the Days...

In the wake of two high profile cycling fatalities Ontario's Chief Coroners is conducting a review of cycling fatalities. As part of the process submissions from the public were solicited, the deadline for submission was November 30th. A couple of local Ottawa groups crafted submissions which were profiled on a local cycling blog CitizenCycle.
It is the comments on The RCC's submission that got me feeling uncharacteristically nostalgic. Here part of a comment by Avery B.:
"Cycling used to be a healthy enjoyable pastime and, for a tiny few, a means to get to work or school. Unfortunately it has been hijacked by various urban movements, whose political goals have little to do with safe cycling and more to do with alternate European inspired lifestyles".
How to react to such a comment? Cycling used to be? Here we are in the midst of a prolonged and hopefully sustained cycling boom and Avery B. is nostalgic for a time when nobody cycled. Inconceivable. I find Avery's comment sad on a number of levels, mostly though because it runs completely counter to my experience. Cycling way back when was not something a tiny few used to get to work or school, while not grade school, any way. Cycling in the 70's and early 80's was a kids activity, many kids would ride their bikes to school. It was normal for elementary school kids to ride to school unattended, across and on busy streets. Commute by bike? Only if you were once or still an Olympic hopeful.
Now, the situation has completely reversed. Cycle commuting is booming, but kids can't cycle a few blocks to school. The irony is cycling is objectively safer now compared to way back when, but I still won't be letting my daughter cycle to school on her own. Cycling is still a healthy enjoyable pastime, it has not been hijacked by any movements or alternate European inspired lifestyles. Cycling is enjoying a boom because it is enjoyable and useful. hopefully we can make it even safer and get our children cycling again.

Friday, December 2, 2011

An Introduction

I'm an Ottawa resident and cyclist. I have to admit I'm not a particularly good writer, hopefully I will be slightly entertaining and maybe even informative. In this blog I will be focusing on cycling (of course), for sport and recreation in Ottawa. I will also be occasionally be writing about cycling safety, both general safety and issues specific to Ottawa. I hope I am able to craft some entertaining posts, I look forward to some feedback.