Cyclist's revenge

My daily commute is normally quite uneventful, with the only excitement coming from sights along the way. But today was different, with two close encounters on the way home.

First up was a Buick-driving bozo who leaned on his horn, gave me the finger, yelled something out his window, and zoomed around me a little too close, apparently taking offense at the mere presence of a cyclist on the road. His road. I’d tell you what he yelled, but I couldn’t hear him. When will drivers figure out that cyclists can’t hear them yelling over the gunning engine and blaring horn as they zoom angrily past? Whatever, dude. I’m sure it was a finely-argued point of law. As long as it makes you feel better and you don’t run me over in your blind rage.

Next up was a guy in a delivery van, who leaned out his window at a red light to ask whether I planned to continue to ride in the middle of the lane or would get out of his way and ride up against the curb like cyclists have to. I replied that I’d continue to ride in the middle of the lane because it wasn’t wide enough for both my bike and his van and I wanted to make it clear that he had to move into the next lane to pass safely.

He then went on to make the typical claims: motor vehicles have precedence over bikes, cyclists have to move out of the way, and that his “road taxes” pay for the road. I countered with the usual rebuttals: I can take the lane if it’s unsafe to share it and there is no such thing as a “road tax” that only motorists pay. He was neither happy nor in agreement and finished up with a smirking, “Pisses you off, don’t it?” as the light turned green. It ended, as do most of these encounters, with neither person making a positive impression on the other and two cases of elevated blood pressure.

In fairness, he was semi-polite (if a little loud and completely wrong) and he did swing out into the next lane to pass. That would have been that but for his fatal mistake: he was driving a clearly-marked delivery van from a local retail establishment not more than a five-minute bike ride from my house. It took me all of two seconds to resolve to take my cyclist’s revenge: going to his workplace to continue the conversation.

He and the truck were nowhere to be found when I got there five minutes later, so I asked for the manager instead. I explained my tale of woe, told him how poorly it reflected on his business, and gave him the identifying information I had. He agreed that the driver was wrong and that he’d have a talk with him when he returned to the store. The manager of this store was much more helpful than acting store manager Andy at the place down the street.

I was outside unlocking my bike when I saw the truck pulling up to the back of the building. “We meet again!” I exclaimed gleefully as I pulled up. The driver climbed out of the van and turned into a normal person as he shed two tonnes of metal and glass. Suddenly, he was willing to converse, not just yell. To listen, not just get angry. And we actually had a civil conversation about bikes, roads, the Highway Traffic Act, and “road taxes.” The store manager joined us too, and together we educated the driver on several topics:

  • Cyclists are not second-class citizens to drivers.
  • Cyclists are allowed to take the entire lane.
  • Cyclists are allowed to make left turns from the left turn lane.
  • For most traffic purposes, the HTA makes no distinction between “vehicles” and “motor vehicles.”
  • His driving a truck that can kill a cyclist with one wrong move means that it’s incumbent on him to drive safely, not on me to get off the road.
  • The privilege of using the road doesn’t flow from paying taxes.
  • Just because I’m riding a bike right now doesn’t mean that I don’t have a car or pay “road taxes.”

At the end of our 10-minute conversation, the driver seemed genuinely repentant and vowed to treat cyclists with more respect. And that was the best revenge: successfully converting a road-raging truck driver with reason and conversation, rather than merely exchanging shouts and fingers as we passed on the road.

I’ve always wanted to ask road ragers, “Are you an asshole in real life, or just behind the wheel?” Now I know the answer.

But the real kicker of this story: the delivery truck driver is a cyclist who rides to work every day! No kidding. I couldn’t believe it.

Update, July 3: We met again, again.

Best (& worst) cycling hill in Toronto

The best cycling hill in the city

This twisty menace on Twyn Rivers Drive just east of Sheppard in Scarborough is the best hill in town to ride down. It drops about 33 vertical metres over a short 240 metre run, shooting cyclists out the bottom at close to 70 km/h if they can get around the first two turns without riding the brakes. You can’t get much more fun than that.

The worst cycling hill in the city

On the other hand, this twisty menace on Twyn Rivers Drive just east of Sheppard in Scarborough is the worst hill in town to ride up. It rises about 33 vertical metres over a short 240 metre run, sapping cyclists’ will to live as soon as they see that it gets even steeper around the first bend. Yes, the road really does seem to go almost vertical as you approach it. You can’t get much worse than that.

Another fun hill in the area is the one climbing out of the Rouge Valley on the Pickering side of Twyn Rivers Drive. It’s a lot longer and not nearly as steep, so it provides a more sustained thrill going down and a much easier ride going up.

The Bike Train is coming

Tickets are finally available for the Bike Train between Toronto and Niagara Falls this summer. If you’ve ever wanted to cycle around the Niagara region without taking the car (or riding your bike all the way there and back), you’ll have your chance when the Bike Train launches its inaugural season in about six weeks.

The schedule has been scaled back since the initial announcement, with service running only four weekends starting in late July and through August. Curiously, neither of the two Mondays with service falls on a long weekend.

I hope that enough people use the Bike Train to encourage a return engagement next year. With enough support, services like this could become a regular feature every summer.

If all goes according to plan, I’ll be making two trips on the Bike Train myself — once with Risa to tootle around Niagara Falls for the day, and once by myself so that I can cycle back to Toronto.

Silly cycling restrictions: Don't ride down the hill

The City’s web page for E.T. Seton Park claims that, “cyclists can enter E. T. Seton Park from […] Don Mills Road behind the Ontario Science Centre.” If only this were true. Oh sure, there’s a roadway from Don Mills Road down to the park, but there are no bikes allowed on this hill:

No bikes allowed into the park

You can drive a car here, or a truck, or even a bus — it’s the roadway to the Science Centre’s main receiving area and employee parking lot, with an entrance to E.T. Seton Park at the bottom. But don’t you dare think about cycling or skating into the park. Even the official park sign a little further up the hill omits cyclists from the list of welcome visitors:

Cyclists need not apply

How silly. This must be what happens when you let lawyers get involved in a matter as simple as entering a park. While I’ve seen a few people walking their bikes up this hill, I’ve never seen anyone walk their bikes down. It’s not even a particularly steep descent, as roads into the Valley go.

This is not a new restriction. I remember the cycling prohibition on this hill from at least the early 90s. It’s from a different era, when cyclists were regarded as fragile nuisances to be inconvenienced and shunned at every turn. While this view is still held in some corners, much of the world has moved on. Few are the hills that still carry warnings for cyclists to dismount lest they travel too fast and lose control of their bikes, endangering themselves and offending the tender sensibilities of any nearby drivers.

Ward 29 Environment Day

Today was the Community Environment Day in Ward 29, brought to you by Councillor Case Ootes. It’s the first time I’ve been to the event in this ward, having lived in neighbouring Ward 31 until a couple of years ago.

I wanted to make a point to Councillor Ootes, so decided to take my load consisting of several old cans of paint, a number of expired batteries, a dozen ink jet cartridges, an old cell phone, and a bucket of used syringes (courtesy of my diabetic cat) to the event by bike. This would be especially easy for me since the drop-off point was directly accessible from Ootes’s pet project, the Cosburn Ave bike lanes. My decision was also helped by the fact that Risa was out with the car today.

I planned to drop off my stuff and then track down Ootes to get the typical “smiling politician” picture of him with my bike.

So I loaded up my trusty BOB Yak trailer and set out.

My BOB Yak loaded and ready to go

I arrived at the Environment Day drop-off about 10 minutes later, and several cheerful employees helped me unload all of my goods. I then set out to look for Case Ootes, but couldn’t find him. No one I asked had seen him either. If he’d been there at all, it was probably just long enough for a photo op.

So much for my plan. And so much for the picture of Ootes propping up my bike that was supposed to accompany this blog entry.

Was it unreasonable to expect to see him there? Do other councillors attend (and stay at) their Environment Days to schmooze with their constituents? I guess I was spoiled by my attendance at Janet Davis‘s Community Environment Day in Ward 31 in previous years. Not only was she there, but she also had live music and other amusements to create a friendly atmosphere. No such luck in Ward 29, unless you count the Tim Horton’s tent and the free hot dogs (sold out by the time I got there at noon).

Bike lane ticket

At the end of a post a few weeks ago, Torontoist’s Marc Lostracco unveiled a flyer (PDF) for cyclists to stick under the windshield wipers of cars parked in bike lanes.

Not to be outdone, Spacing’s Matt Blackett released a poster he’d designed last year, chiding motorists for the same offence.

The notice (PDF) available on doesn’t have a specific option for drivers that park in the bike lane, but I like it anyway.

All of this reminded me that I’d picked up a fistful of these double-sided “tickets” outside the Cycling Committee office at the East York Civic Centre last year.

A parking ticket for bike lane offences

I keep meaning to ticket some bike lane parkers — especially along Queens Quay, where I rarely ride the 200 metres from Bathurst to Stadium without having to dodge at least one parked car — but always forget to put a few of these in my gear bag before I leave home.

Some variation of these tickets has been around since at least the summer of 1996, when they were mentioned in the July/August 1996 Cyclometer. I assume that some are still available at the East York Civic Centre, and probably at other locations as well.

Bike lane on Steeles

A bike lane appears on Steeles Ave. East

One of Toronto’s odder bits of cycling infrastructure sits in the very northeastern corner of the city. With farms lining both sides of the relatively sleepy four-lane Steeles Avenue, the pavement widens and a bike lane takes up residence on the shoulder. Starting just west of Beare Road in Scarborough, the lane runs less than a kilometre east to the Scarborough-Pickering boundary before ending as abruptly as it began.

I didn’t even realize until I consulted the bike map after I got home that this little stub of a lane was even connected to any part of the bikeway network. It seems that there’s a signed route running down Beare Road from Steeles that I didn’t notice when I passed. I wonder how many people actually ride in this lane. I suppose there may be a few commuters and some weekend riders out to explore this underappreciated corner of the city, but the lane would make much more sense if it extended a few kilometres west.

Toronto’s Bike Plan (PDF, page 5) indicates that this abbreviated lane will meet up with the Steeles bike lanes at Markham Road in the future, eventually extending as far as Pharmacy. Markham proposes (PDF) two bike lanes that would connect to this section from the north. I can’t find anything about proposed bike lanes in Pickering.

I’m happy to see bike lanes on any stretch of road and these ones do provide a somewhat tenuous cycling link to Whittamore’s Farm, but they seem quite out of place at the moment.

Ghosts of the Martin Goodman Trail

The forgotten Martin Goodman Trail in the shadow of the Gardiner Expressway

I rediscovered the mostly-forgotten northern portion of the Martin Goodman Trail quite by accident last summer. I was stuck in a surprise downpour while riding along Queens Quay and scooted up to Lake Shore to hide under the Gardiner for a few minutes. And there they were, the familiar blue and green lines marking the original alignment of the Martin Goodman Trail.

I rode along and was quite surprised at how much of the original trail remained despite more than 15 years of encroachment by condo projects and neglect by the city. I was able to ride from York Street to Stadium Road without interruption, even though one section of the trail has been co-opted for a condo building’s back lawn.

The forgotten Martin Goodman Trail runs into a condo's back lawn near Spadina

I started cycling this portion of the trail regularly again this spring and met with another surprise: riding along here can be a lot faster and easier on the nerves than riding along Queens Quay. Not only is there less traffic to contend with, but the traffic lights usually favour traffic along Lake Shore rather than the intersecting streets. As a result, you can frequently zip from York Street to Stadium Road with only one or two brief stops for cross traffic. No more stopping for red lights at every driveway and parking lot along the way.

Old-timers like me will remember that the downtown section of the trail was always a bit of a puzzle. The original westbound alignment had you crossing from the south side of Queen’s Quay near Sherbourne to the north side, continuing along the north side to York Street, sometimes on the road, sometimes on a marked section of the sidewalk. You turned north on York and continued riding beside Lake Shore Boulevard all the way past the pre-loft Tip Top Tailors building and HMCS York driveway before swooping into Coronation Park.

Going east, cyclists were expected to ride on the north side of Queens Quay until Sherbourne, and then cross back to the south side before picking up the off-road portion of the trail again.

The various north-south transitions were so poorly designed with zero traffic control that most cyclists eventually ignored them completely and rode straight along Queens Quay for the entire distance.

The city eventually acknowledged reality and redesigned both ends of this stretch. The eastern portion of Queens Quay got proper directional bike lanes along each side of the street between Parliament and Yonge, and the western end got bike lanes from Spadina to Stadium Road and a direct connection behind the Tip Top building to the off-road trail.

With the extremities fixed, the middle seemed to fade bit by bit. The trail on the north side of Queens Quay east of York was repaved at some point and the distinctive blue and green trail markings were left off. Signs pointing to the continuation of the trail a block north disappeared. The trail beside Lake Shore was degraded one section at a time by adjacent construction. Eventually, memories faded with the paint and the trail just seemed to stop at Yonge and resume again at Spadina, with nothing but a stressful ride along Queens Quay in between.

The original alignment was never beautiful and was only barely functional. Sadly, it was and remains better than the current alternative. The upcoming Queens Quay redesign (previewed as Quay to the City last summer) should go a long way toward finally fixing this section of our waterfront trail.

BikeShare redux: De Baeremaeker urges spending money

One day after claiming that the city couldn’t find $80,000 to fund BikeShare, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker has suddenly found religion and is urging the city to spend over $17 million buying land in Scarborough. I now understand the problem with the BikeShare funding: the amount required simply wasn’t large enough. I mean, why dole out a few thousand dollars here and there when you can just blow it all on one big purchase? Makes perfect sense. Cuts down on administrative costs. You’ve got to spend money to save money.

Yes, I know that the land purchase and ongoing BikeShare funding are two completely different kinds of expenditures and it’s unfair to compare them. In fact, I think that the proposed Scarborough purchase would be a worthy expenditure and I support it. But the juxtaposition of the same councillor insisting that we’re too broke to afford an $80,000 program one day, and wanting to spend $17 million the next was just too juicy to ignore.


The Star reports today that after months of “shak[ing] the bushes and look[ing] under rocks,” councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker claims that the city has been unable to come up with a mere $80,000 to fund BikeShare so that it could continue to operate this year.

BikeShare is one of those community services that not only deserves to be funded, but that should be grown to ubiquity so that it becomes truly useful. Since our esteemed city council can’t find the money, allow me to offer up some bushes and rocks that De Baeremaeker may not have considered:

  • Claw back Rob Ford’s unused $53,100 office budget, Mayor Miller’s $12,000 raise for 2007, and the $8000 raises for Case Ootes and Doug Holyday. ($81,100)
  • Add four cents per person to the city’s tax bills. ($100,000)
  • Eliminate the free parking for councillors at City Hall and dedicate the new revenue to BikeShare. (At a guess – $20,000)
  • Since most concillors don’t use them, get rid of their free Metropasses. ($50,000)
  • Eliminate catered dinners at council meetings. ($20,000)

There you go, Glenn. Three minutes and I’ve shaken up over $250,000. You can not only fund BikeShare, but a few other worthy causes too. What’s your excuse now?

This issue is indicative of the malaise that infects Toronto council. Councillors sees nothing wrong with voting themselves raises because they make less than Mississauga councillors, catering themselves dinner because they have to work late, giving themselves free parking because they have to drive to work, handing themselves free Metropasses to encourage them not to drive to work, and on it goes.

While I don’t deny that councillors on the whole have a pretty thankless job that requires long hours, I don’t think they quite understand that many people are in the same situation, but don’t have the ability to simply award themselves perks. I can’t just give myself a raise because my next-door neighbour is making more money than me. If I’m working late, I run out to a restaurant and buy my own meal. If I have to drive to work, I feed the parking meter with my own coin. If I choose to take the TTC instead, I buy my own pass. And on it goes.

Toronto councillors preside over an $8 billion budget, yet can’t find a mere $80,000 in spare change. That’s the equivalent of someone who makes $80,000 a year not being able to find a loonie. It’s one thing to say that you don’t want to part with that dollar, and quite another to say that you don’t have that dollar. Geez pal, suck it up. Drink a coffee at home just one day a year instead of buying it at Tim Hortons, and there’s your buck right there. It’s not rocket science.

If this city is in such dire straits that accidentally dropping a loonie on the street will cause financial ruin, then councillors have no right to give themselves any perks or raises.

BikeShare is exactly the kind of program that Toronto must pay for if Mayor Miller is serious about making Toronto North America’s greenest city. If it’s to be taken seriously at all, Toronto council must find that loonie and fund BikeShare. And that’s just a start.