Pharmacy bike lanes gone but not forgotten

The bike lane was removed from Pharmacy Ave last month. As someone who rides regularly along Pharmacy as an alternative to Warden and Victoria Park, I think the city, driven by the misguided local councillor Michelle Berardinetti, made a big mistake taking it out. But what’s even worse than taking out the lane is the way that they did it. Before the bike lane was originally put in, Pharmacy was four lanes wide. When the bike lanes were painted, Pharmacy went from four lanes to…four lanes: two bike lanes and two vehicular lanes. The reconfiguration also allowed painting of a centre median and the creation of left-turn lanes at every intersection. So in places, there were actually five lanes.

When the city took out the bike lanes, it would have made sense to configure the street as it had been originally, with four traffic lanes and no turn lanes. Instead, they simply erased the bike markings, retained the centre striping, and reduced Pharmacy to a single lane in each direction. The current configuration has absolutely zero benefit to anyone over the configuration with bike lanes.

Confused, I emailed Councillor Berardinetti earlier this week to ask whether the road would be restored to four lanes or left as-is, and this was her reply:

Operation crews promised that the full restorative work would be complete by the end of this month. However, given the colder November nights and shortage of equipment, city staff are indicating that the work will now only be complete at the onset of spring.

Having said all that, we are all glad [Ed. note: actually, “we all” are not glad] that the lanes are going back to their original state but if the work could not be done at a single time, then they would have been better off leaving everything as was until the spring.

So the lanes were removed this fall for, really, no reason whatsoever.

In a followup email, I asked the councillor if she could recommend an alternative north-south cycling route to access the businesses on and around Eglinton. No answer yet. If she (or a staffer) took the time to look at a map to try to answer my question, she’d have seen that there is no such beast.

One less car here, one more car there

“(But) we need to change the direction the past has taken us in and go in the direction we need to go, which is less car.”

[Emphasis added.]

So sez Councillor John Parker, quoted in this week’s East York Mirror, positively glowing about a North York Community Council decision to deny a gas station redevelopment in Thorncliffe because it included a doughnut store drive-through. The same article also quotes/paraphrases Parker saying:

“But I don’t support this application. It is the best thinking of 1950s futurism” that envisioned everyone living in highrises and reliant on cars.

Wow. That’s the sound of a councillor clearly coming out against car dependence as a basis for planning. Unfortunately, this is the same Councillor John Parker who  just last week made a surprise motion to eliminate the Jarvis Street bike lanes without any real reason, but presumably just because he (or whichever of his City Hall bosses handed him the motion and told him to put his name on it) thinks that cars should take precedence over other considerations when it comes to planning.

So to summarize: cars in Thorncliffe, in his ward, bad. Cars on Jarvis, in someone else’s ward and on the way between his home and City Hall, good. Is it any wonder that politicians rank somewhere below personal injury lawyers, E. coli, and Lucy van Pelt holding a football on the trust scale?


Anyone who commutes in the east end has probably seen him at least once: a cyclist dressed head to toe in white, a neon orange safety vest over top and bright ankle straps around his pant cuffs, slowly riding a bike emblazoned with reflective tape and festooned with more flashing lights than Honest Ed’s. Pretty much every cyclist in the area that I’ve spoken to knows about him, and all marvel at the magnificent spectacle as he passes by. He rides at a relaxed pace, yet no one ever honks, no one ever asks him to get out of the way, and everyone’s day is brightened if only for a few seconds.

After years of fleeting glimpses, always headed in the opposite direction, on the other side of the Viaduct, or visible only as a strobing blizzard of light in the distance, I finally found myself coming up behind him on a quiet street in Rosedale. In our brief conversation, I learned that he cycles downtown every day from Markham & Lawrence. Even out there, car drivers have no trouble seeing him and give him a wide berth. My commute is often the best part of my day, but I don’t know that I’d have the gumption to ride that far every day, especially through the unfriendly streets of Scarborough. In keeping with his over-the-top bike, he is by far the most cheerful person I’ve ever met on a Monday morning.

I felt like a giddy schoolgirl who’d just bumped into Shaun Cassidy at the corner store when I sheepishly asked if I could take his picture. Victor, you’re an inspiration.

Cycling in Austin

Tikit to the Capitol

While I was in Austin last week, I managed to get out for a couple or rides and get a bit of a feel for cycling in the area. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect in the way of cycling infrastructure in the city: my cycling friends all said that Austin is a very bikeable city with cyclists everywhere, whereas all of the drivers I know who have been there said that the only cyclists to be seen were large groups of spandex-wearing racers who took over the thoroughfares heading out of the city every weekend. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle.

Like Toronto, Austin is split between a bike-friendly core and somewhat bike-hostile suburbs. There are recreational trails all over the place, but actually getting by bike from one place in the suburbs to another requires you to grit your teeth and put up with a lot of fast-moving traffic. The bike lanes and racks of downtown quickly give way to turning lanes and parking lots when you leave the core. Sidewalks also largely disappear, leaving car travel as the only practical way of getting from A to B in the suburbs. A lot of roads in the burbs have what most people would call shoulders, but what many Austinites seem to think of  as passing lanes: what looks at first glance to be a safe suburban haven for cyclists is actually home to lots of cars going really fast with drivers probably not expecting slow-moving  bikes in front of them.

It’s hard to tell from a short visit whether Austin has really embraced the practicality of cycling, but I do know that in just five days, I saw three different cars with “Please be kind to cyclists” bumper stickers, which is three more than I’ve seen in a lifetime in Toronto.

Yield to bikes

One of the major cycling routes downtown goes down Guadalupe St, seen above at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. There were a lot of bike lanes downtown, both on major arterials and on quieter side streets. But compared to the state of the road paint in Toronto, most of the lane lines were faded almost to invisibility. Several times while riding in a barely-discernable bike lane, I was unsure that drivers in the cars behind me could see the same markings that I could. The sign above, telling drivers entering a right-turn lane to yield to cyclists in the bike lane, is rare in Toronto, but common in Austin.

Area map on a bike route sign

One nice touch on some of the signed bike routes was an area map, showing not only where you where, but connecting routes and nearby attractions.

Bike racks with integrated cable locks

Another interesting feature was bike racks with integrated cable locks for securing your wheels without having to carry a second lock around. I only saw these in two locations, but it would be great to have these city-wide.

Bike frames made into a bike rack

Unlike Toronto’s iconic post and ring racks, there doesn’t seem to be a single standard design for bike racks in Austin. Many racks are provided by private businesses and can take interesting forms. I was especially taken by this excellent re-purposing of old frames into a functional sculpture.

The war on texting?

Just when I was starting to think that Austinites had fully embraced (or at least tolerated) cycling as a form of transportation, I read the above letter to the editor in the local newspaper as I sat down to my last breakfast in the city. Apparently, Toronto isn’t the only place where anything done in a car is more important than safe cycling routes.

How to take your bike on a business trip (or vacation)

Tikit at home

Step 1: Get a folding bike. Mine is a Bike Friday Tikit. This bike has a million options, from the most basic Model T (the one I have) all the way up to a fully tricked-out road bike with drop handlebars, lots of gear inches, and just about any component choice you could imagine. The hyperfold model folds in five seconds. I don’t have that one, so my Tikit takes a full 15 seconds to fold. The best thing about the Tikit is that although it looks weird and the wheels are tiny (just sixteen inches), it feels and rides like a normal-sized bike. My riding position on this bike is basically the same as on my mountain bike, which is perfect for commuting and tootling around the city. But don’t take my word for it, get yourself to Urbane Cyclist and give one a test ride for yourself.

Samsonite 30-inch Flite case

Step 2: Get a suitcase that your folded bike will fit into. The 30″ Samsonite F’Lite GT is the case that Bike Friday designs their bikes to fit into, so it seemed like a good choice. With only minor disassembly (one wheel removed and a half-dozen bolts loosened or removed), the bike fits neatly into the case with lots of room left over for a repair kit, pump, locks, and other cycling gear. Because the bike is designed to fit into a suitcase, there’s no guesswork involved; the manual shows the packing process in detail, right down to the correct way to orient the cranks. I didn’t manage to squeeze my helmet in, but I’m sure I could with a bit of practice. Practice could also get my packing time down from around 45 minutes the first time to maybe 15.

Homemade crush protector

Step 3: Get a crush protector to keep the side of the suitcase from collapsing on your fragile bike. Even a hard-sided suitcase like the F’Lite has a lot of give in it and given the way that baggage handlers toss luggage around, it would be pretty easy to end up with a bent wheel or chainring after a flight. The crush protector is just a support that keeps the sides of the suitcase from compressing, ensuring that there’s never any weight bearing down on the sensitive bits of the bike itself. Bike Friday sells crush protectors for $7, or you can make your own for about the same cost from parts available at any hardware store with a decent stock of electrical supplies. That meant Home Depot for me.

All packed up

Step 4: Pack the bike in the case, following the instructions in the manual. Bike Friday sells packing kits that include little fabric bags and sleeves to help protect the sensitive bits, but I found that a short length of packing foam, some old rags, and a few elastic bands did the same job.

Step 5: Check your bike at the airport, now indistinguishable from any other piece of luggage, and laugh at those ridiculous charges for bike boxes that airlines love to charge.

Ready to go

Step 6: Unpack at your destination. It only took me about 20 minutes to unpack and reassemble. I didn’t do too badly for my first-time packing: the rear reflector was broken in transit, but everything else survived without a scratch.

At the Texas Capitol, 2200 km from home

Step 7: Have a good ride!

So I’m in Austin, Texas at the moment, midway through a week of working hard, eating meat, and riding a bit. The Texas Capitol is about 2200 km from home, or a much more reasonable 10-minute ride from my hotel. Work commitments are keeping my exploring to a minimum, but I’m trying to get as much in as I can. There’ll be some more random posts about Austin in the days ahead.

"I saw you"

So it’s a gorgeous autumn morning and I’m riding east along Queen Street, having just made a side trip to one of my favourite stores on the way to the office. I’m approaching a green light at York Street, with pretty much no other traffic around. There’s a westbound car at York, the driver signalling a left turn and waiting to turn south onto York. The car is motionless and there’s no sign that the driver is going to do anything other than wait for the one car, three pedestrians, and one cyclist (that would be me) to clear the intersection before turning. I continue in my straight line, and just as I reach the intersection, he decides that he’s going to make a run for it and guns the engine, leaping into the intersection.

At this point, he’s turning straight into me and whether I keep going or screech to a halt, slow down or speed up, there’s nothing I can do; if he continues, he’s going to hit me broadside. At the last second, he slams on his brakes, the front of his car diving deep down from the inertia. He stops about two feet away from my bike. He’s just accelerated hard from a standing stop across almost two lanes of road straight at me before realizing that he’s about to hit me. I come to a stop a bit further down the road, just out of his way should he start up again. I’m upset, but more bewildered than angry. I look at the driver and he looks back, a little sheepish. One of the pedestrians in the intersection is almost right behind me, next in line to be hit had the driver continued on his path. The other two pedestrians are standing on the corner looking shocked at what they’ve just witnessed.

The driver puts his palm up in a conciliatory gesture and rolls down the window to say something to me, looking more concerned than angry. “I saw you.” What? You saw me? I was expecting “Sorry,” or “My bad,” or even, “Get off the road.” But “I saw you”? It seems like such an odd thing to say. “Hey, I know I accelerated straight at you and came within a whisker of T-boning you and sending you flying across the road on this beautiful day, but no worries mate, I knew you were there.”

“Really?” Bewildered, it’s the only response I can come up with. I say it in the same tone I may use if someone tells me that the Earth is flat or the Leafs are going to win the Cup this year; we both know that you’re just bullshitting me, but there’s always that small chance that you actually believe what you’re saying.

“Yes, I saw you,” he repeats.

“It didn’t seem like you saw me.”

“I did.”

“Is that why you drove straight at me?”

At this point, the peculiar assertion turns a little nasty. “If I hadn’t seen you, you’d be flat on the ground now. Are you on the ground?” His demeanor changes from misguided cover-your-ass to misplaced aggression. He’s not blaming me so much as telling me that I’m lucky he’s not a psychopath. It’s in his tone as much as his words. He begins inching forward again. Wonderful thing about cars; moving forward can be both fight and flight.

The pedestrian standing behind me pipes up at this point. “You did not see him.”

“Yes I did. I didn’t hit him, did I? If I’d hit him, he’d be lying on the street.” At this point, the penny drops. When he says that he saw me, he means that he woke up halfway through his turn and managed to recover just in time. Avoiding a collision set into motion by your actions is as good as not setting it into motion in the first place. I call this Dodge’s Theory of Driving Relativity: From any given observer’s frame of reference (most commonly the driver’s seat of an automobile), nothing that happens outside that frame is your fault. As long as contact between your frame of reference and someone else’s frame of reference is indirect (“a close call”) rather than a direct hit, you are absolved of responsibility for anything that follows.

You can be the hero who defuses the bomb, even if you’re the one who planted it in the first place.

The pedestrian continues arguing with him. The two pedestrians on the corner have graduated from shock to amusement. No one is hurt, and they’re laughing and shaking their heads as the driver continues arguing with the pedestrian that he was in the right. As for me, is it time for fight or flight? Neither. It’s too nice a day to argue with a brick wall and it’s obvious that nothing I can say will change the version of the story that the driver will be telling at the office this afternoon. So I’m just going to shrug my shoulders and continue on my way. “I saw you,” eh? What happened to, “I’m sorry”?

People reflexively say that they’re sorry over so many little things: sorry I have to slip past you in the supermarket aisle, sorry I’m trying to get through the same door as you, sorry that you’re trying to get on the elevator at the same time that I’m getting off the elevator, sorry you stepped on my toes while walking backwards (I must have been in your way), sorry we did a little two-step on the sidewalk while trying to figure out how to pass, sorry I don’t have exact change, sorry that I’m paying with pennnies, sorry, sorry, sorry. Why is sorry so difficult for the things that really matter?

A cyclist's best friend?

Bike rack or dog rack?

So this is what it’s like to be an afterthought. I know that the folks at the Foodland in Millbrook mean well, supplying a bike rack at the store and all (“down back” is still fairly close to the door), but if dogs need a place to sit where they’re out of people’s way, why not provide a dog-specific hitch that doesn’t take space away from cyclists?

(And for the record, the bike rack was bereft of both bikes and dogs when I was at the store on Sunday morning.)

Warning or invitation?

Dangerous unmaintained road sign

These signs are scattered all around Hamilton Township at the entrances to many dirt roads  that run between two or more adjacent farms. They’re municipal roads that are used primarily for access to back fields, so the only traffic that they really see are tractors and the occasional dirt bike or ATV. Most are only 1-2 km long and are classified as “summer maintained” or “unopened road allowance” by the township. Some, like the one above, are navigable by your average family sedan. Others, like the one below, call for more of a sense of adventure and either a larger or smaller vehicle:

The road here just kind of disappears into weeds and neatly growing rows of wheat, bordered by trees on one side and a corn field on the other.

Some of the roads not only seem well-maintained in the summer, but also form part of the snowmobile trails that criss-cross Ontario? in the winter:

Country lane

So, is “Dangerous unmaintained road” a warning or invitation? It depends what you’ve got underneath you at the time.  The roadies that I passed on the asphalt a couple of clicks back would have nothing to do with roads like these. A rider on a touring motorcycle was checking one out, but probably wouldn’t take another. But for a guy exploring on a mountain bike, they’re just about irresistible.

Random notes for other cyclists

A straight fender over your rear wheel may keep your back clean in the rain, but anyone riding behind you will get a hard line of spray right in the face. Do other cyclists a favour and eliminate the rooster tail; get yourself a set of full fenders.

If you’re riding at night, you really need lights. You may be able to see without them, but you also need to be seen.

You’d find riding a lot easier if you just pumped up your tires a bit.

Please, can I put some oil on your chain? If I have to listen to that squeaking for one more block, I’m  going to have to take another route.

I realize that those damned ear buds have been surgically attached to your head since 2006, but at least pretend to pay attention to the world around you when you ride.

If yammering away on your cell phone is preventing you from riding in a straight line, either pull over or call back later.

No, I will not call out “passing on the left” whenever I overtake you, for the same reason that I don’t honk at every car that I pass on the highway. If you’re on the road, I expect you to be alert enough to know what’s happening around you.

I understand why you’d choose to wear a helmet, and I understand why you’d choose not to wear a helmet. What I don’t understand is why you bother bringing a helmet if it’s just going to swing from your handlebar like that while you ride. It’s the worst of both worlds.

If you think that crossing against a red light at the top of a T intersection is so harmless, maybe you can explain why you nearly rode straight into me.

I realize that you’re too super-cool to bother with courtesy, the rules of the road, and all that, but stop your bike for 20 seconds and let people get off the streetcar in peace.

If you’re going to make a U-turn on the bike path, look over your left shoulder first.

When you’re teaching your kids to ride, don’t tell them that cyclists “don’t really have to stop at stop signs.” They’ll figure that out when they’re teenagers, but in the meantime, you’re setting them up to expect something that just isn’t true.

When you’re teaching your kids how to ride, don’t tell them to ride on the left side of the road in order to avoid getting doored. Instead, teach them to keep a safe distance from parked cars and to be alert for people exiting vehicles.

I understand why you might want to ride on the sidewalk in certain places, but beside a perfectly good bike lane really isn’t one of them.

If you must ride on the sidewalk, please don’t careen around pedestrians like they’re part of an obstacle course; ride at a walking pace or learn how to schluff.

If the car driver ahead is signalling a right turn, don’t try to squeeze past on the right; wait behind or go around to the left.

If you’re moving out to get past a parked car, check over your shoulder to make sure that you aren’t about to ride in front of another cyclist. Or a car.

I’ve been using this post and ring all winter long. You’ve seen me using this post and ring all winter long. And now that the nice weather is here, I really don’t appreciate you taking my post and ring just because you get to work a few minutes before I do.

I really don’t mind stopping to help you patch up your tire, but seriously, how can you ride this far out of the city without carrying even a basic repair kit?

And finally, you may be all decked out with your team jersey, clipless shoes, energy bars, and carbon-fibre road bike, but this 40-year-old fat guy on a 20-year-old  mountain bike heading home for dinner can ride through Leaside faster than you. Bring it!