Dodgeville

Random Wanderings and Wonderings

Posts tagged: safety

Start seeing bicycles

By , February 16, 2012

Start seeing bicycles bumper sticker

I saw this bumper sticker last night on my way to, appropriately enough, an organizing meeting for Ward 29 Bikes.

Whenever I’m riding in traffic, I’m always secretly grateful to the people who blast their horns and yell at me out their windows. It’s not that I appreciate their road rage or get-outta-my-way entitlement, it’s that if nothing else, I know that they’ve seen me. And drivers who see me, and who know I’m in front of them, and whose rage tacitly acknowledges that they can’t get around me without changing lanes, scare me a lot less than the ones who show up in my mirror while looking down at their cell phones, engaging their passengers in animated conversation, or fiddling with the radio. Those drivers may get away with it most of the time, but they are the ones who really need to start seeing bicycles.

I’d say the same about the people at Lifehacker, who last week posted an article about how car drivers could prevent dooring cyclists. Unfortunately, they stuck with the lazy “invisible cyclists” narrative while transferring the responsibility of motorists to do something as simple as safely opening their doors onto those dastardly bikers:

It has likely happened to all of us: we’re casually opening the door of a car when another car or bike comes whizzing past, nearly hitting the door because they didn’t see it opening. Instructables user milesfromnelhu recognized the problem and decided to fix it by spray painting a warning strip on the inside of the door.

[…]

It’s true you should be looking in your side mirror before popping open the door, but it doesn’t always happen. Smaller vehicles like motorcycles or bicycles might still be invisible when you look in the mirror.

As a cyclist, I have to say that I try to use my powers of invisibility much more sparingly than the above statement would suggest. Still, I always hear that I “came out of nowhere” or that a driver simply “didn’t see” me. As I’ve said elsewhere, if you don’t see me, it’s not because putting a bicycle between my legs activates my cloak of invisibility, it’s because you aren’t paying attention.

If you look at the language in the Lifehacker post, it excuses the person who creates the dangerous situation (the driver opening the door) while laying the blame on the victim (the person about to be hit by it):

  • casually opening the door“: I’m just minding my own business, quietly going about my day without affecting anyone else.
  • car or bike comes whizzing past“: Maniacs, I tell you. Maniacs.
  • because they didn’t see it opening“: It’s not my fault for endangering other people, it’s their fault for not anticipating it and getting out of the way.
  • It’s true you should be looking in your side mirror“: Actually, it’s the law in most places, not merely a suggestion.
  • but it doesn’t always happen“: A really jarring mid-sentence switch to the passive voice to avoid laying blame precisely where it belongs.
  • motorcycles or bicycles might still be invisible“: How can you possibly expect me to see invisible cyclists?

And that’s just in a short two-paragraph article. Unfortunately, it reflects how a lot of motorists feel not just about bikes, but about all other traffic, including pedestrians.

Some motorists often have a knee-jerk reaction against cyclists and cycling infrastructure because they think that our goal is to force them to ride bicycles everywhere. In truth, we just want to be seen. But all of the lights, reflective strips, helmets, mirrors, and DayGlo jackets in the world won’t do us any good if you’re not looking for us. So by all means, stay in your car. But please start seeing bicycles.

Pottery Road: problem solved

By , February 9, 2012

Single file sign on Pottery Road

I noticed this newly installed sign at the top of Pottery Road today, where it should clear up any confusion drivers may have about whether they’re driving in a bike lane when they see those sharrows. There’s another one close to the bottom of the hill. I hope this can be the end of the controversy over these sharrows.

Pottery Road improvements revisited

By , January 19, 2012

Sharrows on Pottery Road

When Pottery Road re-opened at the end of November, cyclists and pedestrians rejoiced. So did drivers, but their joy was a little tempered. As a cyclist, I have nothing but praise (well, almost nothing but praise) for the outcome of the project, but I’ve heard a lot of complaints from drivers. Their concerns fall into two broad categories: why are these new traffic lanes so narrow, and what the hell are these bike symbols in the middle of the road? I first heard the former complaint from Risa, who drives down Pottery Road to work every day. I’ve since heard it from numerous others too. The latter complaint first came to the attention of Ward 29 Bikes via an email from a police officer who was recommending that the sharrows be removed because they confused motorists and encouraged cyclists to ride down the hill in the middle of the lane (which is kind of the whole point of them). He went on to explain that some motorists thought the sharrows indicated that they were driving in a bike lane. To get out of this supposed bike lane, they tried to do u-turns on the hill. I thought that was a joke when I first heard it, or at least an exaggeration to make some kind of anti-bike point. But after I heard the same thing elsewhere, I thought there might be a grain of truth in there after all.

My first instinct is always to cast aside such tales as just part of the general grumpiness that accompanies any cycling infrastructure in this town. But after giving it some thought, I realized that drivers probably do have a legitimate problem with sharrows: they have no idea what a sharrow is. Although sharrows are explained over and over again on the city’s cycling website, in the city’s cycling newsletters, and at public meetings about cycling infrastructure, those audiences always consist of cyclists. I couldn’t recall sharrows ever being explained to drivers. Explanations aren’t included when you renew your licence, there are no explanatory signs beside the road, and no one holds public meetings explaining new cycling infrastructure to motorists. Whenever a new stop sign or traffic light appears, a big “NEW” sign is placed somewhere in the block leading up to it. Bike lanes, HOV lanes, bus lanes, turning lanes, crosswalks, and even parking spots all come with accompanying overhead or roadside signs. In contrast, sharrows just appear out of nowhere without any explanation. That may be fine on streets like Wellesley where they form short connectors near intersections between sections of the bike lanes, but there is no similar context on Pottery Road, where they appear mysteriously at the top of the hill and disappear just as enigmatically at the bottom of the hill.

When you’re inside the bubble of cycling information, it’s easy to forget that the memo was never really sent to the general public. Unless you are relatively active in the cycling community or visit www.toronto.ca/cycling once in a while, you probably have no idea what a sharrow is or what it’s supposed to indicate. What’s needed here is driver education, not removal of the sharrows. Fortunately, as reported on OpenFile last week, the city will be putting up signs in the spring explaining the shared lane markings.

As for the narrow lanes, having driven up and down Pottery Road a few times myself, I agree that the lanes are narrower than they used to be. I could even be convinced to admit that I may feel a little crowded sharing the road with oncoming traffic between the retaining wall on one side and Jersey barrier on the other. And you know what? I don’t really have a problem with that. The lanes are still more than wide enough for cars and trucks to find their way up and down the hill. Studies say that narrowing lanes causes car drivers to slow down and I don’t have a problem with that, either. Speaking as a cyclist, pedestrian, and driver, anything that makes other drivers slow down a bit and think about driving safely is the kind of road improvement we need to see more often.

The travails of Mr. Stickman

By , January 12, 2012

[This is a repost of an article that I originally put together for Torontoist in 2008. Torontoist's recent redesign seems to have eaten all of the photo galleries in older posts, so I'm adding this one here because it was way too much fun (and work!) to allow it to disappear into the ether.]

Trucks are just one of Mr. Stickman's many nemeses.

Mr. Stickman has the toughest job in Toronto: keeping you safe. In a day’s work, he gets smushed, crushed, beheaded, befingered, mangled, strangled, thrown, blown, ground, and crowned. And unlike the relatively delicate spokesmodels who calmly remind you to mind the gap or use proper escalator technique, Mr. Stickman is willing to give the extra effort and actually demonstrate the consequences of not following the rules. Wherever danger lurks, Mr. Stickman plies his educational trade. He endures every manner of indignity, accident, and disfigurement that you can imagine, all in the hope that you will learn from his painful and sometimes deadly misadventures. What follows is a small sampling of his daily work around Toronto.

Continue reading 'The travails of Mr. Stickman'»

Pottery Road: Improvements for the future

By , November 30, 2011

[This is the last of three posts this week looking at the results of the Pottery Road reconstruction. Monday: the improvements for cyclists. Yesterday: the intersection with the Lower Don trail. Today: suggested improvements for the near future.]

In case it wasn’t obvious from my previous two posts about Pottery Road, I should say again that I quite like all of the improvements that the reconstruction project has brought to this important connector. Pottery Road is a historic oddity, one of a small handful of roads that lead directly to the floor of the Don Valley and provide connections to all of the parks, infrastructure, and attractions down there. The only other road access nearby is via Beechwood Drive, which also used to lead to a paper mill. Although car drivers can access alternative routes easily enough, the options for pedestrians and cyclists are too far away to be practical in many cases. So even though Pottery Road has been an absolutely miserable route for pedestrians and cyclists for as long as I can remember, we’ve continued to use it regularly.

So with all the good news covered in my previous posts, what’s the bad news? The main problem with the improvements is that they don’t go far enough. Literally. All of the improved cycling infrastructure and signage ends on the east side of the Don River, with no provision for cyclists between the Lower Don trail and Bayview Avenue. The new cycling facility gets cyclists as far as the trail, but leaves them on their own if they want to continue across the Don River to the Crothers’ Woods trailhead or to Bayview to ride down to the Brick Works or beyond.

Looking up Pottery Road from west of the Don River

There were two main constraints on taking the cycling infrastructure across the river as part of this project. The first is that there’s no room to add separate bike lanes across the bridges, and no money in the budget to continue the trail onto a dedicated pedestrian and cyclist bridge across the river. The second is that the cycling improvements on Pottery Road and at the Lower Don trail were a side-effect of the larger project; although cycling infrastructure was improved, it wasn’t the primary reason for the project. In fact, one city staffer told Ward 29 Bikes that they didn’t really consider Pottery Road to be a viable bike route and they’d rather cyclists use Beechwood Drive to get into the valley. Fortunately, cycling staff was able to get a lot accomplished against what seemed like a fair bit of push back. But despite that, I don’t see why, for example, the sharrows couldn’t have continued at least across the westbound bridge and been painted coming up from Bayview and across the eastbound bridge until a cyclist could get onto the separated path. This would have required a maximum of eight more sharrows to be painted on the road which, frankly, I can’t see as having any financial impact on a $5 million project.

To make matters worse, Bayview was the site of a parallel project that saw a new separated bike path extended and improved from Rosedale Valley Road past the Brickworks and up to Pottery Road. That path along Bayview ends here, at a sidewalk just a few feet short of Pottery Road:

Cycling trail ends abruptly

Duncan over at BikingToronto has a pretty good analysis/rant of the problem at this intersection, and I can’t say that I disagree with him. City staff has indicated to 29 Bikes a couple of times that they plan to connect this path to the Pottery Road path and the Lower Don trail, but the timeline has ranged from “maybe next year” to “it’s still in the conceptual stage.” In other words, I’m not holding my breath. But what makes the lack of connection particularly galling is that these two cycling projects, both undertaken at the same time, end less than 200 metres apart (only about 100 metres as the crow flies) and are separated by a wide, newly reconstructed road that could easily accommodate an extra stripe of paint along the sides and a couple of sharrows to safely direct cars and bikes across the bridges. I’m astonished that the two pieces of infrastructure were not connected.

Looking up Pottery Road from Bayview Avenue

My other concern is with the sharrows in the downbound lane as they reach the Lower Don trail. If you look at the pciture below, a cyclist riding at this point who wants to turn onto the trail has to make a quick 90-degree turn to the left to go southbound or right to go north. The problem here is that cyclists will have to slow down considerably to make the turn in either direction, and there’s a good chance that a speeding car or two will be right behind them.

Sharrows on Pottery Road

I know from experience riding down Pottery Road for many years that car drivers do not like to brake once they hit the bottom of the hill. Most are still travelling quite quickly as they approach the bridge here and I’m not sure how well they’ll react to a cyclist in the middle of the lane slowing down to 20 km/h to make a turn off the road. My sense is that most cyclists who are heading for the Don trail will just ride down the path on the side of the road. Only cyclists who are going straight through to the trailhead or Bayview will take the lane on the way down. Which is kind of ironic, considering that the infrastructure ignores their needs past this point.

As I said, I like what’s there, but it just doesn’t go far enough. I’m hoping that at the very least we can get sharrows across the bridges next year, and a dedicated cycling path linking up to Bayview shortly after. I understand that the current condition of the infrastructure here is temporary, but it could still stand to be fixed a bit to make it a little safer. It’s better than what was here before, but it could have been so much more without much additional effort.

The reconstruction fixes a lot of deficiencies, but many cyclists will continue to avoid Pottery Road for the simple inevitable reason that it’s a giant stinking hill that’s a real pain in the thighs to ride up on a bike. The final improvement I’d like to see, and one that I advocated at the Ward 29 Bikes public meeting two and a half years ago, is the addition of a bicycle elevator like the famous Trampe in Norway:

Pottery Road: Improvements at the Don trail

By , November 29, 2011

[This is the second of three posts this week looking at the results of the Pottery Road reconstruction. Yesterday: the improvements for cyclists. Today: the intersection with the Lower Don trail. Tomorrow: suggested improvements for the near future.]

Pottery Road is the only road crossing on the central and lower Don trails from Edwards Gardens at Lawrence and Leslie Avenues all the way down to Lake Shore Boulevard. That’s remarkable if you think about it. Along the way, cyclists share park roadways and paths with motorists and pedestrians as they duck under other streets that are carried over the Don Valley by numerous bridges, ride both under and over various rail lines, and cross the Don River and its tributaries a dozen or more times. As the only road crossing, Pottery Road is worthy of a bit more than the bollard or cattle gate that Toronto typically uses to separate roads from trails. City staff have done an outstanding job of designing the crossing with both safety and aesthetics in mind.

Pottery Road crossing with the Lower Don trail

One of the most obvious features is the large upright steel “Pottery Road” sign that guards one end of the pedestrian and cyclist refuge between the two road lanes. The refuge itself has been upgraded and improved significantly. In the old refuge, cyclists would have to look backwards to see oncoming traffic, which was neither convenient nor safe. The new alignment reverses the flow through the refuge so that cyclists are now looking straight ahead to see oncoming traffic. It’s a small change that you don’t even really think about until the first time that you ride through the new refuge. I don’t have measurements, but the new refuge seems roomier than the old, giving more space for passing cyclists and pedestrians.

Conspiciously missing from the paths that approach the refuge are any notices that cyclists must dismount. Given the lack of these signs on this and other recent projects, it looks like the city is finally taking cycling infrastructure design seriously instead of just assuming that everyone who is not in a car is always in the way of everyone who is in a car.

What we get instead of being told to get off our bikes are beautiful (to me, anyway) reminders made from cut steel plate and incorporated into the sides of the refuge:

Detail at the Pottery Road crossing of the Lower Don trail

Detail at the Pottery Road crossing of the Lower Don trail

This level of design is far above the typical Toronto Jersey barrier, which is so drearily common that it could go on our municipal flag. I thought it was curious that the rusty steel design here recalls neither the historic concrete bowstring bridge a few steps away nor the nearby Don Valley Brick Works and Todmorden Mills, but it works anyway and is suitably industrial to reflect the heritage of the sites.

The refuge and road crossing also get another significant improvement, in textured and coloured asphalt to mark the intersection. The blue river-like ripples start on the trail, cross the road into the refuge, and flow out the other side:

Detail at the Pottery Road crossing of the Lower Don trail

Detail at the Pottery Road crossing of the Lower Don trail

Detail at the Pottery Road crossing of the Lower Don trail

The pattern has been cut or laid directly into the asphalt and the colour looks like it’ll last. I’ll keep an eye on it for any fading.

Also seen above is the rebuilt pathway north of Pottery Road. This had been a wide 2-lane road that connected Pottery Road to Beechwood Drive (I even remember my family driving on it once in my youth). In recent years, it was almost always gated closed and used only by trucks dumping loads at the snow dump beside the Don River, park vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. That snow dump was finally closed two years ago and is now called Cottonwood Flats (PDF). Since there’s no longer any need for heavy equipment to use the road, it’s been converted into a normal park pathway.

As I mentioned yesterday, there’s now a direct link from the Lower Don trail to the path up the side of Pottery Road:

The turnoff to the Lower Don trail

And as I mentioned the other day, all of the work comes with improved wayfinding signs:

Improved wayfinding signs on the Lower Don trail

If you ask me, the improvements on the Lower Don trail at Pottery Road alone are worth the inconvenience of closing the road for six months. The work here shows a real understanding of cycling safety and an acknowledgement that the Lower Don trail is an important piece of infrastructure.

Pottery Road: New and improved for bikes

By , November 28, 2011

Sharrows on Pottery Road

[This is the first of three posts this week looking at the results of the Pottery Road reconstruction. Today: the improvements for cyclists. Tomorrow: the intersection with the Lower Don trail. Wednesday: suggested improvements for the near future.]

Drivers are looking forward to Pottery Road re-opening this week after a long and troubled reconstruction. The new road brings improvements for pedestrians and cyclists too, but we’ve been enjoying them for months already. Although the road has remained closed to vehicular traffic between Todmorden Mills and Broadview Avenue since May, pedestrians and cyclists have been able to navigate Pottery Road from top to bottom throughout the project and the main pathway has been all but complete since early September.

Sharrows on Pottery Road

The most immediately visible (and likely to be controversial) improvement is the line of sharrows in the middle of the downhill/westbound lane (top and above). They’re meant to indicate that cyclists heading west should take the middle of the lane all the way down the hill past the DVP and that car drivers should wait behind them. Why is this going to be controversial? Because many car drivers will hate and/or not understand having to drive behind bikes, and many cyclists will simply refuse to ride down the middle of the lane with cars behind them. A confident cyclist can travel at least 50-60 km/h down Pottery Road and should have no trouble taking the lane. But I think that this sharrowed lane will see a small minority of Don Valley-bound cyclists, with most instead opting for the path at the side of the road.

Wide path beside Pottery Road

The path has been widened considerably and is the preferred option for all cyclists heading up the hill. The widening was accomplished largely by claiming space that had been used for a shoulder, moving the concrete barrier closer to the traffic lane. Before May, cyclists had a bleak choice to make when it came to going uphill: join traffic on the left side of the barrier, which required taking the lane in two places (not easy for most cyclists when plodding up a hill like Pottery Road) or take the pathway, knowing that it was in terrible condition and too narrow to comfortably pass a pedestrian or cyclist heading in the other direction. The new path is in excellent condition and is consistently wide enough for both cyclists and pedestrians travelling in both directions. My only hope is that cyclists who want to bomb down the hill will stick to the traffic lane rather than taking the path.

Walking/cycling path ducks under the DVP

The path used to disappear where the road goes under the DVP, passable only by determined pedestrians. Cyclists were forced to take the road. The reconstruction has opened up this part of the path with a retaining wall giving lots of room for comfortable passage and allowing cyclists a direct connection to and from the Lower Don trail.

The turnoff to the Lower Don trail

This is the new connection from the pathway to the Lower Don trail heading south, which in turn connects up with the Martin Goodman trail at Lake Shore Boulevard. I’ll have a closer look at this intersection in the next post.

A mini arrow pointing the way for cyclists approaching Broadview

At the top of the hill at Broadview, small arrows painted on the pathway direct cyclists over to the left, where a curb cut takes them into Toronto’s shortest bike lane, running about 3 metres from the curb to the crosswalk. It’s a nice touch that takes cyclists back onto the road with minimal effort while reducing conflict with both pedestrians and motorists.

As far as they go, the reconstruction provides a big step forward for cyclists trying to access the Don Valley via Pottery Road. As someone who rides up and down this street regularly, I’ve already come to appreciate many of the changes, especially the added width of the path and the connection to the Lower Don trail. I’ll address the Lower Don connection and some of the places where the infrastructure could be improved  in the next two posts in this series.

Caught!

By , June 13, 2011

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.

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