Dodgeville

Random Wanderings and Wonderings

Posts tagged: Traffic

Meet Cliff

By , June 27, 2012
Meet Cliff. Licence plate ANFA 097

This is Cliff. He doesn't like me.

Hi everyone. I’d like you to meet Cliff. He was a passenger in this Mazda 5, licence plate ANFA 097. I don’t know if people ever Google their own licence plates, but I sure hope Cliff does. I also don’t know if Cliff is his real name, but that’s what I’m calling him. He looks kind of like a Cliff, doesn’t he? Much moreso than, say, a Norm, Sam, or Carla. He gave me a name too: “Asshole.” He calls me an asshole because he and his wife/daughter/mistress/something needed to park in the Cosburn bike lane on Wednesday evening for “just a second.” I’m an asshole because I straddled my bike behind their car, waiting for them to leave. I’m an asshole because I “could have just gone around.” I’m an asshole because it’s Cliff’s inalienable right to park for “just a second” in a bike lane directly in front of a No Stopping sign and maybe 6 feet away from an apartment driveway that had several empty visitor parking spots. Coincidentally, the No Stopping roadsign and adjacent off-street parking flank Cliff’s head in the picture above. Of course, I’m an even bigger asshole for pointing that out.

Cliff says I’m an asshole because his mother/secretary/masseuse/whathaveyou has her flashers on, and all that flashing lets you do anything you want. Cliff says I’m an asshole because his caregiver/trustee/court-mandated escort/whatever is breaking the law which, he assures me, doesn’t apply if you are stopping for “just a second.” Apparently, 4-way flashers temporarily suspend all nearby laws. Except the law of gravity, which cannot be repealed by mere light bulbs, no matter how many of them are flashing in unison. But even time itself is warped inside the event horizon of flashers: I was waiting behind them and dinging my bell for a full two minutes, while Cliff insisted repeatedly that they were parked in the bike lane for “just a second.” I’m lucky my atoms weren’t torn apart by the tidal forces, being, as I was, both so close and such a sizeable asshole.

Cliff says I should “just fuck off.” I’ve got some nerve, trying to ride my bike in the bike lane when it is clearly intended to be used for cars to park in. I mean, why else would they put it at the side of the road like that? I really ought to be ashamed, dinging my bell and so flustering Cliff that he was reduced to spewing a virtually incoherent string of obscenities at me. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s normally a fairly lucid fellow, though I have no direct evidence of it. I do have direct evidence of that pulsing vein in his forehead. He really ought to have that looked at. Perhaps I should pity the poor persecuted motorist, unable to park in the bike lane for “just a second” without some uppity cyclist coming along and ruining his day by pointing out that he’s endangering others. But it’s really hard to pity someone who screams at you when you gently call him out on his anti-social behaviour. Hey Cliff, you think I’m the asshole? I’ve got news for you, buddy.

Anyway Cliff, I accept your apology for parking in the bike lane and endangering cyclists for no reason beyond your own perceived entitlement. I didn’t quite hear the actual words through all of your bluster and spittle, but I think I got the gist of it.

No, I will not obey my signal

By , May 7, 2012

Dumb pedestrian signal

Dumb pedestrian signal

It’s hard to believe that in 2012, the City of Toronto persists in installing new pedestrian signals on sidewalks across the top of T-intersections. This one, installed as part of the signalization earlier this year of the intersection of Laird and Esandar Drives in Leaside, has also been noted by the Fixer for its perplexing lights that face the two quiet driveways at the top of the T.

It’s not the waste of money or phony “war on” anything that bothers me here, it’s the fact that such a useless signal represents the current standard for pedestrian infrastructure in 2012. City planners and traffic engineers hear me now: a pedestrian on a sidewalk always has the right of way over any kind of traffic that crosses that sidewalk. Period. A vehicle coming out of a driveway should never have the right of way over a pedestrian on the sidewalk.

As for the “pedestrians obey your signals” sign, here’s a hint for the City: any time you feel obligated to put up a sign or signal, and then another sign instructing people to obey the first one, you’re doing it wrong.

(A similar signal installation was noted by Vic Gedris back in 2007.)

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.

The unbearable stress of parking lots

By , December 8, 2011

Mall Madness tips

In the latest edition of Lifetime, a segment on the local CTV newscast, Pauline Chan gets some advice from psychotherapist Nicole McCance on coping with the stress of mall parking lots. McCance recommends that drivers prepare in advance for the stress: her advice on controlling lot rage is to eat a meal before you go to the mall, wear comfortable shoes, and make a shopping list. In the clip, McCance says that traffic in a parking lot is beyond people’s control, but that “they can control whether they’ve gone to the bathroom or eaten.” The segment summarizes her points in a bullet list that includes items like “breathe” and being “aware of [your] body.” This is hard-hitting stuff.

Okay, I know that it’s busy at Yorkdale at this time of year, and that finding a parking spot can be stressful. But seriously, if you need a therapist to remind you to breathe while prowling the lot and to eat a meal in advance so that you don’t starve to death while hunting for an elusive 150 square feet of asphalt on which to park your automobile, I feel comfortable making two statements about your quest:

  1. You’re doing it wrong.
  2. There’s a better way.

Strangely (or not), none of McCance’s suggestions involved avoiding the stress entirely by not driving a car to the mall, shopping online, getting your act together so that you can shop in the weeks before the holiday crush, or simply opting out of the annual consumer frenzy.

Me, I’m going to cope with mall parking lots the same way I always do: by taking a three minute stroll down to the Danforth where I’ll do what little Christmas shopping I still do. And I won’t have to perform breathing exercises, talk myself down from sidewalk rage, or circle the block endlessly looking for somewhere to park my conveyance. I feel the stress melting away already.

Highway fun, now at home

By , December 2, 2011

Now, read highway signs without having to put on pants and go outside.

One of the fun things about doing research is occasionally stumbling upon something wholly unexpected and completely unrelated to your original task. Such was the case the other day when I realized that I could read all of those electronic highway signs without having to get into a car and drive on any of the local highways.

On the city’s road restrictions map, you too can click on any of the amber circles dotting the city’s highways to read the message that’s currently displayed on that particular sign. You never need to miss another “obey traffic laws” or “drive according to road and weather conditions” again.

When is it acceptable to delay someone's commute?

By , November 27, 2011

I always marvel at how it’s okay for non-car commuters to suffer “minimal impact” to their travel times, but if a car commuter suffers the same “minimal impact,” everyone screams like it’s the end of the world.

I believe that the language people use says a lot about their beliefs and intentions, so I find it interesting that someone like Rob Ford, in the two quotes linked above, basically sits on opposite sides of the congestion fence at the same time. In defending TTC cuts (or as he calls them, “service level modifications”), he co-opts the reasoning of cycling advocates who defend bike lanes, saying that a few extra seconds of waiting isn’t a big deal. But in his case, he’s applying it to transit riders instead of drivers. It’s a perfect example of windshield perspective: delaying my commute by a few seconds is a travesty; but it’s okay if it happens to those other people. All those buses and bikes just get in my way anyway.

My guess is that Ford will always rail against congestion while simultaneously taking actions that will only make it worse, all in the vain pursuit of saving a few seconds and/or dollars. The only question is how long this council will let him get away with it.

A more direct message for drivers

By , November 12, 2011

Man, 58, killed here by traffic

I’m sure you’ve heard about the collision with a truck that killed cyclist Jenna Morrison on Monday. There will be a memorial ride on Monday and a ghost bike will be placed at the intersection where she was killed. A ghost bike both memorializes the cyclist and serves as a reminder to all of what was almost certainly a needless tragedy. There’s already a different kind of memorial at the site of the collision.

Beyond ghost bikes and guerrilla bike lane painting,  I think that a less subtle message to drivers is needed wherever a cyclist or pedestrian (or, indeed, a car driver or passenger) is needlessly killed. A ghost bike can be moving if you know what it means, but how many drivers really understand or respect the message? Few, I’d guess. And the ones who do get the message aren’t the ones who need to get it. Which brings me to the photo at the top of this post:

8-28-00 Man 58 Killed here by traffic.

Stencilled with the outline of a body on the street corner where, well, a 58-year-old man was killed by traffic on August 28, 2000. How’s that for direct? When I saw this stencil in San Francisco in September, 2000, you can bet that I paid attention. That I took a picture and knew exactly where to find it in my film archives more than 11 years later should speak to the effectiveness of the blunt message.

The story behind these stencils is told in Jeff Ferrell’s Tearing Down the Streets: Adventures in Urban Anarchy:

Outraged about the way in which “automobiles seem to have taken over the streets and society,” [Ken] Kelton travels the streets of San Francisco, map in hand, searching for sites at which pedestrians have been killed by automobiles. Once a site is located, Kelton lays a life-sized body stencil on the pavement, outlines it with white spraypaint, and writes an asphalt epitaph: “5-15-99 Nameless Man Killed Here By Traffic”; “4-15-99 Woman 71 Killed Here by Traffic.” Though police officials confirm that Kelton risks citation for public vandalism, he continues to consecrate city streets because, as he says, “there’s something wrong with the whole traffic layout, the whole system.”

[...]

A pedestrian death “doesn’t seem to matter. It doesn’t even make the paper,” he says. “I’m trying to underscore that this is life and death.”

Here’s a picture of Kelton with his stencil. Although his crusade was specifically about pedestrian deaths, that article says that he was inspired by a similar activist in New York who memorialized cyclists who were killed in traffic.

The contrast between a ghost bike and a “killed here by traffic” stencil is notable: a ghost bike abstractly represents mourning, while Kelton’s stencil is a more direct declaration that enough is enough. At some point, cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, and—most importantly—our elected leaders have to stop accepting the status quo and say “enough is enough.” That would require taking the safety needs of all road users seriously.

Would having stencils like this dotting city streets cause drivers to be more careful? Maybe not. But it would at least make everyone a little more aware of the human cost of our modern transportation system instead of merely sweeping the statistics under the “it was just an accident” carpet.

Now close your eyes and imagine passing five of these on your way to work every day, whatever mode of transportation you choose. Would it change anything that you do?

Austin miscellany part 1

By , March 30, 2011

I’d written this post before I took my winter blogging break, but never quite got around to posting it. So, a few months late, here’s a random collection of sights I saw in Austin last year. There’s one more of these, and if I’m feeling energetic, I may eventually get around to that post about Calgary that I promised a year and a half ago.

W. 22-1/2 Street

The big problem with giving streets numbers instead of names is that occasionally, you need to squeeze in an additional street and are left with a dilemma: do you renumber all of the streets above it or come up with a new name? In Austin, there are a few of these half-streets downtown. They’re all just a few blocks long and thus don’t intersect whichever main street necessary to qualify as a full street.

From a Torontonian’s perspective, the transportation infrastructure of Austin outside of downtown seems to be overbuilt. As in any North American city, there’s lots of room for cars, but in Austin, everything seems to be a big four-lane road leading to lots of huge, three-quarters-empty parking lots. The picture below was taken just off a major highway at the T-intersection of two broad four-lane roads. In the ten minutes I was walking around the intersection mid-morning on a Friday, maybe three cars went past. The mall parking lot at the top of the T had about a dozen cars in it with room for a hundred and fifty more. My quiet two-lane residential street in east-end Toronto sees way more traffic than this crossroads.

Empty streets in rush hour

Despite the overbuilt car infrastructure, there are some nice touches for pedestrians. Many crossings receive a different surface treatment (as the bricks above) to alert drivers, and many curb cuts are textured to provide grip and warning to pedestrians that they’re entering a roadway. Still, despite the fine detail on the road crossing here, there isn’t a sidewalk in sight on the other side.

Empty parking lots abound

Here’s just one example of the many empty parking lots I encountered on my trip, this one at a business park on Friday morning. Not all parking lots were this empty, but it was common enough to make me wonder why parking was so abundant.

I also didn’t understand this sign, which I saw at the local Taco Cabana on my first day in Austin:

Parking only in a space

I thought it was strange that the sign carried an admonition to park “only in a space,” but chalked it up to poor writing or a bad translation. However, after spending a couple of days in the city, I understood the reason:

Bad parkers

As far as I can tell, no one in Austin can park. Every parking lot I visited abounded with cars taking up two or more spaces. Straddling a line was the most common infraction, but it wasn’t at all rare to see cars parked diagonally across spaces, in the lot aisles, blocking doors or curb cuts at building entrances, in the middle of crosswalks, and just generally ignoring all of the standard rules of conduct in parking lots. Maybe this is why parking seemed so abundant: city planners order up three times as many spots as necessary at any given building, figuring that each car is going to take up two or three spaces.

Incomplete overpass

Another oddity was the number of flyovers, ramps, overpasses, and underpasses that, like this one, just seemed to end somewhat prematurely with no sign of ongoing construction. It looks like they just build a section and then wait months or years until money is available to build the next section. It seems like a highly inefficient approach to infrastructure.

This being Texas, people take their trophies roadkill very seriously:

Warning!

By , December 10, 2010

Overly specific.

Among the various disclaimers and warnings in the manual that accompanied a new Bluetooth headset was this oddity:

Do not place this unit in a place exposed to humidity, dust, soot or steam, subject to direct sunlight, or in a car waiting at a traffic signal. It may cause a malfunction.

Huh? I’ve seen my share of odd warnings, but warning against using something “in a car waiting at a traffic signal”? This is new to me. So assuming I have this thing in my car while I go from A to B, what am I supposed to do when I reach a red light? “Yes, I saw the red light officer, but do you know how dangerous it would have been for me to stop? I have a bluetooth headset in my bag!”

For the record, Sony informed me that this is an error in the manual and it’s meant to caution against using the headset while driving. I’m not at all sure how that would “cause a malfunction,” though. Either way, I’d say that this warning is a good argument against writing owner’s manuals while in a car, whether driving or stopped at a red light.

"I saw you"

By , October 8, 2010

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?

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