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.

The monuments of Scarborough

I posted about Scarborough’s own version of the CN Tower a few weeks ago, which the Summer 2007 issue of Spacing says will soon be torn down. The Scarborough Tower that is, not the CN Tower. Little did I know that the Scarborough Tower was just the beginning.

The Scarborough Arch

I was delighted to discover recently that Scarborough boasts its own version of St. Louis’s Gateway Arch. Rising an impressive 2.5 metres above the pathway on Midland Ave and offering commanding views of the nearby sidewalk, the arch truimphantly marks the symbolic gateway to the Midland Court Apartments and commemorates the relentless Eastward Expansion of the city. (If you look closely at the Google satellite photo, you can see the graceful outline of the arch just to the left of the green arrow in the middle of the map.)

All manner of monuments, attractions, and landmarks dot the Scarborough landscape, many of them recalling the style of more famous brethren. Think Miniature Village without the tourists (much as it was during its final years). Or Las Vegas without the glitz.

Toronto's only suspension bridge

Sewells Road suspension bridge in Scarborough

Tucked into the northeast corner of Scarborough near the Zoo, Toronto’s only vehicle-carrying suspension bridge straddles the Rouge River. A small handful of other suspension bridges dot the city, but carry only pedestrians and cyclists. Transportation Services was taken by surprise upon my first inquiry and couldn’t immediately confirm that this was a true suspension bridge. But John Bryson, Structures and Expressways Manager for the city, verified that it is indeed a “suspension bridge with the side trusses as stabilizers for the deck.”

Sewells Road suspension bridge in Scarborough

Built in 1912 and one of fewer than 15 bridges listed in Toronto’s inventory of heritage properties, the bridge can be seen by traveling through the Scarborough countryside on Sewells Road north from Old Finch or south from Steeles. Transportation Services also told me that the bridge is due for rehabilitation in the near future and that it may need to be altered from its current form. Best get thee to Scarborough to see it before the bean counters and Leon’s get their mitts on it.

The local scenery in this corner of the city will make you forget that you’re still in Toronto. Unfortunately, the illegally-dumped trash and auto wrecker up the street will remind you that you’re still in Scarborough.

Sewells Road suspension bridge in Scarborough

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

By-law roulette #1

Section 480-3(A) (PDF) of the Toronto Municipal Code states that:

No person shall sell personal property at a garage sale other than personal property that has actually been used on, about, or in connection with the residential premises or, in the case of a joint garage sale held with a neighbour, the residential premises of the neighbour.

Garage Sale Saturdea SantayPeople sometimes accuse local politicians of poking their noses a little too far into residents’ private business, and with some justification. A by-law that declares residents must have used everything that they’re selling in a garage sale would seem to confirm the stereotype. This one rule alone eliminates most Saturday morning front yard staples: candles, exercise machines, and gaudy tchotchkes.

The right to roam

A member of one of my mailing lists recently posted a link to a story at the Daily Mail called How children lost the right to roam in four generations. It looks at four generations of a family in Sheffield and examined how far from home children of each generation were able to wander from home unaccompanied. The great-grandfather was allowed to walk six miles to the local fishing hole at the age of eight, while his eight year old great-grandson is now only allowed to roam within a 300-yard radius.

The gradual erosion of kids’ freedom is so universally accepted that it’s not really news. But what makes the Daily Mail article so compelling is the graphic that accompanies the story: it overlays a map with the roaming area of the four eight-year-olds, showing how dramatically children’s worlds have been shrinking.

With that in mind, I’ve taken a Google map satellite image of my old neighbourhood in East York and overlaid my own roaming area as an eight-year-old in the late ’70s. The result is the graphic below.
My roaming limits as an 8-year-old

The farthest from my home that I was allowed to venture alone was a little over 500 metres. But within that 500 metres were two playgrounds, a school yard, a swimming pool, a wading pool, a library, numerous stores, a restaurant, a haunted house (or so we imagined), and most of my friends.

Venturing farther afield or crossing any of the local main streets required being accompanied by an older friend or family member. We moved to Scarborough the next year, where my authorized roaming radius increased to well over a kilometre; my unauthorized radius, previewing the explorer I would eventually become, was larger still. When we moved back to East York three years after that, my catchment area expanded to virtually anywhere the TTC, my bike, and my twelve-year-old feet could take me.

How far were you allowed to wander as an eight-year-old?

Dodgeville's got a new gig

Starting today, I’m contributing to local superblog Torontoist. I’ll be posting mostly eye-on-the-street, found-Toronto, sights-that-amuse articles similar to my recent spottings of Spider-men, water tanks, and bronze plaques. My first Torontoist post appeared earlier this afternoon.

If you’re my biggest fan and don’t want to read all of Torontoist just to find my witty prose and colourful pictures, fear not: at least some of what I post on Torontoist will show up here a day or two later. Dodgeville will also continue to receive content of its own.

On a related note, Torontoist is hiring new contributors. You too could be paid for blogging.

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.

Spidey has it covered

Spider-Man covers the lawn

One of my neighbours has found a new use for those giant vinyl outdoor ads that frequently grace the sides of large buildings and the pages of landscape fabric. He’s cut up this Spider-Man sign to provide some cover for his lawn. Spidey never looked so good.

I haven’t caught anyone at home during the week I’ve been walking and cycling past this sight, so I don’t yet know the full story behind the unusual re-use. Time will tell if it’ll end up as the base layer of a new garden. In the meantime, I’ll smile at the poetic justice of dozens of neighbourhood dogs peeing on what was likely an illegally-posted sign in its day.

Alternative title for this post: Christo in Toronto redux.

Update, June 13: Sometime between 5:30 last night and 8:30 this morning, Spidey was removed from the lawn and rolled up in the driveway. No word yet on whether he’ll be back to fight another day or if his lawnfighting days are behind him.

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.


A smattering of fans take in a Blue Jays game

I posted the message below to a mailing list in 2005, after attending a Blue Jays game in which seemingly everything but the blue sky itself was brought to me by some sponsor or other. It was my first game since Rogers had taken over the SkyDome.

I went to a baseball game at the SkyDome for the first time in a couple of years last night and was struck immediately by how much the experience has changed. I felt like I was sitting in a giant commercial. First off was FedEx Delivers The Game, in which a FedEx van drove onto centre field and then off again without actually delivering anything at all. That was followed by the First Ball, brought to you by a Chevrolet Corvette which, again, drove onto centre field and then drove off again without actually dropping off the first ball.

The first pitch was thrown out by the star of an upcoming movie — a commercial for which was shown later, one of two commercials shown during the game. It was just like watching on TV. The “Game Host” was some guy from Rogers Television who spent the mid- and end-of-inning breaks strolling around the SkyDome running contests — The Staples contest, the Keg contest, the Klondike Ice Cream Bar contest, the Rogers High-Speed Internet contest, the FedEx contest, the Murderball poster contest, and on it went.

There were at least two contests where you had to text message your answer to a special number in order to win. At one point, I realized that the only things not brought to me by some corporate sponsor were the national anthems and, strangely enough, the former JumboTron, which is not the Sony JumboTron or the Panasonic StadiumVision or somesuch, but just “the big screen.”

At one point BJ Birdy Ace, the mascot, ran through the stands with his little uniformed helpers and tossed empty (I assume) FedEx shipping boxes to the most boisterous fans. And believe me, the lucky recipients looked ecstatic to take possession of their newfound, uh, cardboard. It’s possible that something was supposed to be inside, but I must have missed that part. I’d estimate that I saw the Rogers logo more times last night than I had in my entire lifetime before.

At the last game I went to not quite two years ago, I don’t recall anything near the kind of corporate orgy that I witnessed last night. Back then, the highlight of the game was some guy with a grenade launcher shooting free hot dogs up into the crowd. Now that was fun, but I suppose nothing screams lawsuit like a weiner missile.

Oh yeah, the game wasn’t bad, but it detracted a bit from the commercial message.

This weekend, I went to my first Jays game since sitting inside that 3-hour commercial and can report that although things have improved marginally, the impression remains the same. Even the tribute paid to Jays great Dave Stieb was lessened by the reference to his sitting in the big easy chair in the “TD Canada Trust Comfort Zone.”

It’s more than a little sad that the singular experience of watching a baseball game unfold over 9 innings is slowly morphing into just another commercial/entertainment spectacle that has little to do with the game at hand.

Maybe I should start making my biennial baseball pilgrimmage to Christie Pits instead of the SkyDome.