Monthly Archives: April 2012

Those Demerit Points

Last week, A was cycling up to Yonge and Bloor, and doing what cyclists do, deciding as she went if the traffic lights were to be taken at face value or not. Unfortunately, just at the point where the lights were red and not a vehicle in sight, and just where she decided the lights were not be taken at face value, there appeared the traffic police, as if out of nowhere.

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The officer slapped her with a $325 fine. Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA) 144 (18), failure to stop at a red light. And, as she was told, 3 demerit points. After she had informed him at length of the unfairness of treating bikes like cars, he kindly reduced it to failing to stop on amber, HTA 144 (15), $180. Poorer, somehow wiser, somehow frustrated, she went on her way. A fine of $180 is one thing, but those demerit points. For a cyclist without a car, it’s hard to make sense of that one.

It turns out she doesn’t have to. Section 56 states: “The Lieutenant Governor in Council may make regulations providing for a demerit point system for drivers of motor vehicles or of streetcars.” This means that if you are on a bike, there are no demerit points. Which is nice, but there’s something about the concept of fining cyclists as if they were in motor vehicles that defies comprehension. Is it the unfairness of pretending our bikes are cars when it comes to traffic violations, but not when it comes to the way we can use the road?

And what exactly are we allowed to do on the roads? The HTA states that slow vehicles must ride as far to the right as possible, which sets cyclist up for sideswiping by carelesss right-laners (and in many downtown situations, the right-laners are by definition in more of a hurry and more willing to take risks).

So until the law can look at cyclists from the seat of a bike, and not from behing the tinted windows of an SUV we have little choice other than obeying the rules of the road, while making up the details of these rules as we go along. Just hope the unmarked car is watching with sympathetic eyes.


Bike Lane Blues II

When they straightened Dufferin, they created what is probably Toronto’s shortest bike lane. Riding downhill toward Queen, it took less than 1/2 a minute to go the full length of the lane.

But who’s complaining, at least someone in the city planning department remembered bikes. Then the TTC decided to shift the bus stop from the south to the north side of Queen. Now the buses have no choice but to block the lane.

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The shortest bike lane just got shorter.


My secret agreement with Toronto police

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It seems I have an unspoken agreement with Toronto police. I live on a one-way street, and every once in a while, not very often, I will see a police cruiser driving casually the wrong way up the street. No warning lights, no siren, no emergency. I guess it’s just quicker and easier that way. I’ve considered stopping them and asking them to at least follow the rules and use their siren if they want to break the rules of the road. Or taking their number and reporting them.

Last week it happened three times on one day that I was cycling the wrong way up a one-way street and found myself staring straight down the windscreen of a Toronto police cruiser. Three times I murmured quick excuses to myself, casting my lot with the mercy of the keepers of the parking peace. But, bless them, they pretended they didn’t see me, I pretended I didn’t see them, and we both rode on with dignity preserved.

So they don’t report me and I don’t report them. That’s my unspoken deal with Toronto police. If it were the same officers, if it were an explicit agreement, you could call it corruption. As it is, I think of it as the human face of policing. And anyway, what did Brecht say about corruption?

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“For humans, corruption is what compassion is for God.”


Bike Lane Blues I: e-bikes

Recently I stopped a person riding a scooter in the bike lane and pointed out to them that they were breaking the law. I was informed that, because it had pedals, this “e-bike” was indeed permitted in the bike lane. I apologized and told the rider I didn’t know that, then proceeded on my way.

image from Ministry of Transportation http://www.mto.gov.on.ca

As it turns out, it’s not that simple. What is an e-bike, and what can it do? Read more here.

According to Ontario law, “E-bikes are allowed to travel anywhere bicycles are permitted to travel.” However, it also makes room for municipalities to prohibit e-bikes from “municipal roads, sidewalks, bike paths, bike trails, and bike lanes under their jurisdiction.”

Indeed, according to City of Toronto bike lane bylaws, “bicycles must be propelled by muscular power.” So the rider in question was right, with the small caveat that the pedals have to be not only present, but used.

All this is fine, but what am I supposed to do next time, make a citizen’s arrest? If only traffic police considered it part of their mandate to make cycling safer and easier, I might not have to worry about this kind of thing.


A Weight Loss Tip for Mayor Ford

I’m worried about Mayor Rob Ford’s much publicized weight loss campaign. He’s been at it for 11 weeks now, and he’s lost nothing, it seems. Looks like political battles are easier to lose than body fat.

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I was talking to A yesterday, and she had a really good suggestion. The overweight mayor could take his bike (yes, Mr. Ford, we want to believe you own one) to the office and back. He could start off once a week, then move it up gradually until he’s cycling from his home in Etobicoke to Nathan Phillips Square every day.
I punched his details into BBBike (see my blog from yesterday), and found a route for him. If he’s not fussy about sharing the road with the polluters (“swimming with the sharks” I think he called it), he’ll ride a bit on the Kingsway, weave his way through to Old Mill Road, Catherine Street and Old Mill Drive, feel the wind whistling in his hair as he sails through the backstreets of Bloor West Village, then pick up the dedicated bike trail next to the Queensway (yes, Mr. Mayor, a dedicated bike trail). From there it’s pretty plain sailing. Total distance is about 16km, and if he can hold 20 K per hour, it will take some 50 minutes. Think about it, Mr. Mayor, you probably don’t get there much faster during rush hour in your SUV. The office is about 60 metres lower than home, so the trip back is gonna be a bit tougher. But then you’re used to that. It was so easy to get there, but it’s only been uphill ever since. The daily ride to the office and back will burn about 600 Calories. And the really good news is it equals about 4.5 Kg in CO2 offset.
I can just see it – the kilograms of unhealthy fat melting away, the kilograms of CO2 that never were.


Planning a Route with BBBike @ Toronto

Normally, I don’t like to be told what route to take across the city. If it’s my daily commute, I’m a creature of habit, and cling almost superstitiously to my 4 or 5 standard variations on home – work – home. And if I’m going farther afield, I like to explore at random. But this little device has really captured my imagination.

BBBike @ Toronto announces itself as “your cycle journey planner! We’ll help you find a nice, safe and short bike route in Toronto and around.” And it’s true. Type in your location and destination, and it plots the bike-friendly route. First it lists a turn-by-turn cycling guide…

… then a map (note the elevation chart, so you can look forward to the up and downhills).

Then you set your preferences, and it modifies the route accordingly.

BBBike.org was developed by two Berliner cyclists, Wolfram Schneider and Slaven Rezić …

Ah, Berlin, where they understand cycling. Speaking of which, I’ll be reporting from Berlin in May.


Toronto City Council: Gardiner Expressway to be Re-built for Bikes

I’m finding this hard to believe. The city of Toronto has announced a multi-million dollar re-building of the Gardiner to accommodate the increasing number of cycling commuters, and ultimately to remove automobiles from the highway during peak hours.

Photo by TObike from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Apparently, the Gardiner Expressway between Exhibition Place and the DVP will be open to cyclists only – no motorized vehicles – every day this summer between 7 and 9 am, and again between 3:30 and 6:30 pm. Plans are already underway to construct a retractible plexiglass cover over the same section of the Gardiner to keep commuters warm and dry in the winter. The estimated cost will be $40-50 million.

The task force of City Council that made the recommendation was asked if it was really worth spending this much money to keep the cycling lobby happy. The response was that this is not about keeping an interest group happy, it was to improve the quality of life for all Torontonians by cutting down on unnecessary automobile traffic to and from the city during peak hours. “No price tag is too high for that”!