Friday, December 26, 2008

So I used to have a 15 minute commute. Then the city decided to cut back on snow removal costs (thanks Conservatives! I am sure your supporters are satisfied not to have to pay more taxes for things that only benefit decadent city folk, like being able to leave your home) and it crept closer to 25 minutes because I can't cycle past traffic jams quite as effectively when the lanes are narrowed. It just took me 47 minutes door to door. Well, desk to desk and that counts unlocking my bike at one end and carrying it upstairs on the other. The gridlock was so bad. It was actual gridlock, with people attempting to beat the red light and getting stuck in the intersection. The STO buses and general motorists were even more vicious at narrowly missing pedestrians while turning right on the red than usual. Never mind that silly pedestrian advance light. I hauled my bike over the snow banks separated the sidewalk from the lane a few times in order to cross as a pedestrian, because that was faster than waiting for the traffic jams to clear. I thought every one who could was taking this week off. The ride in this morning at 7:45 was pretty good. I guess people are shopping now.

The fact that it is -25C with windchill did not improve my mood. Time to head back out into the cold so I can get the kitties their non-denominational winter holiday gift (they are from mixed religious backgrounds).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cycling and the Law in Ottawa

Another day, another string of threats shouted at ex-military, government functionaries using the Laurier Avenue bike lane as drop-off parking on their way to work. I realize that emergencies can happen on the hill, but if you have time to kiss your partner goodbye, then you have time to pull into the parking lot.

I have already sent an angry letter to Department of National Defence headquarters (would have loved to send it from my work but I think that would have been unwise) listing which bylaws are being violated daily by its staff. This is what the City of Ottawa has to say:
  • Motorists are prohibited from driving or parking in all designated bicycle lanes.
I recommend that any cyclist (or motorist, citizen, whomever) learn the traffic laws relevant to them. I find it much more satisfying to quote by-laws to abusive drivers than to curse at them, but them I also ride with the intent of changing common attitudes of cyclists as dangerous menaces. I live in Ottawa (I hope you've heard of it. It's the capital of Canada) and am most familiar with local laws. I was able to get informed through a quick Google search for "ottawa cycling bylaws," which brought up relevent hits from our city hall, local police authorites, and cycling advocacy groups in the area.

Ottawa has extreamly cold and snowy winters. The city has very sophisticated snow removal, but bike lanes remain at the bottom of their official list of priorities. The right-most or parking lane is often more cluttered with snow than others, which generally leaves me cycling in the left lane with traffic. Which in turn leads to angry drivers. I try to avoid any "weaving" and as much shifting in possible in winter, because of how unpredictable the snow is. It can be in ruts from cars, swept to the side, in huge chunks fallen from buildings, and so on. Staying the the left lane or just over the line can frustrate drivers by delaying them, but I feel that it is safer than weaving between lanes to avoid snow. More adjustments of course leads to a greater chance of slipping, not to mention makes my path less predictable for drivers. This is what the local law says about that:
  • Cycle on the right side of the road.
Ok, fine. I shoudln't be in the left lane. Except!
  • Cyclists are entitled to ride in the centre of a lane when they feel it is too narrow for a motor vehicle to pass them, or if they feel their safety is compromised.
  • When passing a cyclist, the Highway Traffic Act requires that you leave a safe distance between your car and the bicycle. Extra passing distance should be given when slippery road conditions exist.
  • Never compromise your safety for the convenience of a motorist.
So, motorists: I am sorry to be slowing you down, but the law says that I can. And I will continue to do so, just as you will continue to risk my life and those of other people on the road in order to get that sweet parking spot, beat the light, or whatever it is that drives you to push the law.

I know that many, many cyclists flaunt the law too. I usually get to hear about it as soon as someone new finds out that I cycle commute. The reality is that pedestrians and motorists break the law too. This is the primary reason that I attempt to know and follow traffic laws whenever I ride. I want to show people that cycling is not a crime, cyclists are not freaks and being carfree is an acceptable lifestyle choice, not an unfortunate circustance.

A quick review of the traffic laws of Ottawa will also reveal that there are no seasonal restrictions to cycling in traffic. A common reaction I receive in winter is how dangerous and foolish cycling on the road is because of the ice and snow. Or that it must be impossible because of the ice and snow. Either way, it is legal and I have learned how to ride on ice. Just as cars are not banned in winter, neither are bikes.

In closing, here is a selection of my favourite traffic by-laws in Ottawa pertaining to cycling:
  • Have a bell, gong, or horn on your bike.
  • People who ride bicycles are not obligated to use bike lanes or pathways, and are entitled to cycle on all roads in Ottawa except the Transitway, Highways 416, 417 and Regional Road 174 (to OrlĂ©ans). Bicycles are considered vehicles under the Highway Traffic Act, so treat them as you would any other vehicle on the road.
That last one is my favourite of all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beer Ad Promots Cycling

I was really happy to see this ad posted on Streetsblog. It depicts cycling as not only normal, but patriotic! Not owning a car is often associated with poverty and desperation. It is tolerable for a time, such as with students, but grown ups drive cars. Conversely, if a cyclist is depicted in the media, he or she can also be a pompous, yuppie, weekend warrior. A spandex-clad flake channeling disposable income into silly pursuits meant to show off their wealth. Commuter cycling is also seen by many, at least those I talk to, as unattainable, as if a potential cyclist has to be in amazing shape to be able to ride. This video depicts a cyclist who is not young or outwardly health conscious, has not special gear, and is even riding in the snow! While I would recommend snow tires in areas with poor ploughing or large snowfalls, I love the idea that anyone can hop on a bike to run a simple errand. The ad shows that spandex, carbohydrate gels, shoe clips and all the gear aimed at professional or competitive cyclists, while nice, are simply not necessary for a run to the store.

One day I will share the story of the dumpstered bike that I ride every day. Maybe with photos.