Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Obligation of the cyclist, responsibility of the community

I have said it before. I still believe it. I'll say it again: cyclists have two absolute ethical responsibilities. One, to everyone that loves us and waits for us at home, to take care of our own safety. Two, to our fellow vulnerable road users, meaning other cyclists and pedestrians, to do them no harm.

I don't believe cyclists have any other absolute obligations. It makes sense to ride with good "style", to adhere to the traffic laws (if only to avoid the expense of traffic fines). Treat all other road users with courtesy and insist on courtesy in return. Advocate for respect and room for cyclists on the road. All these things matter, and as a cyclist I try to do them; I don't believe they rise to the level of a moral obligation.

That brings us to the cyclist who rode into an elderly couple and knocked them down, The man escaped severe injuries, but the woman suffered serious fractures and succumbed to her injuries earlier this month. The cyclist fled the scene. Don't do this. Don't ride like this. Don't duck your responsibilities like this. Don't do it, not because it hurts the image of cyclists, not because it gives irresponsible pandering politicians an opening to call for restrictions on cyclists, but because it hurts people. It kills people. It kills vulnerable road users just like us, people we have a responsibility not to injure. Don't flee the scene because the law forbids you to do so; don't flee the scene because leaving another human being in the street, in pain, someone you injured is wrong. It's wrong when motorists do it, and using a two-wheeled human powered vehicle doesn't make it right.

Another modest proposal

By Guilhermeduartegarcia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Guilhermeduartegarcia CC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
Almost exactly ten years have passed since Brian Ashton lamented the decision by the Canadian government to decline to submit a bid for Expo 2015 on Toronto's behalf. Today we s another flurry of efforts to promote a bid for the 2025 international exhibition. As before, press reports focus on the political and business leaders supporting the idea of a bid, with sometimes a quick note of the potential costs and the number of jobs "created". The reports don't address the environmental sustainability of the fair or of the changes to urban structure required for the fair.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The big reveal of Donald Trump

The conservative website the Federalist (via Rod Dreher) has a story up, regarding what they claim to regard as suspicious timing of the revelations about Donald Trump's history of assaulting and harassing women. Mollie Hemingway, the author of the article, quotes an "opposition researcher" named Luke Thompson as follows:
First, notice the mix of local outlets and national outlets. There’s a great mix of print and broadcast as well. Start with the NYT to get eyeballs on the web and TV. CNN picks it up immediately. Ok. Now you’ve got a story rolling. Within an hour, you start to get multiple waves coming out of local outlets. These get picked up. Within ninety minutes you’ve got reporters reporting on existing reporting. The cycle is locked in. Nobody’s assessing the stories. And here’s the kicker: the victims live in FL, OH, even UT. THEY’RE ALL SWING STATES! It’s masterful to be honest. 
By Michael Vadon (Own work) [<a href="">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>], <a href="">via Wikimedia Commons</a>
By Michael Vadon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Ms. Hemingway  probably has the case backward here. In May of this year, with Mr. Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee, James Fallows started a regular feature on the Atlantic Monthly site called "Trump Time Capsule" in which he detailed things said and done by Donald Trump, and things publicly known about him, that no previous presidential candidate had said or done before, at least in living memory. Mr. Fallows made no bones about his belief these things disqualified the Republican candidate from the presidency:
...if Donald Trump were the Democratic nominee, I would not vote for him. 
I believe he should not become president mainly because of his temperament. Presidents make an astonishingly large number of hour-by-hour judgment calls. Nothing about Donald Trump’s judgment is reassuring from my point of view. His Tweets are highly entertaining! But so is Tosh.0 Again, I’m not trying to persuade anyone. I am just laying out my logic.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

An apology to Rob Ford

By West Annex News (Flickr: Rob_Ford_in_David_Pecaut_Square) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By West Annex News
(Wikimedia Commons)
Rob, if you can hear me... sorry.

Earlier in this election, I compared the brash populism of Donald Trump to the populism of Rob Ford. At the time, the comparison seemed to make sense. Rob Ford had, and "Ford nation" still has, the same sort of supporters who turn out for Donald Trump: lower income individuals who have trouble getting ahead and who see, often correctly, that people who know the secret handshake get breaks from governments the rest of us do not.

But I don't for a second believe Rob Ford would ever have treated the Khans the way Donald Trump treated them, making insinuations about Mrs. Khan's silence as she stood by her husband, or fatuously insisting the "sacrifices" he made to get rich compared with those of the Khans.

By Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Gage Skidmore 
(Wikimedia Commons)
When I asked myself how Rob Ford would have responded to Khizr Khan's speech, it occurred to me: Rob Ford would have called the Khans. He would have talked to them. Rob always called people who disagreed with him. He would have listened the he Khans. He would have expressed sympathy with their sacrifice. He would probably not have changed any of his positions, but he would have given the Khans the courtesy of a hearing.

All Rob Ford's most vehement opponents, which some
times included me, acknowledged his ability as a retail politician. He listened to people, and whether he agreed with us or not he gave the impression he cared what we thought. I think he genuinely did; I think he had a real desire to help and connect with people, and unlike Donald Trump, he did not respond to opposition with the fury of wounded vanity.

I had the experience of watching Rob Ford as mayor and as councilor. Mr. Trump, you're no Rob Ford.

An inadvertent Faustian bargain for cyclists?

The Ontario Highway Traffic Act says that cyclists have to ride in the right hand lane, but does not specify a position. It also requires motorists to pass cyclists with at least a meter of clearance. At the same time, it says that when passed, cyclists must move over and allow the overtaking vehicle to proceed. The law makes it unclear whether the cyclists must, as another part of the section on passing states, leave no more than half the road free, or whether the cyclist must move over regardless.

In the United States, the Uniform Vehicle Code, published by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances in 2000, says the following:
(a) Any person operating a bicycle... at less than the normal speed of traffic... shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except.... When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle.... When preparing for a left turn.... When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions' including but not limited to: fixed or moving objects; parked or moving vehicles; bicycles; pedestrians; animals; surface hazards; or.... a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to travel safely side by side..... When riding in the right-turn-only lane.
In both cases, the law manages to say the bicycles should ride in the right hand lane and ride, or give way, to the right side of the road, except when they shouldn't. Conversely, cyclists can take the lane, when allowed to, under certain conditions.

For the past three decades, laws, practices and attitudes have evolved under pressure from environmentalists and cyclists. For much of that time, various people with an emotional or an economic stake in the current heavily motorized transportation system have attempted to resist this process. Laws in the process of change inevitably contain contradictory and unclear segments, as the legislature changes laws piecemeal.

As different legislatures change laws differently, it makes sense to expect the laws will evolve differently. In this case, the laws in very different jurisdictions have changed to the same effect: they all acknowledge the right of cyclists to take the lane where safety requires it, but they do so ambiguously. In all cases the application of the law depends on a judgement; in the case of the Ontario law, it requires a judgement about what the law means.In the case of the Uniform Vehicle code, a cyclists's right to take the lane depends on whether conditions require it; again, a matter of assessment.

The laws in Ontario and elsewhere have taken a particular shape: articulate cyclists with considerable personal resources, of the sort who tend to lead legislative campaigns, can take the lane with some confidence the courts will uphold, or at least permit, their actions. Meanwhile, the laws retain enough ambiguity to permit the police to push cyclists without the resources or time to study the law or prevail in court to the side of the road. I do not consider this a compromise cyclists should or can accept. As long as cyclists' right to ride in safety remains subject to ambiguities in the law, then some of us do not have the right to take the lane, which means none of us really do.

At a minimum, this means we haven't won the battle for the right to cycle, safely, and to choose the best road position. We need to say so. We need to keep pushing governments to remove all the qualifications in the law regarding our right to the road.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Another comment on Black Lives Matter

By Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA (Protesters gather for Black Lives Matter march) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Fibonacci Blue (Wikimedia Commons)
Six months ago, Chris Lollie settled a lawsuit against the City of St. Paul Minnesota and the police department of that city. In response to a complaint by a private security guard that Mr. Lollie had sat in the wrong chair in an area open to the public, the police shocked him using an electric discharge device and arrested him.The courts first dismissed all the charges the police laid against Mr. Lollie, and subsequently cleared the way for his suit to go forward. At that point, to avoid the possibility of a larger damage award the city settled, although to the credit of the councilors who made the decision, they also considered the police had done wrong. As a member of council said: "I want to see our city make national news for many things. And this is not one of them."

Mr. Lollie took a cell phone video of his arrest, and the release of the video, as well as the subsequent discussion, took place just as the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson MO came to international attention. Seeing the way the police treated Mr. Lollie, and discussing his arrest, led me to see the phrase Black Lives Matter as not simply the self-evident truth that the police should not shoot people with black skin, but that Black people have a right to live a full and whole life, lived in dignity, freedom, with a sense of possibility. I do not see Black Lives matter simply as a not shooting, but as upholding the dignity of the person.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

To my American friends..

Clinton at Planned Parenthood (cropped) By Lorie Shaull (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
photo Lorie Shaull (Wikimedia)
From social media, I get a strong sense that some of you feel a deep and abiding disappointment about Democrat primary voters going for the "establishment" candidate, Hillary Clinton.

I don't normally like to tell voters in another country whom they should elect, but one thing makes the United States a special case: the largest thermonuclear arsenal on the planet. All voters, everywhere, vote for the people they think will do the best job for themselves, their children, and the unborn generations to come. When Americans vote to decide whom they will hand the keys of a 6,000+ megaton nuclear arsenal, they also vote on behalf of the 95% of people on Earth who do not get a vote in American elections, but can still die in a nuclear war.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How not to argue for the rights of cyclists

When cycling on streets and roads where motorists may have permission to operate their vehicles, cyclists have the right to decide our lane positions for ourselves. Human vision has a narrow acute range: the optimum resolution of our eyes covers just a few degrees. To cope with this limit, aviators train to scan the sky in small sections; without this training, surface motor vehicle operators focus on the road in front of the vehicle. Cyclists occupying the center of the lane have the best chance motorists will see and avoid us. Visibility plays a particularly critical role at intersections, and there cyclists riding to the side have the greatest chance of coming into conflict with motor vehicles.

There you have the safety case for cyclists riding in the center of the lane. It exists in tension with another safety imperative: separating traffic operating at different speeds, to avoid the need for sudden changes in speed and to minimize the consequences of an impact. Those two hazards: getting sideswiped by a driver passing too close and getting hit by a driver who sees us too late define the choices for cyclists. Taking all the risks and the known limits of drivers into account, it makes a lot of sense for cyclists to ride in the center of the lane when we don't have, at minimum, an adequate bicycle lane, and, preferably, a protected bike lane. Most of us who ride in North America can't count on bike lanes every where we go, or even most of the places we go. Most of us need to take the lane, and taking the lane serves us best when we do it without fear and without apology. At an absolute minimum, cyclists have, and ought to vigorously defend, a right to make our own choices about where in the lane to ride.

I ride in the center of the lane because I consider it safer. That covers it in three words: I consider it safer. John Forester and some of his supporters clutter the issue with irrelevant and frankly offensive detours from the single objective that matters: getting everyone from point 'A' to point 'B' alive and uninjured, notwithstanding the presence of two-tonne steel bombs.

Friday, July 15, 2016

#blacklivesmatter vs. #alllivesmatter: a different perspective

By Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA
[CC BY 2.0 (],
 via Wikimedia Commons
To judge by my facebook feed, just about everyone I know who forwards thoughts about the original #blacklivesmatter and the rejoinder #alllivesmatter see the difference as one of urgency. The vast majority of comments I read use an analogy of a building on fire or a child who got left out at dinner. By this analogy, black lives don't matter more, but black people, at least in the American context, have a more urgent need for justice right now.

I agree with this analogy, but I can see other ways of looking at the issue as well. A hashtag, after all, has some flexibility; we can see it in many different ways. And by seeing the hashtag #blacklivesmatter in a slightly different way, I have also come to see the problem with the attempted retort #alllivesmatter in a different way as well.

Imagine the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, not as a plea or as a proposition. Imagine it as a simple statement that we all long ago signed onto. In this light, the hashtag contains an accusation: the lives of Black people matter; you know it, I know it, we all know it, but our society, and particularly our justice system do not act according to our understanding. The power of the #blacklivesmatter hashtag stems from our recognition that our actions and the behaviour of our institutions do not reflect our stated ethics: therefore, #alllivesmatter will always embody a weak response, a feeble denial. Simply acknowledging the phrase "black lives matter" as a statement that calls for a response shows that at some level those who respond understand the problem exists. If black lives matter did not call our attention to a real problem, we would respond with "of course", rather than with "all lives matter".