Thursday, June 28, 2007

Answers for rude drivers....

In January of this year, I posted on the need for an alternative means of communication with rude and aggressive drivers. A reader added a comment to the effect that the Australians may have found a gesture that works.

I hope it works, because road rage hasn't gone away.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

This is my bicycle...

This is my bicycle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Together, we make up a truly remarkable vehicle: efficient, agile, silent, non-polluting.

A bicycle has a ratio of one watt to the guidance system, the cyclist's brain, for every four watts that goes into the propulsion system, the cyclist's legs. Consider, by contrast, the car: for every watt of brain power, in many cars a thousand watts go into the drive train. That makes a bicycle the smartest transportation system on the road today.

My bicycle gives me pleasure, lets me move through the world using less energy than any other vehicle, gives me a way to experience, directly, the smells of the city, the slopes, turns, and texture of the road, see, hear, and feel the world I move through.

I ride to shops, work sites, through places of beauty and peace and across gulfs of concrete and hazard. I ride in cooling breezes during the summer, and snow flurries in the winter.

After eleven years of riding, this bicycle has come to fit me.Together, this bicycle and I move in the world.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A feature, not a bug...

Cyclists do not have to pay car insurance premiums. To judge from the comment recently dropped on I Bike TO, some people regard that as a bug. I see it as a feature, for two reasons:
  1. Operating a vehicle with a mass of 100 kilograms powered by a 100 watt power source carries less risk to everyone around you than operating a vehicle with a mass of 2000 kilos and a peak power of over 150,000 watts. Cars pose a risk to drivers, passengers, other road users, and even pedestrians. As well as keeping hundreds of auto body shops in business, your (2003) car insurance premiums helped pay the funeral expenses of 2,778 people killed in crashes in this country, and medical and rehabilitation costs for 222,260 people injured. When you drive, you operate a two-tonne battering ram fueled by the explosive equivalent of 800 pounds of dynamite. The risk translates into cost, but even insurance premiums cannot offset all the risks of driving. We should welcome a method of transport which avoids the risks of the car, not resent it for costing less.
  2. The Canadian Charter of Rights identifies personal mobility as a right. Attaching a price tag to a right makes it hard for many people to exercise, and makes it irrelevant to many poor people. In a car-dependent culture, high-speed roads can act as prison walls confining poor communities. A means of personal mobility available to everyone makes everyone free.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Thirty-day chip

I started this year by posting my sole New Year's Resolution: to cycle more and drive less. Now at my house we keep track of our car-free days. We expect to make this our fourteenth car-free day; we used our bicycles to go out to dinner in Port Credit. We've promised ourselves that we will do something special when we have accumulated thirty car-free days.

We try to define a car-free day as a day in which we neither drive nor do we make any secondary use of a car; by ordering food delivered or by taking a taxi. We can have a car-free day where we take the train or public transit. But above all, a car-free day means taking the opportunity to travel by bicycle.

For me, car-free means freedom, from the cost of gas, as well as from all the other costs, economic and personal, of using a car. It means relying on myself for my own travel.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Thank you for reading this weblog. I appreciate your deciding to spend some time on what we write here. If you should decide to comment on what you read, we look forward to reading what you have to say.

So why do I have comment moderation enabled? I want to prevent spam comments. I welcome comments on anything we have written, whether you agree with us or not. I only insist that you:

  1. keep the ratio of profanity to thought reasonable (for best results, avoid profanity completely)
  2. do not attempt to advertise a product or service, and
  3. avoid insulting or abusing third parties.

As long as you stay within these guidelines, feel free to post your ideas in the comments. If you need to get in touch with either of us privately, submit a comment with NOT FOR PUBLICATION at the head, and an e-mail address or some other way we can reply to you.

Friday, June 22, 2007

An Armed Society

The National Rifle Association in the US likes to quote Robert Heinlein: "An armed society is a polite society."

Here in Toronto, we have the arms, all right. We (or most of us) frequently tool around in two-tonne battering rams, each powered by enough high explosive to take down a building. We seem to have missed out on the "polite" part, though.

Most drivers behave with appropriate courtesy and respect, but a minority behaves in ways ranging from pushy and disrespectful to homicidally reckless. What did we do wrong? When do we get the "polite" part of our armed society?

I generally disagree with Heinlein every chance I get, but I partly agree with him here. In an armed society, people take their manners seriously, because what they do, and say, can have serious consequences. I think we do not have a polite society on the roads because we do not have a society of armed, self-confident equals. Instead, we have a society of patient, courteous drivers and a minority of motorized yobs. And because the majority has not yet developed an effective way of responding to the disrespectful, even lethal minority around us, violent drivers have impunity. Many people do not take their behavior seriously, because the consequences only go one way.

If we want to respond to aggressive drivers, we can assert our rights on the street, or we can assert them effectively in the courts. Given the consequences of a demolition derby, or even a game of chicken, on our streets, dealing with violent drivers through the courts makes more sense than anything else. If you drive a car, you operate a weapon, and the misuse of that privilege ought to carry the same consequences as the misuse of any other dangerous weapon. The time has come to take the rights and the responsibilities of all drivers seriously.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Urban Oddness

Yesterday I was on the westbound platform at Toronto’s Runnymede subway station when I saw an odd sight. A man, walking along the platform, turned his head to look at a round rust stain on the floor, a stain that suggested the former presence of a garbage can. The man then tossed a crumpled piece of paper in the general vicinity of the round stain. This action suggested three possibilities:

1. The man saw the stain but registered it in his mind as a garbage can, and therefore tossed his garbage in the proper direction.
2. The main disagreed with the transit commission’s decision to remove the garbage can, and therefore tossed his trash in the hope the garbage can would rematerialize some day.
3. The man didn’t know where he would find a garbage can, and so just tossed his garbage in the nearest available place.

Of these possibilities I find the first one the most intriguing, because it suggests that, for the man, a representation (the stain) took on the same value as the thing itself (the garbage can). This calls to mind French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s idea of the simulacrum. Professor Dino Felluga offers the following helpful prĂ©cis: “Baudrillard is not merely suggesting that postmodern culture is artificial, because the concept of artificiality still requires some sense of reality against which to recognize the artifice. His point, rather, is that we have lost all ability to make sense of the distinction between nature and artifice.” I would suggest that a parallel to the man’s actions in the subway might be if someone whose pet had died adopted a plush toy animal, treating it just like the real animal.

I see though that I have been sloppy: the rusty circle is a trace of the garbage can, not a representation. It is a leftover, a relic, a remnant. So a better parallel to the man’s actions in the subway might be a widower who has taken to addressing his wife’s discarded shoes as though they were her.

Returning to our subway litterbug, the person’s actions show a stubborn ability to ignore an obvious loss (of the garbage can), in order to accomplish a task (trash disposal). This seems to me, in an odd way, to blend wishful thinking with well-developed survival skills.