Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Some signs I would like to see...

Someone took away our fall weather and poured thick, damp and disgusting smog over Toronto today. The humidex reached 38 Celsius, a level I very much hope it will not reach again this year. I stayed home most of the day, which gave me an opportunity to work on my traffic wish list. Here I present some signs I would like to see on the roads and in mass transit stations.

Cars stop/bicycles yield

This sign means: cars stop and yield to bicycles and pedestrians; bicycles yield to pedestrians. I would like to see signs such as this replace the four-way stop signs used for traffic calming. Traffic control measures designed to slow down motorized traffic or channel it onto arterial roads should not do the same to cyclists. Requiring motorists to stop and cyclists to yield to pedestrians achieves the safety and quality of life goals of traffic calming, while encouraging cycling. In fact, since bicycles produce much less pollution and congestion than cars, providing for the needs of cyclists actually serves the goals of traffic calming measures better than simply four-way stops.
Idaho law allows cyclists to treat four-way stops as yield signs. I prefer to have specific signs for traffic calming stops, because in some cases, it may really enhance safety to have everyone stop. Also, it helps to have measures to accommodate cyclists seen. Such measures offer a healthy response to the refrain we hear too often from drivers and even community leaders, that roads really exist for motorized traffic.

Winter bicycle routes

Toronto City Council seems to think they have a responsibility to keep the salt mine in Goderich in operation. The way the city slathers salt on the streets every winter eats away at bicycles. This gives cycle shops and manufacturers plenty of business, and leaves cyclists who do not want to replace their bicycles every couple of years grinding our teeth. Assuming the advantages of slightly speedier winter traffic justify the environmental and other costs of salting the roads, I would like to see the city devise some winter bicycle routes, where they will not salt the roads, and where they will take other measures to keep cyclists safe from other winter cycling hazards, such as narrower lanes, congested traffic, and reduced visibility.

Bicycle waiting area

A bicycle waiting are at the commuter rail or subway implies that at least one of the cars on each train will have seats which tilt up to allow more room for cyclists or bicycle racks. I would also like to see bicycles allowed onto the subway and commuter rail system at rush hour, with a surcharge for the privilege. A bicycle takes up room and offers its rider significant convenience. I see no reason cyclists should not pay for this convenience, during peak hours. I would rather pay than not have my bicycle allowed on the system at all.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A case in point...

Three weeks ago, I wrote about traffic laws, both real and imaginary. Last week, an article in the Edmonton Sun provided a perfect example of imaginary laws.

The article describes four incidents; in two of them, the cyclist apparently did nothing at all illegal. The writer apparently conflates his own impatience and lack of respect for cyclists with the requirements of the law. A number of points bear emphasizing here:

  • No road user has a right to go faster than the vehicle in front of them. That means:
    • Drivers who want to pass other vehicles have an obligation to do it safely. That obligation does not change when a motor vehicle passes a human-powered vehicle.
    • All types of vehicles take actions, legal, safe, and unremarkable actions, that slow down traffic. Cars turn left into side streets, tying up center lanes. Trucks park to make deliveries. Singling out cyclists for delaying traffic would not make logical sense, even assuming we accept the goal of moving motorized traffic as quickly as possible.
  • The Alberta Highway Traffic Act does require cyclists to stay as far to the right as practicable. Practicable, in this case, means safe, as well as practical. That means:
    • If staying to the right encourages drivers to pass unsafely, then a cyclist has no practicable alternative to taking the lane.
    • Obviously, a cyclists intending to turn left cannot "practicably" travel on the right.

One of the incidents reported in this article illustrates the problems with the writer's mindset. As the writer attempted to pass a cyclist, the cyclist moved out from the curb, possibly to avoid a pothole, and then the writer "had to pull around the cyclist and dodge dangerously into the lane of the oncoming car." The article does not explain why closing the throttle, stepping on the brake, and dropping back behind the cyclist would not have worked just as well. Nor does the author explain why simply slowing down until the lane clearly had enough room for both the bicycle and the car would not have worked.

I consider the conversation about road safety an important one for both drivers and cyclists. We have to talk about safety and legality. But we can't do that with motorists who insist on blurring the distinction between their wants and the public statutes, or between safety for everyone and convenience for them.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Human-Powered Travel and Human Rights

If anyone asked whether the government has the right to sentence any person to house arrest for any, or no, reason, most of us would answer no. But consider the wastes of car-dependent suburbs in North American and several other places in the world, places where road builders include no sidewalks and discourage cycling. A mere administrative action, the revocation of a driver's license, can effectively sentence a person to such restricted bounds that it amounts to imprisonment. The constitutions of free countries, implicitly in the United States and explicitly in Canada, forbid governments to do this.

Yet governments cannot deregulate the operation of cars. Unless you manage to acquire a machine gun or a rocket launcher, you will never own a weapon with the destructive power of an ordinary automobile. No government can treat access to that kind of potential weapon as a civil right. If we cannot accept an inalienable right to drive cars, but we do have a right to move about, to not have the state arbitrarily imprison us, then we must logically decide what form of transportation to define as a right.

Anyone who has read this blog with attention will know that I consider the freedom to use human-powered transportation, primarily cycling and walking, one of the great blessings of an open society. I also see the right of human beings to move about under our own power as an essential compromise between individual freedom and public safety. We must license cars, we must license motorized drivers, for our own safety. But we need not license bicycles or cyclists, and we can, and must, have the freedom to move about, on wheel and on foot, under our own power. Ordinances and policies that forbid cycling and discourage walking can have no place in a free society.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Welcome back, Mr. Ebert

The Toronto International Film Festival is about to start. I was pleased to read in the Toronto Star that Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert is attending the festival, after a forced absence since 2005 due to complications from jaw cancer. I enjoy Mr. Ebert's reviews and I also enjoy his upbeat attitude.

Here's what he says about the festival on his web site:
Say you don't make it into your movie at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Toronto climate is glorious in September, and it is a city vibrating with restaurants, cafes, shops, theaters, concerts, bookstores and actual movie theaters selling tickets to current attractions. And the festival itself attracts exciting street life around the main projection centers and up and down Yorkville, Yonge, Bloor, King and Queen streets. You would have to be very determined to have a bad time in Toronto, and it's just not worth the effort.

Mr. Ebert, welcome back!