Sunday, July 26, 2009

A bad week...

One week ago, an irresponsible driver seriously injured five cyclists riding in a bicycle lane and then left the scene. Cathy Anderson, 45, Hilary McNamee, 26, Rob Wein, 35, Rob Harland, 45, and Mark White, 33, had all gone for a training ride in preparation for a half marathon. Their route, March Road, had a wide bicycle lane. Police investigators allege that 45-year-old Sommit Luangpakham plowed straight through the group at about 8:00 last Sunday morning. Police have charged him with leaving the scene of an accident, and will consider other charges as their investigation proceeds. As of the last news story available, Mr. Wein remains unconscious and in critical condition. Over the week following this horrible crash, at least two other motor vehicles have collided with cyclists.

I read about these tragedies and think about how easily they can happen, how but for the Creator's Grace I might end up on the side of a road, critically injured. At one of the ghost bike memorials I attended, one of the participants said "they kill us and they kill each other; what can we do?" I can think of many things we can do, but above all, I think we need to end the culture of entitlement that surrounds the automobile. When people comment on these stories, we read again and again that cars "always win" by simple physics; regardless of the law, a two-tonne car always beats a bicycle. Comments like this imply, or sometimes state outright, that motorists always ought to win because they have a big bomb. We will have a lot more peace on our roads when more people begin to understand that a bully with a car threatens the lives and peace of those of us who obey the laws as a bully with an Uzi or a Glock.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A scene from a garbage strike

Our family has (so far, touch wood) had enough room to store our garbage, bulk composting, and recycling. It helps that we paid for the largest size garbage and recycling bins. It also doesn't hurt that we have had a (vegetable) compost bin in the back yard of every house we have owned during our marriage.

But a couple of nights ago, the raccoons severely tested our preparations. I don't know if CUPE 416 has made Toronto's raccoon population honorary members of the local, but the longer the strike goes on, the more opportunity the raccoons have to get fat and make a mess. They certainly got through the bungee cords we used to close our green bin, and made a terrible mess of our shed. To prevent a repetition, we bought an extra bin, some contractor-grade 3-mil garbage bags, and three lengths of chain. We now have all the garbage a raccoon can eat (or the raccoons might think they can eat) in bins closed with chains and screw shackles. We'll see if the varmits can open that.

Where do my sympathies lie? 10% with CUPE and 90% with the ordinary citizens of this city, especially the young, elderly, poor and vulnerable. The city management botched the negotiations as thoroughly as possible: their initial offers to CUPE went way past inadequate. In the context of the contracts with other city workers, to say nothing of the pay raise the councilors voted themselves, the city's offer insulted the members of CUPE 416 and 79. The offer essentially amounted to a pay cut, told the workers they contributed less to the city than other workers (less even than city council). I find it hard to forgive the incompetence of the city politicians, particularly when I contemplate how easily my family has gotten through this strike so far, and what having the pools closed must mean to a family that can't afford to buy their kids a season's pass to Canada's Wonderland.

But the behaviour of the picketers, and the angry reactions of the local when the city made its offer public, raise the uncomfortable question: when a public service union goes on strike, who have they struck against? The managers and politicians, or us, the public, generally?

The time has long since come for Toronto politicians to make a deal CUPE can live with, or at least to make a solid, decent offer. And when the city makes a decent offer, the time has come for the unions to take it. I and my family have the resources to ride out a long strike; not all residents of Toronto have such good fortune.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Notes on a walk...

I went for a walk to get coffee. On Jane Street, just above Bloor, a crosswalk serves the students of St. Pius X school. I pushed the button, held up my hand-- and two cars promptly zoomed through the crosswalk. The first might have had an excuse; perhaps the driver found themselves too close to the intersection when I pushed the button. The second I can only fault for not paying attention (in fairness, most of us have committed this particular offence). I looked to see if the lights on the crosswalk had some problem, then waited until I saw vehicles approaching from both sides visibly slowing down.

I have often thought that if drivers need a reason, beyond the law and simple decency, for taking care at crosswalks, they should consider the following: because pedestrians face such serious consequences if a driver does not stop at a crosswalk, pedestrians will wait to cross until they see cars slowing down. That, of course, delays traffic. And the more drivers breeze through crosswalks, the more pedestrians will wait, just to make sure drivers have really prepared to stop. The more pedestrians do that, the more traffic gets delayed. So if you want to get somewhere on the roads in Toronto in a car, pay attention to the crosswalks and stop.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Notes on a ride

I rode downtown yesterday in the heat of the afternoon, not the best idea for someone recovering from strep throat and with a heavy load of antibiotics on board, but going without riding for too long makes me nervous, depressed, and then I can't function. And right now, I need to work well.

On my way downtown, I passed a side street with a Purolator van coming out of it, and the driver pushed the stop sign. He didn't stop on the white line, he edged into traffic. That got me thinking that I had no way of knowing whether he saw me and would have stopped well short of my path, or whether timing alone made the difference between me scooting past him and me ending up as a hood ornament on his truck. Another white bicycle and another motorist saying they just didn't see the cyclist. And that got me thinking that car and truck drivers have to remember how threatening their moves can look to cyclists. In a car, I have a steel cage, crumple zones, and air bags to protect me. In a bike, I have about a quarter millimeter of cotton. So when you see a cyclist (or a pedestrian) heading your way, and you have a stop sign, stop. Stop at the white line. You may see us, you may intend to stop well short of our path, but we don't know that. And if you don't stop, we end up getting badly hurt or killed.

Then on Bloor street, I rode downtown in company with a cyclist who jumped the stop light at every intersection. He headed out when the light for the street opposite turned red, a second or so before the light facing us turned green. That made me think, too. Partly, I thought about the disagreements in the cycling world; we can't seem to make up our minds whether to obey the traffic laws, and criticize cyclists who don't, or whether we want to flout those laws. It also made me think this: the second or so pause in the traffic lights in Toronto gives traffic time to clear the intersection; it gives everybody breathing room. If you make a habit of jumping ahead the moment the other light turns red, you defeat the purpose of a safety feature.

Finally, I notice that several months after the city council voted for bike lanes on Annette, the parking signs still haven't changed, which means motorists endanger themselves and us by parking in bike lanes (with their cars sticking out into the high carbon emission lane).