Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Dan Moser Column: Toronto’s bicycling scene is better, but requires some daring

Dan's column this week picks up where he left on in his last column, reporting on his recent trip to Canada and his observations about biking infrastructure and culture in Toronto.
 
Florida Weekly "Outdoors" section: August 5, 2015
 
It’s always questionable as to whether anyone really cares to hear or read about someone else’s vacation. But I received a few encouraging emails and calls about my prior column on this subject, so I’ll take a chance and finish relating my experiences from a recent visit to Canada. The experience was a study in the dynamics between people on bikes and those on foot and behind the wheel, as well as aspects of transportation infrastructure.
The first thing that struck me when my wife, Maria, and I returned to Toronto after visiting there in 2011 was the obvious increase in people on bikes as part of the traffic flow. Adding to those riding on the roads were many taking advantage of the bike racks of all sizes peppering the city. When I met city of Toronto officials in 2011, I left with the impression that they were fully committed to considerably improving the infrastructure and overall environment for people using bicycles as their preferred mode of transportation, although much of the city’s work at the time was still only on paper.
Fast forward to June, 2015. Staying in the same parts of the city as we had in our two previous visits meant we were relatively familiar with our surroundings.
What I immediately noticed was the steady flow of bikes on all streets, whether or not there were bike lanes, sharrows, cycle tracks or no specific bicycle treatment at all (many streets now have one or another aforementioned treatment). Also remarkable was the increased number of bike parking structures. Unlike what I’m used to here, there were very few bikes tied up to light posts or anywhere other than legitimate bike parking structures because they were abundant and appropriately located.
Something that struck me as being totally counter to everything I’ve learned and teach about cycling in traffic is that most bike operators rode very far to the right, creating too many close passing situations and dooring potential for my liking. Only a few times did I see cyclists riding far enough away from the curb, where CyclingSavvy and other education programs teach as the proper position in lanes under 14-16 feet. That being the case, the dance between motorists and cyclists appeared to somehow work, most likely because there was inherent trust between the two, something I cannot say is the case here. Just as Toronto’s pedestrians can count on drivers to yield to them in crosswalks — regardless of how close they may come at times — cyclists apparently have full confidence they won’t be muscled into the curb or hit by a mirror, in spite of proximity to each other. Still, I can’t say I’d recommend the common roadway position I witnessed.
Another observation is that neither in Toronto nor the cities and towns we visited in Nova Scotia was sidewalk riding a problem like it is here. Other than an occasional sidewalk rider in the more suburban areas, I saw only parked bikes or people walking them when using the space intended for pedestrians. I also noticed the conspicuous absence of law enforcement in all of the locations we visited, at least in comparison to what one sees here. Even so, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians weren’t behaving as if there were no potential for traffic law enforcement. Finally, we didn’t make it to the World Naked Bike Ride (worldnakedbikeride.org) held in Halifax while we were there, but it did generate plenty of fodder for media (locals seemed amused by and accepting of this annual event). Maybe it’s something organizers of the local Critical Mass Ride on the first Friday of each month might want to consider.
Advocacy update
It’s the time of year when shrubs and trees grow like mad, which also means they frequently obstruct sidewalks and other pathways. Be sure to keep yours trimmed back and contact local governments when overgrowth creates problems. It may not seem like a big deal for those who are fully mobile, but that’s not the case for some with disabilities, using assistive devices such as wheelchairs or walkers or even folks pushing strollers. If you need contact information for government departments that can assist, visit BikeWalkLee’s blog at bikewalklee.blogspot.com.
Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and pathways.
— Dan Moser is a long- time bicycle/ pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at bikepedmoser@gmail.com or 334- 6417.

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