Discourse on two wheels

I was looking through the blog’s stats today, and of the 80+ posts so far, the ones that generated the most dicussion and debate involved biking.  In fact, we’ve had some heated discussion about pedestrian and biker’s rights (of the roadway).

Add to this a snippet from an annoying forward sent my way from an acquaintence: “As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers, but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate cyclists”.

Fellow R.U.E. blogger, Jeff Dudar, also mentioned to me that while living in Halifax, the mere mention of biking in their independant weekly spurred heated debate on all sides.

So… what’s all the fuss?  What is it about biking that has made it such a contentious, dividng force?  Movements like Critical Mass started as a way to draw attention to areas that were not conducive, or down right dangerous, to bike in.  These days, the event which takes place in over 300 cities brings cyclists together to advocate for more routes and awareness.  However, there seems to be a backlash of animosity towards those who choose to commute by bike.

I wonder if this negative recourse is akin to any that is felt when people make an active choice that is not widely adopted by most in a particular society (I have felt my fair share by being vegan, choosing not to shop at Walmart, and being an advocate for walking).  For some reason people take these choices, and it would seem the active choice of people to bike rather than drive, as some sort of criticism or peronal attack.  In reality, I don’t think that is the case – some people just choose to bike and don’t care about why others choose driving (or any other mode of transportation).

For my part, I am glad that the Regina Downtown Plan focuses on walking and biking as important methods of transportation along with transit and cars.  Perhaps if we are forced to come together and have a dimplomatic dialogue about these issues we will not only create a more vibrant, diverse city but can all take a deep breath, relax and avoid blowing a lot of insecure, reactionary, hot air.

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Discourse on two wheels

18 thoughts on “Discourse on two wheels

  1. Barb Saylor says:

    The 5th paragraph leaves the impression (inadvertently, I’m sure) that any animosity out there perceived as directed towards cyclists is pure reaction against those who choose an alternative way. This is not my impression. At the risk of being moderated, I must clarify that I’m all for cycling, just as long as it’s done where it should be: on the streets, in compliance with the rules of the road.
    Happy spring!

    1. Hi Barb – Thanks for your thoughts.

      I don’t mean to suggest that all animosity is purly reactionary (on either side). I guess I am trying to reconcile the amount of animosity against cyclists that appears to be out there within our greater society. I understand that people can be frustrated when cyclists don’t follow the rules of the road (as we all are with pedestrians and motorists who do the same), however it seems unlikely to me that the “anti-bike” sentiments out there simply come from that line of thought. As someone who always follows the rules of the road on my bike, I have felt the negativity and occasional threat to my safety – in those situations I have to assume something more obnoxious is going on.

      Perhaps it is cultural(?) – after all, in a lot of countries cycling as transportation is a staple. That is why I put it out there for discussion if, in North America, cycling is seen as some big political or critical statement about values (that people then rage against) when lots of people just like to bike.

      ** Note: everyone can stop worrying about being “moderated” – no one will be censored for voicing valid opinions (in fact, no one has been moderated yet) . My earlier post was just a reminder to keep it civil.

      1. jeff says:

        i have only ever seen one cyclist stopping at stop signs – it was me!

        and only a few car drivers as well!

  2. Barb Saylor says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. No doubt there is a cultural element to the hostility you have experienced – this is not Europe- and with time and critical mass, this will ebb. Unimpeachable behaviour on the part of cyclists is still a must, because that way you attain credibility and the moral high ground. Hope you got out riding today; it was lovely.

  3. Beyond critical mass, there are a couple other things that Europe has that we don’t which mitigate against animosity towards cyclists: good urban design and cyclist-friendly public policy. I don’t think the importance of these should be underestimated.

    Part of what leads to problems with cyclists, I think, is that we didn’t really design our cities or our laws with them in mind. And we continue to deal with cycling through a series of perfunctory half measures. They inhabit a strange limbo zone, one in which we expect cyclists and motorists to coexist happily but where, in truth, the two groups are placed in perpetual conflict. And it’s a conflict that the laws of physics dictate the cyclists will always lose — often fatally.

    Maybe this sounds a little over dramatic but I don’t think it is. We’ve built and optimized our roadways for cars then added provisions to our laws to accommodate cycling as an afterthought. So, we wind up with cyclists on the road wedged between a lane of cars traveling 60 km/h or more and a lane of parked cars any one of which could at any moment fling open a driver-side door and precipitate a very nasty calamity.

    Is it any wonder cyclists take to the sidewalk? It’s a comparatively low-risk enterprise.

    And this ends up putting cyclists and pedestrians into conflict — which is unfortunate because these are two groups who could greatly benefit from being united in their calls for a rethinking of the way in which we build our cities.

    1. You bring up an important point, Paul. In previous discussions the idea of separated cyclist lanes has come up as an important move not only to encourage cycling, but to provide a particular space for cyclists. It seems like a good idea to have delineated space for differet transit types (sidewalk, cyclist lane, street) in order to buffer different groups (physically and mentally/emotionally).

      I rarely had tense times in Montreal interacting with people of different transit types than myself (whether I was walking, cycling, or occassionally driving). Occassionally a pedestrian would step out into the cycling lane without looking, or a bike would weave through traffic jams, but for the most part everyone had their space with particular bylaws, etc. so it simplified the system.

      I think there is a lot of potential in Regina to add separate bike lanes, at least on busier streets. Montreal has different levels of separation: on major routes, cyclists are separated by a small curb that runs between the sidewalk and parked cars; on secondary and quieter streets it i similar to what we see on Lorne Street downtown, a painted lane to denote that user group. I think that separate lanes on Albert, Broad, Vic, Dewdney, Sask Drive, and College would be a good start to really knitting together our bike system here (the system in the park is good, but can be rather indirect) and encourage cycling as a viable transit choice.

      1. jeff says:

        how wide are the Montreal paths on major routes? do people use them for commuting or leisure? is their any speed limit for cyclists on those paths?

      2. The paths go in both directions (at least the ones that are separated by a curb), and each lane is probably about 2.5-3 feet (probably about 5-6 feet in total – you will get a sense of it from the photos below).

        People use them for both commuting and leasure (since even if you are trying to get to the park for a more leisurely ride they are a safe way to go), but I would say a lot of people use them for commuting.

        As far as speed limits, I don’t know specifically what the the bylaws would be (I never saw speed limit signs on the paths) – people go at different paces so if you get behind someone going slower than you wish, you simply check the on-coming lane and if it is clear you pass – kind of like one lane highways). A lot of the intersections also have lights specifically for the cyclists (to avoid problems with cars turning) – though some just have a shared light system for cyclists and cars. Here are some photos to give you a sense of the types: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

      3. Michael Mowbray says:

        I’m with you, Paul. Regina pedestrians irate about sidewalk cyclists (and motorists who honk and yell at those who eschew this option) need to consider the fact that sections of major streets like Albert (or the Parkway/Broad, particularly the bridge near the University) provide routes which make it tenable to commute across the city by bike – as I did a few summers ago traveling from Whitmore Park to my warehouse job in the NE, with a 35 minute timeframe that put the nearly 75 minute bus ride to shame – and that such roadways are exceedingly unfriendly in their width, speed of traffic, and the behavior of many drivers. I’d prefer to stay on the road, but also to make it to my destination without a stopover at the General.

        On secondary roads (though some, such as those in industrial parks from which I’ve been forced into a muddy ditch more than once), the two factions should be able to coexist, and this is where best behaviour comes into play on both sides. Of key importance is the recognition on the part of motorists that bicycles often cannot keep pace, and that sometimes a shared roadway means getting stuck behind one – albeit typically for no longer than a minute or two. But on major routes, there is simply no weight to the claim (if anyone would even care to make it) that existing infrastructure and arrangements are sufficient.

        Still, despite the practicality my support for such obvious measures, I’d like to comment further on the ‘cultural’ dynamics at play, and on the contention that one might be best not to care about others’ motivations to drive or to ride. Simply put, we should all care whether or not (and examine the reasons why) ourselves or others are making choices that contribute to air pollution, noise, and a general insistence on the primacy of car-driven development and infrastructure renewal/expansion. The configuration of the city, and many like it, is the way it is because of a lust for the (happily mythologized) autonomy and gas-powered time-efficiency granted by the automobile. Urban planning and resource allocation, as concerns this issue, is not a zero-sum game – but neither is there a cornucopia of municipal will and cash to make everyone simultaneously ecstatic with the arrangements. It’s a real struggle, and one which taps into wider socio-cultural contests related to the face-off between a rushed economy of mechanical efficiency (and self-sufficiency, I presume, given the lack of attention to public transit) and some people’s desire to slow down, take in the surroundings, save a little gas, and take up bit of space. The latter is not without its merits, and those merits are worth setting distinctly at odds with the motivations of others to drive no matter how short nor how far.

        I’m reminded of a sign sported by one Critical Mass rider here in Montreal (where I’ve been living for the past half-decade, and where I’ve been able to evade the need for a car):

        Encore tout seul dans ton char!

        [translation: Alone again in your car!]

  4. Jeff D. says:

    I wonder if enforcing the laws that cyclists are supposed to follow would help in mainstreaming cycling in Regina. After moving back to Regina from Halifax, I’ve noticed that cyclists (not all) ride all over the place – the wrong way down one ways, on sidewalks, through crosswalks, across busy streets, etc. Before I moved to Halifax, I admit I was guilty of a number of the above offences. Cycling in Regina is a lawless venture. In Halifax though, cyclists are held accountable by law to follow the rules of the road. When I first moved to Halifax, this really pissed me off, seeing the police pull over a cyclist was a travesty in my mind.

    Then it happened to me: a $180.00 ticket for running a red light. A warning I could get a ticket for my helmet not having the plastic outer shell still attached to the styrofoam inner. BUT, as a result of this, I changed my cycling behaviour. I followed, to the best of my ability, the rules of the road.

    Halifax is a moderately friendly bikeable city. Autos and bikes seemingly have an agreement based on mutual respect (for the most part – I was yelled and honked at on numerous occasions for reasons unknown to me) for each other’s space. There are a few painted bike lanes, but nothing spectacular.

    Now, I am not saying enforcing the law is the answer – moreso just a discussion point. I am not sure what the answer is for Regina. But if cyclists were held accountable, then they may be more inclined to follow the rules of the road and perhaps the attitudes of drivers regarding bikers may changes.

    I don’t know.

    Remember to wear a helmet!

  5. Barb Saylor says:

    How would the dedicated bike lanes mesh with the recent recommendations of the Transit report for dedicated bus lanes on busier streets/avenues?

    1. This is a good question. I am not super familiar with any rules and regulations of how this works in Montreal however, from my foggy recollection, I recall bike paths and bus routes being on different streets. I know this was not always the case, but most of the routes that I took did not have bus traffic on them so this was not an issue.

      I imagine that the bus lanes would replace the parking lanes (similar to how they do now, just more consistently) in which case you could have sidewalk, bike lane, bus lane, and street… perhaps.

      Regina is designed differently than Montreal as well in that Albert and Broad Street act as funnels for all traffic going north and south so even if you want to have dedicated bike lanes off of these main streets (i.e. the one on Lorne Street), you still have to go to one of these arteries to get passed the tracks. If this is remediated, then bike and bus lanes may not be an issue here either.

  6. wourliem says:

    I think bikes pose a problem for cars because of the speed, size and the fact they are on the road. Without separation, cycles cause drivers stress. That stress, I think, can turn into anger because someone may not notice a bike and be startled and nervous at the close quarters bikes riding in parking lanes creates. Speed is an issue because bikes are quick but are not as quick so your having traffic at two different speeds.

    I don’t know that there is some cultural dislike for bikers. I don’t think most people take biking as an afront to their own driving behaviour.

    I have to agree with Paul that the rules of the road when it comes to bikes are in limbo. Cars don’t know what to expect and cyclists are constantly trying to avoid fatal hazards, ie a parked car opening its door.

    There also needs to be major consideration of bike infrastruture. Certain types of bike racks are less accomidating or secure and in some areas (13th Avenue) bike parking is glaringly absent.

      1. I am so torn by this comment – I can’t tell if you are being sarcastic about:

        a) the fact that there isn’t much for bike racks on 13th (as in a “duh, we all knew that” statement); or

        b) 13th being comparatively bike friendly when compared to, say more suburban areas.

        Either way – the sarcasm feels thick. :D

    1. I think saying that the bike parking on 13th is “inadequate” is closer to the mark. There are bike racks at the Cathedral Neighbourhood Centre (tucked away on the west side of the building), at the Safeway and at Connaught Library. I think there might be some at Holy Rose Cathedral too but then again, I might be imagining those. Would the neighbourhood benefit from more, though? Absolutely.

      1. wourliem says:

        Inadequate is probably better, I admit that “glaringly absent” might be reaching a little. It took me a few weeks before I noticed the racks at the Neighbourhood Centre.

        Certainly this time last year when I began to bike much more there was less bike stands along the 13th avenue strip. At the time I was very surprised with how difficult it was to find a place for my bike. Things are improving.

        I still think there is not a real commitment to bike infrastructure on that street. The “Bohemian” street in Regina should have more for bikes. Lots of people ride in that area, so hopefully more places for bike parking will continue to pop up.

        11th Ave, east of broad, has even less bike infrastructure but I think will improve with time.

        Downtown’s great and they want to add more, which I wonder about sometimes.

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