Stylocycle’s Blog

I’m not so sure that…
May 22, 2010, 4:25 pm
Filed under: commute by bike

“We’re just not that into bicycles” as a local writer for the city newspaper asserts (See bottom for a link to his article).

First off, my training has built in me a tendency to question the ‘we’ whenever it is invoked by one person claiming to speak for everyone else. Who the hell is this ‘we’, anyway? Certainly I’m not part of the ‘we’, and my spouse isn’t part of the ‘we’, and the cycling committee on campus isn’t part of the ‘we’, and the folks at RIM who just decided to install short-term bike rentals for visitors to their campus aren’t part of the ‘we’…. The kids who need to get from a-to-b in this town where bus service is inadequate to appalling in the suburbs where so many of them live aren’t part of the ‘we’.

OK, I take the point that the great majority of folks around here prefer to drive. That plus the over-abundance of pork products around here accounts for the fact that we have the highest average BMI measurements in the country.

But this leads to my second point, which is that our author assumes an obvious, single reason that people don’t cycle more and that is that they don’t like busy streets. And that becomes his argument for leaving things as they are.

Now, I don’t mind at all diverting bike traffic to calmer side-roads; that’s not what’s stuck in my craw on this one.

What’s bugging me is the unfounded but oft repeated assertion that biking for daily purposes can’t be enjoyable. Well, true enough if you don’t have a bike that suits your needs, and for most professionals, that means not having to pack all our stuff on our backs (in my case that can run to 250 exams at a go, plus the laptop, plus whatever books I’m working with at the time). It also means not wanting to arrive sweaty at work, in day-glo spandex, and if showering at work isn’t an option, then that means that a cruiser or city bike become the better ride. I learned this when I assessed why I had given up riding my bike to and from work when I became a professor. I’d always ridden to and from my previous work-places but I’d had less to carry and a more casual environment in which to work, so arriving with the helmet painted with flaming skulls and my short kilt (avoiding chain problems) and Great Big Boots (for sturdier stopping) wasn’t an issue. Once I was a prof. though, I could not really show up looking like Hardcore Morgan, Professor of Doom. Academic freedom doesn’t extend as far for women as for men (who can still show up to work in cut-offs and retain some kind of hippie, counter-culture credibility). Most of the women professoriate are too young to be able to stake those kinds of claims, so linen trousers for summer it is!

OK… I digress. I know.

The point is that I’d stopped cycling, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t that into it.

Third, if we are serious about getting more people out of their cars and onto bikes, we know that making our viability visible is a key issue. That’s why I have my pretty baskets, and that’s why I usually have some kind of nice scarf on when I’m riding… it attracts attention to the fact that you can ride, AND not look like a crossing-guard trying to chase down the Tour de France.

If “cycling is popular in some places but not here”, which I don’t dispute, I don’t think the solution is to accept that the model we have is the model to which we must acquiesce here. Instead, we should be looking at what has everyday bike ridership up by over 40% in the last few years in Toronto. Some of it is response to the price of gas and car ownership, the cost of parking, and the decline of TTC services. But some of it is because of positive changes in what’s available to ride (and hat can include good used bike shops that repair and restore city bikes — they don’t have to be costly EU bikes). Some of it is that even the costly EU bikes are cheap compared to the cost of driving (but our provincial tax relief for a bike purchase under $1000 is going to dry up with the kick in of the HST in July). Some of it is that Toronto has worked to provide more bike parking in shopping areas, and restaurants are providing places to lock up off to the side of their patios, etc. That is: shops are figuring out how to bring cyclists to their shops along with pedestrian traffic, instead of moaning that without big parking lots people won’t shop… central retail areas are close to central residential areas (we are starting to get this right with the redevelopment of the core, meaning that we aren’t all forced to drive 10k to a big box mall to get a light-bulb!)

Fourth; I just can’t stand the lack of imagination in Outhit’s editorial piece; it’s an apologia for the way things are, and it’s counter to his own opening observation that “Cycling is healthy and pollution-free”.

On that note, I’m going to spend my day making a rhubarb crisp (from Mark Bittman on the NY Times), cycling uptown to get new trainers ‘cuz my old ones are shot, and reading a dissertation in preparation for my role as examiner in Utrecht next week.

Cheers folks!

Here’s the link to the article in the Record.

Another study
May 20, 2010, 2:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

So… we went to our local city hall information session on cycling infrastructure last night.

Here’s what I learned:

Every 10 years, the city will engage a new planning mission. About 1/10th of the planning recommendation will be implemented. Implementation will take 10 years (or more).

Older men (60+) are so proud of the fact that they are out doing long-haul leisure riding that they won’t let anyone else speak.

Which means:

The planners and engineers hired by the city hear A LOT about how MR so-and-so and his avid cyclist cronies want a trail from here to HAMILTON! and even though us daily riders try to get the message across, they really don’t hear us saying, “Look, the railbed trail is *great* for seasonal riding, but it’s not cleared in winter, and we need better winter riding options if you want to see more people riding more often.”

Nope, the dudes in the orange-X vests with their tour-de-France helmets dominate the floor, and cut anyone else off.

My only consolation?

That trail to Hamilton will certainly never be completed in time for them to use it.

Take the lane!
May 18, 2010, 3:01 am
Filed under: around town, commute by bike, hazards

Our provincial legislators are considering a change to our traffic laws that would require that drivers maintain a minimum 3-foot distance from cyclists when passing us on the left.

Dammit! While it’s an idea with some practical merits, it further entrenches the popular idea that cyclists belong shoved over on the right hand side of the road (where most of the gutter hazards are).

But here’s the thing that really sticks in my craw. Under current traffic laws, cyclists already have a right to be *in* the lane, taking up the usual space of one vehicle. Here’s what the local paper has to say, “Under current laws bicycles have as much right to the road as a vehicle.” (The Record: The article goes along to explain that “[a]long some streets, such as King Street through downtown Kitchener, cyclists are encouraged by the city to take the whole lane. Drivers do not always appreciate that.” (Ibid).

Drivers don’t always appreciate that?

Whether appreciate here refers to their entitlement issues or comprehension issues, I leave to your interpretation, but I”m going to close this one out by quoting from “Shit My Dad Says”:

“You’re riding up this guy’s ass because why? Because you are in such a hurry to be on time for that nothing that you do?!”

And the irony is that when those drivers don’t appreciate us riding in the middle of the road, where we are legally entitled to be, we are invariably faster or at least moving at the same pace as the rest of traffic. Cars may beat us off the block, but in dense city traffic, the cyclist is more efficient. That’s why we have huge companies that are built on the efficiencies of bike travel for messenger services. Duh.

What’s up, Buttercup?
May 17, 2010, 12:38 pm
Filed under: around town

Astonishingly, gardening is keeping me off the internet on week-ends. It’s really lovely.
When we bought our new centre-of-the-city house last year, we really did not realize how big our lot was. Our house, garage and back deck manage to run pretty much down the centre of the lot, sort of obscuring the true size of the surrounding area. We had sort of thought that we had just two narrow alleys down either side of the house, but it turns out that each strip as roughly 20 feet wide, and our house is set back from its front line by about 30 feet. That all translates into more ground to care for than we had realised.
But we are not complaining. For one thing we have a lovely combination of basswood (lime tree) and silver maple trees that keep the house shaded and cool — so we don’t need A/C (which means: very low utility costs in summer). We also have a lovely combination of yew and cedar hedges around the house, so that was a good base from which to begin our work.
We’ve planted hostas at the base of a few of the trees, and all round the hedges for some visual difference, and we’ve put a rock garden on our front lawn to start the process of getting rid of grass. All the plants we’ve put in will spread… so we should be able to just keep expanding the low growing flowers and mosses and keep getting rid of grass each year.
Yesterday Dear Spouse bought me a lovely rhododendron (with violet flowers) to put on the side yard, and it it makes it through the winter, it should bring lovely flowers for many years.
However, we’ve not only been workign on aesthetic gardening.
We’ve also dug up a section of the back/side yard about 4 feet wide and 12 or so feet long, added new soil and sheep manure… (and fed the robins the white grubs that we plucked out of the ground by hand). Into the new bed went a row of snow peas, a row of Roma tomatoes, a row of arugula and a square of bush basil. And if we succeed, we will have a salad garden. The ingredients for a salad garden also translate in a pesto garden, and a pasta sauce garden.
If our plot is successful, we will double its size next year, and raise the beds so that they are easier to work.
I’d also like to add some quince bushes because I adore quince preserves.
A bit of rhubarb would be lovely too.
So here’s what I’m growing for eating this year:

Meyer lemons (this is year 3, and I have a 2nd tree now)
Bush basil
Lettuce basil
Purple sage
Thai coriander
Lemon balm
Roma tomatoes
Snow peas

Next year I’ll add:


And I’d love to have an apple tree. We have one up north that has been struggling along, and I’m considering transplanting it here because it’s a graft from a very old spy-type apple, which means that if it ever fruits, the fruit should taste like the apples did when I was a kid: tart, juicy and crunchy, not mealy and pallid the way so many apples are now.

So we spent our week-end digging and trimming… and it was lovely. The work puts us out of doors, and we talk to people as they go by… (some are a bit odd to be sure, but everyone is nice). The elderly people who attend mass on the week-end at the church directly across the road were well-acquainted with the home’s previous owner, herself an elderly woman who had the basics from which we have begun our work. We’re sure that the church-goers have been watching to see what we would do with “Helen’s house” (she lived here for 60 years), and so it’s nice to get their nodding approval for our efforts.

Sticking with the theme of being more connected to the real world of people than to the virtual world:

Our Saturday night was spent with a new friend who was recently hired into a discipline close to but not identical to mine. We have just enough in common to talk about interesting stuff together, but not so much that we get embroiled in griping abut work. She has bought a house just a kilometre from ours and has come by a few times… and we ended up drinking wine into the wee hours on Saturday night. Very nice…

We finished off our Sunday night with a visit with our neighbours and the use of their spa-tub, which was just
what our ageing joints needed after two solid days of working in the dirt.

We slept last night like people who had actually worked all week-end, and yet it didn’t feel as though we had laboured; rather, it felt as though we had lived.

Riding Study Participation: complete
May 5, 2010, 9:16 pm
Filed under: around town

We have been very lucky weather-wise around here of late. I’ve had no storms to impede my desire to go one place or another, even though we have had some good rains! Indeed, the fresh smell of grass and rain is wafting through my window as I write this post.

The amenable weather meant that I was out on my bike, running errands, visiting friends, going to and from work on pretty much every day of the week-and-a-half study with the GPS units.

Of course, there were no snow banks for me to tag as problematic, but when asked to really pay attention to the surfaces on which I ride, I came to a kind of meta-cognition point about curb heights, access-hole covers, one-way streets, and pot-holes, nasty parking habits on our streets, and so forth. I’m hoping that once all the data are in that we’ll see some significant changes in the flow of our traffic (generally) and of bicycle traffic in particular. There are so many areas where we need better use of available space, often where multi-use trails would be far superior that currently unused sidewalks etc. I’d like to see bike lanes on some of the quieter more picturesque streets with low automobile traffic. Often such streets are one-way only but are sufficiently wide enough to handle a two-way bike lane. Such streets are rarely used by cars and round-abouts would solve any intersection concerns for where these streets cross others that are currently two-way.

Anyway, I guess we’ll just have to wait to see what comes of it.