Upon hearing news that Google maps now had biking directions, I was elated. Upon hearing it was only in major U.S. cities, I was deflated. And then, lo and behold, I was elated again upon learning that Ride the City just released bike directions for Toronto.
After playing around with it a little my overall impressions are positive. Here’s the suggested “safe route” given for my work commute:
Can’t say I disagree. Choosing the most direct route actually takes me a little further than I need to go, but there isn’t really a way for the app to read my mind. Yet. The ability to choose between safety levels is nice, and will also be useful when I feel like a scenic weekend ride rather than a hurdy-gurdy pedal to work ride.
The map layout is nice and the overall map has an appealing feel to it. But one of the coolest bits to the map, and something I haven’t seen yet, is the addition of underground walkways (check out Bay and Bloor). It appears this is the result of the base mapping program, OpenStreetMap.org, which is pretty cool in it’s own right. Maybe I can finally figure out Toronto’s PATH system.
So, this will do for now. Once Google gets around to Canada I can compare then.
For reasons still unknown to me, I decided to drag my butt out of bed and go for a ride down to Tommy Thompson Park (aka, Leslie Spit or Outer Harbor East Headland). It was cold, and I’d neglected my bike, so it took a bit for the cables and chain to loosen up.
Nevertheless, I was soon chugging along the point, enjoying the exercise and the unique view of the city (first time for me here). Plenty of ducks were to be seen, along with an (apparently) feral cat.
On my way back out, pedaling into a nasty headwind, I felt like I was going even slower than usual. Turns out my rear tire had gone flat. A 1 km walk and a call to Beck Taxi later and I was taking the lazy way out. Success? You bet!
Anyway, some pics for your enjoyment (from my thoroughly crappy phone camera).
A recent conversation on BikingToronto centered around what sorts of visibility gear people use took a turn (as the conversations on the site are wont to do) for the very insightful. In a thread hijacking of the very best kind, the topics shifted from asking what kind of gear to why so much gear. One comment, by James S. of The Urban Country (great blog, check out the most recent post) really grabbed me, so much so that I have reproduced it in it’s entirety below:
I wouldn’t feel comfortable riding at night on most outer-city roads either without making myself as visible as possible. The three primary streets I ride on are Dundas, Queen and King, so I always feel that I am visible even with the minimum number of lights on my bike.
For a bit more background on my opinion, I will share a hypothetical scenario which is somewhat more applicable now with the 14 pedestrian deaths.
Imagine a Toronto where pedestrians felt so unsafe from the media/police spokesman that they felt compelled to walk around with a flashing red light wrapped around each ankle, a light wrapped around their neck, a florescent reflective jacket and a helmet. Some pedestrians decide to buy all of this pedestrian gear, but many other pedestrians decide not to walk anymore because they perceive it to be too dangerous (or they don’t feel like carrying a duffel bag full of pedestrian gear everywhere they go). So they drive everywhere to protect themselves, and then eventually we’re left only a few pedestrians on our sidewalks. This results in making it more dangerous for the few pedestrians we are now left with because the less pedestrians you have, the less cautious drivers tend to be.
That’s what I feel that we have done with cycling. We have made people think it is so dangerous by bubble wrapping ourselves with all this gear and protection, so people stop cycling (or people don’t bother starting to cycle) because they either don’t want the hassle of carrying around all this gear, or because they feel it’s so unsafe that they would prefer to drive a car instead.
I am speaking from experience too. I moved to Toronto when I was 22 (7 years ago) and I have been cycling off and on since the day I moved here (between bikes getting stolen, etc). There was a time when I was a bit younger that people convinced me that it’s suicidal to ride on a bike on Toronto streets and that I needed a helmet, expensive safety gear, etc. etc. etc. Then when you actually look at the statistics, cycling is relatively safe here. You might even be safer on a bike downtown than as a pedestrian – though I haven’t seen a study that could back this up.
But the point is, the amount of protective gear people wear on bicycles doesn’t reflect the actual risk of riding a bike.
Not to say there is anything wrong with being extra cautious, but I just think that being overly cautious works against us by discouraging other people from hopping on a bike. And cycling has a calming effect on traffic, so the less people cycling means it’s less safe for everyone who does it.
James’ “slippery slope” argument is one that I have encountered much more frequently in the past couple of years. Cycling, especially commuter cycling in the city, has taken on aspects of a gladiator sport rather than a viable alternative form of transportation. Some mornings it seems like it takes me longer to strap on my various accessories than it does to ride to work. And as James points out, this can be a major deterrent.
This concept has been discussed elsewhere (this is a good place to start), but my own opinion is still divided. Right now I divide my time between gearing up for my work commute, which (logically or not) seems more dangerous, and going gear free (minus lights at night) for casual rides and bouncing around town.
On the whole I agree with James’ position. Perhaps we should stop the madness now before our bikes become rolling tanks?
[sotto voice] my first interview…so nervous…be cool Ben, be cool…breath…what, we’re rolling? Son of a…
Those of you who are avid TRR readers (I know you’re out there. Hi Mom!), I’ve spent the past year flirting with bike commuting. The more comfortable with biking I’ve gotten, the more I’ve gotten linked into sites that link me with other riders, provide me with tips and point me towards relevant news.
Of late one of my favourites has been BikingToronto.com. I remember coming across the site quite a while ago, but looked it back up again following a recent relaunch. I have been very impressed with the new site; it does a wonderful job of creating dialogue between bikers from relatively micro level issues such as the best way to clean your bike in the winter to macro issues like recent survey results on biking numbers in the city.
So far I’m digging it and encourage you to check it out, especially if you ride in the Toronto area. I’ve dug it so much, in fact, that I asked BikingToronto founder Joe T. to sit down for a chat.
So for the past few months I’ve been trying to incorporate biking into my transportation routine. As another Canadian winter sets in, however, it’s unlikely that I’ll be doing too much of it. I like the warmth fellow TTC riders provide during the long, dark winter.
However, the cooler fall made it much easier for me to bike compared to summer. My commute hasn’t been especially long (6 km or so, mostly downhill on the way to work), but once the temperature starts creeping up over 25 C I arrive at work a hot, sweaty mess.
As biking has become more popular as a form of commuting, though, there has a been shift towards ditching the usual perception of bikers as spandex wearing geeks. A recent NYT article even makes it look sexy (thanks to Rebuilding Place for the link). There are certain things that a workplace needs to make arriving in style a reality, though.
- A change room – Ideally a locker-room style space with running water. In the hottest months it’s just not possible to ride in your work clothes. Right now I have to change in a storage space across from my cubicle. I lock it by propping a wooden shelf against the door. This is not ideal.
- Bike parking – The Conde Nast bike parking area in the NYT article has cultivated serious envy in me. I mean, look at that place. Clean, indoors, lots of space to maneuver. At least I have a bike rack that’s under an overhang. Better than a tree or a gas meter, I guess. There is an underground lot at my work that would likely have space for bikes. However, I doubt the property company would want to sacrifice their $40/day (cost for two spots) to something as useless as bike parking. The City of Toronto recently opened a bike parking area at Union Station, but that doesn’t really help me.
- Incentives for active transportation – Right now if I have to travel for work-related meetings I have four options: Walk, TTC, cab or bike. If I walk, bike or use transit, I’m out of luck. If I take a c ab it is covered. If I had a car, the mileage would be covered, as well. I’m not saying I want to get paid to ride my bike, but it seems like there could be some sort of reward for making the smarter choice. You know, like an embarrassing picture of me in our monthly newsletter all disheveled from a ride in. Anything, really.
Shortly after my arrival in my current job I submitted a proposal to convert an unused janitors space into a changing facility. One year later it is apparently under review. Maybe by the time it gets approved I’ll be driving my Rascal to work.
One addition to my biking arsenal has been a bike rack garment bag. My wife gave it to me as a birthday present and it works pretty well. There are few options out there for this sort of thing, and the Two Wheel Gear bag seems like a decent choice. My work clothes arrive slightly more wrinkled than I’d like, but better than drenched in sweat.
Beyond biking for my commute, I’d eventually like to arrive at a point where I could show up at a bar without looking like a fool. We’ll see how that goes, I don’t know if I’ll ever reach this point.
Anyone out there have any tips on cycling in style?