cycling

Best sentences I read this week: 10 commandments for saying yes

“Two thousand and fourteen is one of those rare years of political quiet. No general election in federal, provincial or civic politics for the first time since 2009.”

From Purple To Red

“Next: the delicate art of negotiating private duels with godlike monsters.”

-Fables: Rose Red (vol. 15)

“Norway’s oil wealth and weird songs about foxes.”

Dark Lands

“Trudeau was willing but laid down two conditions: He would not propose anything that would require a constitutional amendment, with all the attendant, divisive wrangling with the provinces that would entail. Nor did he want to simply promise to do something if elected prime minister one day; he wanted to be able to ‘walk the walk’ — a tall order for the leader of the third party, who has zero legislative power.”

Why Justin Trudeau Expelled 32 Senators From Liberal Caucus

“7. If a vehicle weighs over 5 tons (trucks, busses, etc.), it probably cannot see you. Even with lots of mirrors, they’re essentially driving blind out there.  You should always give these vehicles a wide berth.  The same goes for anything with a trailer.”

10 Commandments for City Biking

“I figured children in full camouflage tended to shoot bears more often than I did.”

-Notes on the Awkward Airplane Conversation

“But he isn’t really a joke-teller so much as a performer who just says ‘yes’ to everything.”

Jimmy Fallon tonight show interview

Best sentences I read this week: Vol. 11

“Citi expects this combination of factors to slow the power sector’s use of coal, pointing to a possible flattening or peaking before 2020, although many global energy agencies continue to expect high coal demand in the years to come.”

Peak Coal In China

“In a poll of 875 likely voters in New York City’s upcoming mayoral election, 67 percent of respondents (including 65 percent of those who own cars) said they support “bringing protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands” to their neighborhoods, polling firm Penn Schoen Berland showed Monday.”

67 PERCENT OF NEW YORKERS BACK BETTER BIKING & WALKING by Michael Andersen

“Calgary found that by adopting a denser growth pattern that used 25% less land, it could save $11 billion in capital costs alone.”

The Cost of Sprawl

“EVERYBODY who knows me knows that I love cycling and that I’m also completely freaked out by it.”

Is It O.K. to Kill Cyclists? by DANIEL DUANE

“Interestingly, this visionary imagination works in conjunction with a hyperawareness of reality.”

Why Creative People Sometimes Make No Sense

“A demand for roads can be tied to the design of a community. Seeking efficiencies in a system designed for automobiles through the provision of additional road capacity does not resolve the underlying issue. If traffic congestion is to be ameliorated, supply shouldn’t be addressed. Address demand. By focusing on supply (i.e. building more roads), and not demand (i.e. augmenting a city to lessen vehicular demand), the production of an auto-centric city continues.”

The Irony of Ring Roads by STEVEN SNELL

“In the third year of his term, Peñalosa challenged Bogotáns to participate in an experiment. As of dawn on 24 February 2000, cars were banned from streets for the day. It was the first day in four years that nobody was killed in traffic. Hospital admissions fell by almost a third. The toxic haze over the city thinned. People told pollsters that they were more optimistic about city life than they had been in years.”

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/01/secrets-worlds-happiest-cities-commute-property-prices by Charles Montgomery

Don’t pack your bags just yet

These days it feels pretty good to be an Albertan. In Calgary we just reelected the ever cool Mayor Nenshi and Edmonton just elected a progressive mayor of their own in Don Iveson. As new details emerge of Rob Ford’s poor decisions we are given extra reasons to gloat.

When Quebec began discussing adopting the Charter of Values Nenshi invited any disaffected and discriminated against Quebecers to come join us. After all we elected a Muslim mayor and didn’t even notice until it was pointed out by the national media. We are an open and accepting city bursting with optimism. Some have issued similar calls to Torontonians wishing to get the mayor they need, not the mayor they voted for.

It’s easy to think that Calgary is a magical paradise and that everything is looking up  but that post election glow is starting to wear off. Nenshi is only one vote on council and the balance is about the same as it ever was. We also elected a couple of developer candidates who intend to say no to just about everything, expect of course continued subsidies to developers and capital intensive road projects. We have an enormous infrastructure deficit including almost no cycling infrastructure, a low walkability score and laughable LRT network. We stand no closer to resolving these issues.

As the new budget approaches we hear talk of another six per cent budget increase. The big question is what are we getting from this? It’s not more protected cycling infrastructure or LRT expansion. It’s more of the same irresponsible budgeting and status quo thinking that supports sprawl instead of sustainability. Inner city communities pay for tax hikes while their libraries are closed. We talk about the $52 million endlessly but not enough about the $33 million annual subsidy to developers. The cost of development is paid for by the wrong people, and fiscal policy remains unimaginative and irresponsible. If we’re going to see another six per cent tax hike we should get a six per cent increase in LRT lines or a six per cent increase in cycling infrastructure.

There is a great deal of optimism in this city but real investments in transit and other forms of transportation seem a long way off. As much as we love Nenshi he has thus far not managed to approve secondary suites or the North-Central LRT. The city’s cycling strategy is a lot of talk and the occasionally paint slapped down on roadways. It is not a real change with budget behind it. For Torontonians accustomed to a stellar subway system and Montrealers used to bike lanes Calgary might prove a bit of an adjustment.

This city has enormous potential but we have some work to do. We get to be proud but we are not yet entitled to be smug. If Calgary wants to draw in the rest of Canada for anything more than jobs we need to give them more reasons to come.

Helmet wearing and risk mitigation

The first-time I rode a bike a helmet was firmly placed on my head before I started fumbling along with my training wheels. Every child put on a push bike is also clad in at least this minimal safety gear. As I got older and more capable the helmet stayed on and I’ve never ridden a bike without one.

These days the news is filled with rage about helmet laws. People say they will reduce ridership and discourage riding, which is something I’ve never understood. Wearing a helmet is easy and simple. For me it is a part of getting on a bike just like wearing a seatbelt is part of getting in a car. Yeah, I have never been in a car crash but I still wear it every time just in case. Sometimes it can be a tad uncomfortable but once you get used to it you don’t even notice it’s there.

Perhaps it’s my highly risk adverse mother — she worked in risk management where it was her job to see the worst case scenario in things and plan for mitigating various risks — or maybe it’s that I have never found my helmet to be uncomfortable or uncool or too hot or a bother. I trucked it with me to Copenhagen and asked for one at the bike rental place in Amsterdam (who snickered and were confused by the concept).

In Denmark I was one of the rare people who insisted on riding with a helmet. This was partially because moving quickly on anything with wheels has always freaked me out a little bit, rush hour in downtown Copenhagen is nuts and because it’s easy. It takes about five seconds to put on a helmet. That’s it. That’s half the time people spend complaining about them.

Another common argument is that they’re not stylish, which is confusing. There are several brands that make very nice helmets. Bern is a personal favourite. My current one is a baby blue road riding style one that I picked out because it is my favourite colour. That’s a good enough reason to wear one.

The debate about helmets is not a debate about cycling. In situations where cars hit cyclists at high speeds helmets may provide minimal safety. In the event of doorings or those unpredictable falls involving gravel or who knows what they may be beneficial. As we add more protected cycling infrastructure, which helps to reduce the risk and severity of injury, helmets stand to provide more protection as opposed to becoming obsolete. Removing one form of risk doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to mitigate another.

If I fall my skin or bones will heal. My brain will not, that’s the whole reason helmets exist. I like my memories, personality and intelligence. I’d like to keep them. I dated a guy who worked in a long-term care facility and he saw first hand what happens to people with permanent and severe brain injuries. He always wore a helmet too. All of the spills I’ve taken while riding were totally unexpected and happened in relatively calm situations — although two were caused by poor infrastructure. They were all relatively minor and at worst resulted in skinned knees as a kid. I will never be unhappy to have a helmet on my head if I fall.

The next time you complain about how uncomfortable or uncool it is to wear a helmet think to yourself would I think the same thing about a seatbelt.

Best sentences I read this week: Vol. 7

“Even that most basic obligation of prime ministers, to secure and maintain the confidence of the House, has been stretched to the breaking point of late, recent holders of the office having clung to power for days after losing a confidence vote, or prorogued Parliament rather than face a vote that was certain to end badly.”

REPAIRING THE HOUSE: How to make Members of Parliament relevant again by Andrew Coyne

“President Bill Clinton said that Republicans were holding the country hostage; Republicans excoriated Clinton for playing golf.”

Take a trip back in time to the 1995 shutdown. Trust us — it will help. by Dan Zak

“This blurred process of change is known to urban dwellers across America, especially to those who move to Brooklyn, many of whom play a role in the process, tacitly or actively.”

THE INS AND THE OUTS by Vinnie Rotondaro and Maura Ewing

“In her teens, Elysia Turner competed in dressage, and would jump over hurdles on horseback. Driving, however, causes her such anxiety that she has recurring nightmares of having to drive a family member or loved one to the emergency room.”

Why The Kids Don’t Drive by OMAR MOUALLEM

“I am no more an avid cyclist than I am an avid walker or avid eater. I am someone who often uses a bicycle, simply because it is the most civilized, efficient, enjoyable, and economical way to get around my city.”

I Am Not A Cyclist by CHRIS BRUNTLETT

Sixteen months

They like to say that there are sixteen months in Copenhagen: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, November, November, November, November, and December. The night in question was a prime example of why they say this. It was raining and grey. The northern latitude meant that sunlight was a rare treat, gone far too early most of the time. It was raining a steady but not torrential kind of downpour.

I had been invited for drinks on the other side of the city, effectively a 45 minute bike ride each way. I set off knowing that I would be soaked through almost right away. Riding in the rain can be almost pleasant once you get a rhythm going — unlike riding in a blizzard, which is generally cold and slow. The worst part is being damp and cold once you arrive at your destination.

I peddled along, thankful for my standard issue fenders, rain dripping from my helmet (how deeply unDanish) onto my face. I felt extremely hardcore and almost as Danish as can be this. This was as Danish as eating rye bread while sipping Carlsberg. Some of my friends hadn’t even purchased bicycles and here I was slogging along.

When I finally got there I decided to order a latte to warm myself up instead of a beer. My friends were late as usual so I got a book out to amuse myself. Before I finished the first paragraph someone was asking me how I liked the book, which quickly led to where I was from and what I was doing in Denmark. Two Danish boys and I struck up a conversation and before long they had invited me to join in their board games. The only problem was that the game was entirely in Danish. It was far beyond the eight or so words I had collected. They tried to prod me into participating, missing the futility of such an attempt. Ultimately they seemed to enjoy their private world of Danish and who was I to stop them?

Back in the saddle

One of the best things about being back in Calgary is that I have a bike again. While I was in Washington, D.C. I missed riding dearly. I would glare at all the cyclists and resent them and their beautiful bikes. Now I have my bike who I loving call Doris after the moderately functional bus in Almost Famous.

Despite my excitement I find it easy to make excuses to not ride my bike. My parents car is fast and easy to use. This city can be frightening to ride in. There are lots of hills. Too many hills. There is the endless rain.

But no these are just a bunch of lame excuses. I rode to Eau Claire today because of my blanket refusal to park downtown and remembered how much I miss riding. It is so much more satisfying to ride there than it is to drive. The river valley is beautiful and I have bike lanes most of the way. Why don’t I always do this?

Riding home along the pathway as the sun was setting I was reminded of how nice it is to get somewhere with the wind in my face, using the power of my own legs. It is extremely satisfying to peddle as hard as I can and glide along. This was something I felt everyday in Copenhagen. I find I am much happier when I feel this instead of the stiffness in my legs as I press the peddle and sit still.

Later I ran into a friend and mentioned to her that they are putting in physically separated bike lanes on 7th street.* She was supportive then I said it’s just a start they should have them on every street downtown, and everywhere else for that matter. Then I got that look that says you’re crazy, that will never happen. People won’t go for that. Part of me knows she’s right and another part of me knows that there’s a reason Copenhagen is touted as the world’s most liveable city while Calgary isn’t even considered for the list. It’s because driving an hour or more each way to work doesn’t make people happy, walking to the grocery store shouldn’t be a luxury and riding your bike to a friend’s house is way more gratifying and healthy than driving. If more people looked at the 10th street bike lanes and saw the future not an exception then we would be a happy, healthier more liveable city. If you disagree with me give riding your bike a try. Once you get over the sheer terror of rolling stops by motorists at stop signs you might just get converted.

––––

* I have my reservations about physically separated bike lanes. They have their upsides and downsides. I am personally a fan of the ones that are just on the road. They are a lot cheaper and ultimately no amount of concrete will protect cyclists from drivers who have unsafe habits and attitudes that endanger cyclists. I think we spend too much time debating what type of bike lanes to put in and not enough time putting them in.

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Why I don’t miss driving

It’s been almost a month since I’ve driven a car and it’s been quite nice. I don’t miss it, not even a little.

I grew up in a place where you have to own a car to have any quality of life — or to avoid the inconvenience of making the decision not to own one, or worse not being able to afford one. The nearest grocery store to my house was a forty-five minute walk, each way. Or a ten minute bus ride, on a bus that came about once every twenty minutes. Everybody in my neighourhood had to drive to the grocery store if they wanted to pick up some milk.

Now I live a two minute walk from two different grocery stores, a metro station, and a shopping centre that meets almost all consumer needs I may have. The metro is excellent, coming once every four minutes during peak hours and every six minutes during non-peak hours, and then every twenty minutes after mid-night — yes this town has night transit and it is amazing. In Calgary the bars would thin out as last train approached — the time when you could leave and catch the last train of the night. It didn’t make any sense that there was no transit after midnight, especially on weekends. Even just the c-train would have been something.

Then there are every forty-five minute buses, that sometimes don’t come. Or the once every hour bus that you miss when it’s minus thirty and snowing. Or the bus that comes halfway between when the previous bus was supposed to leave and the next bus was supposed to arrive. You are never quite sure whether it is late, or early, or just off. There is a reason everyone owns a car. The problem is that when transit sucks no one takes it, so no one will invest in it and it continues to suck. Thus everyone continues to drive everywhere.

Driving never came very naturally to me. It is stressful and a lot of responsibility. I was always far more inclined to be the passenger if the opportunity presented itself.

Traffic jams were the worst. There is nothing like the feeling of sitting in stop and go traffic knowing that it is going to take an hour and a half to do a drive that normally takes ten minutes. You could be doing almost anything with that time, instead you have your foot pressed on the break, and your eyes locked on the car in front of you scanning for any movement whatsoever. This time feels like it is a total waste. You are not moving forward, and you are not doing anything productive. Instead, the stress builds, and builds. Every time I am in one of these jams I can feel my life getting shorter and shorter.

Then there is parking. A nemesis that bests me most of the time. I am bad at parking. I cannot pull nicely into a tight spot between two cars and then have it so that passengers on both sides of the vehicle can open their doors. I am bad at pulling out as well. I usually feel totally blind just waiting to hit something. Then there are those moments when you are unable to find a parking spot all together and drive around endlessly searching for one. Then it is so so expensive. It always feels like you are throwing money away.

Parking tickets are the cherry on top of this nightmare. In my experience they are mostly arbitrary, and for infractions you didn’t even know it was possible to commit until you read the ticket. You are punished for being a mm too far or too near, or for the shear inability to read signs — an enigma machine is the only sure fire way to decipher Calgary’s parking signs. They are often numerous and confusing. They say contradictory things. Snow lane signs and handicapped signs look very similar. There are a lot of times listed, and a lot of does and don’ts.

I have not parked for a month. I have not walked back to my car fingers crossed I didn’t commit a surprise parking infraction, and I feel so much more content because of it.

Walking, taking transit, and biking are far better solutions. You get a lot more exercise, or time to read. You don’t have to worry about getting back to your car, or about having one beer — although this may not apply cycling.

There is one thing I do miss about driving: blasting music with the windows rolled down. I think it is something I can live without.

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Flat tire

Copenhagen is a city of cyclists. It is said that there are more bicycles in Copenhagen than people, and I don’t find this hard to believe. Owning a bike is part of the experience, and the downside of bikes is that they break.

Most international students buy cheap bikes, and along with this comes the risk that bikes are going to break down. From the beginning I knew that my bike was not a beautiful new machine carefully built and examined by trained mechanics. It is more likely that mine has been owned by a few too many students who don’t know the first thing about bicycles. The brakes aren’t everything they could be, nor is the chain but all in all it gets you from point a to point b.

Unfortunately, I got a flat tire — my tube went flat and then fell out of my tire and then got caught on my fork — and I got to explore the inefficient part of bikes. This is taking your bike on the S-tog to a station that you know has a mechanic and then dragging your bike to the mechanic — it also taught me that I lack upper body strength — maybe I should start doing pushups. My bike should be back up and running soon, and the repairs were not terrible expensive.

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I want to ride my bicycle

There are bikes everywhere in this city. It is impressive to see how many people ride bikes and get used to it being their main way of getting around.

Unfortunately I have as of yet to get buy a bicycle but I am working on it. It seems like a bit of a scramble has been going on so far to buy bikes. Lots of people are just buying the first one they find and it seems like a crazy system.

Perhaps I know too much about bikes and have a specific idea of what I want and that is why it has been harder for me. I want one that is mechanically sound, has a more aggressive fit than the upright town bikes that are so popular here (I think there is a good chance I will compromise on this one), preferably an old school road bike or a hybrid style one, that is inexpensive, and fairly mechanically sound. It will also be nice if it fits me reasonably well.

I think these are questions that people who have not been taking their time buying a bike may have missed. But then again it would be nice to just bike the first bike I find and be done with it.

•••

I went to a shop this morning that is supposed to have good bikes but unfortunately I could get a new bike for less than the used ones there. The process of finding these stores, and then going in and looking around at what they have on offer is quite disappointing. You want to find something cheap and moderately good. If only there was a Tiger used bike store.

Most of the used bikes I’ve encountered are the upright townie style and unfortunately you have to pay a premium if you want something else. I think it is time to settle, that or raise how much I am willing to pay for a bike. Or I can buy a town bike and see what I find. The process continues.

That is the downside of only being here for four or five months, you don’t want to spend a whole lot of money on a bike you will only be using for a short period of time.

•••

I bought a bike. I can now stop looking and going through Facebook groups and waiting for replies to posts, and finding shops to discover that they do not have any good deals despite what the Internet claimed.

I am finding Danish bikes strange to ride. You can not back peddle them to get the peddles in your preferred position like you can in Canada so I’ve noticed a lot of people do a bit of a running start and hop on. Luckily my bike is a step through so it is relatively easy to get on and off of in a pinch. It will be an adjustment and I don’t think spending more money on a bike would really solve that problem. It’s funny how even bikes have little differences between countries.

It is nice to finally have some wheels. It felt strange to not have a bike in a place that may have more bicycle parking facilities than it does car parks. If you sit at a cafe during rush hour — or pretty much any other hour — you can watch all the bikes stream by. It was weird at first watching all the cyclists stream by but I am now one of them. You get used to it, and in a good way. Back home you would never see that many cyclists, especially not outside of rush hour. Something for Canada to work on.