Archives for category: Cycling

One of the nice things about having a blog is the ability to share your opinions and start conversations about topics that are of interest to you. It’s also nice to hear back from readers and get their comments and opinions on posts.

Yesterday, I published a post about my concerns about e-bikes. It didn’t take long for me to hear back from e-bike riders, some of whom seem to be very vigilant about defending e-bikes from uninformed criticism.

Many of the comments on my post pointed out that I had very few facts and only anecdotes to support my complaints about e-bikes. I can only plead guilty to offering an opinion, based on my observations. I am clearly not equipped with the knowledge and expertise to make technical, fact-based safety comparisons between bicycles and e-bikes.

I got many vigorous comments in defense of e-bikes. I won’t repeat them – they can all be found here. I encourage you to read them.

But I want to put up a video that several of the commenters suggested I view.

My views have softened from reading the comments, but I still think that many e-bikes are closer to motorized scooters than bicycles. On the other hand, I can also say that e-bikes offer a level of mobility to some people that is beneficial to them and to the environment.

Whether you accept my opinion or not, here are a few things I hope we can agree on:

  • Any clean alternative to cars is a good alternative, whether they are e-bikes, bicycles, pedal scooters, unicycles, roller blades or skateboards – as long as they are operated in a safe and legal manner.
  • It’s critical that we teach people how to drive safely, take proper precautions, wear helmets and be aware of those with whom they share the road or bike path. I think it’s safe to say that governments, schools and other institutions could be doing more to ensure that anyone who wants to drive on our roads is as prepared as possible to do so in the safest possible way. And if you want to prioritize, start with drivers education – cars are still the biggest and most dangerous things on the road.

 

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I’m all in favour of getting people out of cars and getting more cyclists on the road, but what if your “bicycle” is a 120kg scooter that goes over 30km/h and makes no noise?

I’m not the first person in Toronto who has noticed a growing number of scooter type e-bikes driven dangerously, by people who are not only new to driving but who think that they can drive anywhere, anytime. I’m happy to share the road with anyone, but you must act in a safe manner.

Yesterday, while on a routine bike ride to get groceries, I noticed e-bike drivers riding on sidewalks, not wearing helmets, running stop signs into heavy traffic and generally not showing any awareness of the danger they are posing to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Last week, I was hit by an e-bike that decided, at full speed, to move from the right-hand lane of the street into the bike lane. There was no bell, no horn, no warning.

Image: Now Magazine

Of course, the same behaviours I noticed are the same ones motorists frequently observe among cyclists. The only difference is e-bikes weigh much more, have more velocity and take longer to stop than bicycles. They are essentially motorized scooters that have pedals – which, from what I’ve seen, are merely useless appendages.

The pedals are a convenient loophole. They province’s oversight of e-bikes makes it clear that having pedals means e-bikes are considered bicycles under the law and e-bike drivers do not require a licence. And, according to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, e-bikes “do not have to meet any federal safety standards.”

I find this odd. If regulations exist in part to ensure the safety of those who operate cars, bikes, motorcycles, scooters and those around them, then why is simply having pedals enough to remove e-bikes from further oversight and regulation? Why not use weight, size or a similar measurement to determine the appropriate safety and regulatory approach?

If there is a bigger debate taking part in Toronto about how to balance the needs of cars, public transit, cyclists and pedestrians, then e-bikes should be added to this list.

New shops selling e-bikes are popping up everywhere, offering mobility to those who are not able to ride a bike – but e-bikes should be treated as what they are: heavy, motorized scooters.

I know there are plenty of safe, responsible and aware drivers out there, but it takes just one driver who is on the opposite side of the spectrum to ruin your day. I use my bike daily to get around Toronto. And I’ve tried, but I still have a problem trusting most motorists. And this has nothing to do with cycling advocacy or the war between cars and bikes – it is just the observation of a normal cyclist in Toronto.

It doesn’t matter if a cyclist is wearing a helmet, bright-coloured clothes, using reflective surfaces, lights and other safety accessories – a driver who is not aware of how to drive around cyclists or who is not looking out for them will eventually come into conflict with one.

A recent first-person piece in the Star by an adult cyclist on such a conflict made quite an impression on me. The author, a ordinary guys and a new father who goes to great lengths to be the safest and most prudent cyclists he can be, loses it on a driver who apparently didn’t bother to notice him – even as he was driving across a bike path. I have been in that situation multiple times, and there is nothing like a close shave to get the blood boiling. Even motorists – like the one in the article – who apologize to cyclists don’t do enough to merit the forgiveness of cyclists because of the high stakes involved.

Image: Montreal Gazette

Sometimes, more minor conflicts between cyclists and drivers often seems to come down to each side being representative of a larger debate about sustainability; drivers are part of the mindless march of suburban sprawl, swallowing up land and resources and insisting on dominating their environment. On the other side, cyclists are, as Don Cherry put it, pinkos who impose their alternative lifestyle on others.

But even if disputes between cyclists and motorists often boil down to this level, we shouldn’t forget the most important element of the conflict: safety. So whether you think that the dominance of cars poses a threat to our environment or cyclists are annoying pests who break the rules of the road while delivering sanctimonious lectures, both sides should agree that the reason this conflict is so heated and so emotional is because there are literally lives at stake.

As a cyclist, I am clearly not on the fence. I get into disputes with drivers on a regular basis because some of them do very unsafe things. Many of them are obviously not willing to acknowledge that they share the road with cyclists, nor are they equipped with the necessary competence to drive with cyclists around them. During some of these tense interchanges with drivers, I often ask them to imagine that I am their child and ask them to reconsider their approach to driving. It usually gets them to thinking, which is all I can hope for.

And that leads me to what I hope will eventually become the best solution to this problem is to focus on education – both for those learning how to drive a car and those kids who are starting to cycle on our roads. Cyclists are people — normal people, not lifestyle advocates waiting to get into an argument.

I see that Toronto City Council is being asked to remove a little-known by-law that obliges cyclists in the city to ride in single file LINK. The by-law is a holdover from Etobicoke, and was extended to the rest of city during amalgamation. No side-by-side riding, you lane hogs!

I’m sure I wasn’t the only cyclist in the city to be caught by surprise. Are you kidding? We are legally required to ride in single file? And some cops actually pulled cyclists over for this?

toronto cyclists

“The Commute Home” by happy d/blogTO Flickr pool.

Legally, bikes are treated like cars under the Highway Traffic Act, so cyclists have every right – if they think it’s safer – to ride two abreast or take up a lane of traffic (a cop quoted in the Toronto Star article agrees, making me wonder why some of his colleagues continue to pull over offending cyclist). Two things non-cyclists might want to know here: no cyclist wants to get any closer to cars than absolutely necessary; and riding a bike in traffic requires very careful attention to what you are doing (where you are riding, what is around you and how you fit into the flow of traffic). Most cyclists don’t need to be told how to ride their bikes around cars. In fact, I would say motorists have a stronger need to be better informed and educated about how to drive around cyclists (hint: do a better job of this in Drivers’ Ed) The Ministry of Transportation agrees with me; it’s draft cycling policy makes lots of smart suggestions, many of which were taken from a 2012 Ontario Chief Coroners’ Office review of cycling deaths.

This by-law, for me, perfectly encapsulates the Rob Ford/Don Cherry “bike-riding pinko” school of thought. I’ve spent most of my time on the other side of the debate, biking to work year-round and wincing at the many, many drivers in this city who have no idea how to safely operate a large fast-moving piece of metal around bikes driven by other human beings. How to get around Toronto safely is a more complex topic than this by-law suggests, and laws for cycling should reflect that.

If, as it appears, Torontonians can start to have a mature debate over pubic transit (which is really a larger debate about how liveable we want the city to be), then surely we can include the roles of cars and bikes in that debate. And surely we can start by getting rid of the type of by-law that is as unnecessary as it is paternalistic, and recognize that a city that makes room for lots of people to get around by bike is a city with healthier air, healthier citizens and a higher quality of life.