Transportation

The Economist Discovers Cycling

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 16, 2008

The Economist, long a bastion of rigorous, no-nonsense, cant-free analysis (er, most of the time) has just discovered that riding a bicycle is a good idea:

Suddenly a bicycle seems like the remedy for many modern ills, from petrol prices to pollution and obesity.

Well, maybe "suddenly" for the anonymous analysts behind the Economist headlines, but their own graph of bicycle vs. car production by year demonstrates that cycling has grown steadily since the 1970s - albeit with a slump during the '90s that saw sales stagnate until 2000 when they took off again.

In any case, when the most sober, business-minded weekly in the world starts championing bicycles as a booming, innovative business producing an increasingly essential commodity, you know the two-wheeled wonder has arrived.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By pedestrian (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2008 at 22:22:58

There is no dispute here that bikes are good. The dispute starts with the people who ride them into crossing lanes to avoid stopping for lights or Stop signs and who are a menace to us pedestrians.

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By tired of the predictable fight (anonymous) | Posted October 19, 2008 at 09:03:46

Oh, put a sock in it. Not every article about cycling has to turn into a petty bickering debate over whether the odd cyclist riding irresponsibly means we should hate on cycling. Stop it, stop it, stop it. Every mode has irresponsible people, cyclists on the sidewalk & passing on the right, drivers going too fast and cutting people off, pedestrians jay walking and not looking before they cross. Stop b1tching about the minority of 'bad actors' and focus on what we'd like to achieve.

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By tiredofittoo (anonymous) | Posted October 22, 2008 at 19:27:54

I agree with pedestrian! When cyclists start to obey laws, meant for everyone, show respect for pedestrains I will be among the first to support their cause.The post by "tired of the predictable fight" is rude and could be a "predictable cyclist" expressing usual banter.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted October 23, 2008 at 09:42:20

And again into the abyss.

Are you suggesting that it's only cyclists that don't follow the laws?

No car ever blows a stop sign or changes lanes illegally, no pedestrian ever crosses illegally or without looking. It's those damned cyclists!

String 'em all up, I say!

The problem is that you don't even notice the vast majority of cyclists due to the fact that they follow the rules and ride safely, you just focus on the one or two that cause problems.

Cycling is one of the most efficient means of transportation with negligible wear on the transportation infrastructure, negligible fuel consumption (bikes have to be built, transported to their point of sale and maintained) and tremendous health benefits for participants.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 23, 2008 at 10:01:39

I'll state my bias upfront: I'm a militant pedestrian. I'm also a cyclist and a motorist, but I will always lean in favour of pedestrians. They are the most vulnerable part of the equation, afterall.

In the past I mostly used my bike for recreation and doing errands around my neighbourhood, but recently I've been venturing across the McKittrick Bridge and cycling downtown alot more. Yesterday I was cycling along York. A young woman was cycling next to me on the sidewalk. When the Bikepath to Nowhere ended, cars who I normally find will yield at least half a lane if not a full lane, suddenly began passing me within inches. I have no doubt that they felt entitled to do this because they believed I did not belong there. I also have no doubt that the presence of a cyclist on the sidewalk re-affirmed this mistaken belief. By disobeying the law, she was putting me in danger along with the pedestrians on the sidewalk.

Needless to say, while I waited patiently at a red light, she stopped briefly and then preceded right through. I was a little ticked to see the woman who had just put my life in danger whizzing blythly ahead, but relieved that she would no longer be next to me encouraging drivers to intimidate me onto the sidewalk.

Oh, and anyone who thinks it's just a minority of cyclists who disobey the law should spend some time around the university. Hang out on King in Westdale for a bit. At least 50% of the cyclists are on the sidewalk. Next, stroll down Sterling. No one, and I mean NO ONE under the age of 40 stops at the stop signs. They don't even slow down, even when there are several cars at the intersection.

It needs to be stated that when cyclists disobey the law they put their fellow cyclists, as well as themselves and pedestrians in danger. I will probably always be a militant pedestrian first and foremost, but I am finding that the more I develop a 'cyclist' mindset, the angrier I am at my fellow cyclists who break the law.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 23, 2008 at 10:22:22

Highwater wrote:

cars who I normally find will yield at least half a lane if not a full lane, suddenly began passing me within inches

If you're riding on the right side of the lane, I strongly urge you to take the full lane. Move far enough to the left that motorists have to change lanes to pass you.

You'll be amazed at the difference in your comfort level. I ride every day on York Blvd, and on a couple of occasions when I've hugged the curb as an experiment, nearly every car passed me with less than a foot to spare.

The difference really is dramatic - if you're far enough out that cars have to swerve out to pass you, their basic driver training will take over and they'll change lanes.

It's not illegal for you to do this, either. The Highway Traffic Act states that you should stay to the right as far as is safe. Since it's not safe to stick to the curb, you have the right to block the lane.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 23, 2008 at 11:12:08

I will try to screw up my courage and give that a whirl next time. It's ironic that it's the same timidity likely causing that woman to ride on the sidewalk, that causes me to hug the curb, possibly endangering myself.

As you can see, my cyclist mindset is a work in progress, no doubt affected by the fact that as a woman, I am genetically programmed to take up as little space as possible, seeking security in self-effacement, kinda like a psychic burqa. The idea that taking up more physical space might actually make me safer is a bit of a leap, but I guess I'll have to try.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 23, 2008 at 11:34:54

I'm glad the city took down that sign at York and Locke indicating that the 'shared lane ends'. When they put that up I thought it would cause instant trouble with selfish motorists seeing it and trying to run bikes off the road. Now the bike lane just ends without any fanfare. Apparently I wasn't the only one not amused by that sign. I was going to snap a picture of it, but it was gone pretty quickly. The sad part is, those lanes on York are wide enough to paint a bike lane tonight without affecting the vehicle lanes in the slightest. Unfortunately, it will probably take another 5-10 years before we actually do that.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted October 23, 2008 at 18:04:04

And again into the abyss.

Are you suggesting that it's only cyclists that don't follow the laws?

No car ever blows a stop sign or changes lanes illegally, no pedestrian ever crosses illegally or without looking. It's those damned cyclists!

String 'em all up, I say!

The problem is that you don't even notice the vast majority of cyclists due to the fact that they follow the rules and ride safely, you just focus on the one or two that cause problems.

Cycling is one of the most efficient means of transportation with negligible wear on the transportation infrastructure, negligible fuel consumption (bikes have to be built, transported to their point of sale and maintained) and tremendous health benefits for participants.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted October 23, 2008 at 18:13:03

Highwater,

It is completely counter-intuitive to take the lane, but here's how I analyze it. There are three kinds of drivers, the largest portion being clueless, a small portion being considerate and a tiny minority being psychopathic.

The considerate drivers you'll never notice, as they give you enough room. Psychotic drivers aren't worth planning for because there's nothing you can do about them anyway. Clueless drivers, however you can plan for. If you hug the curb, they assume you're inviting them to pass. If you take the lane, they will go around you. This also gives you room to move if you have to dodge someone who passes too close to you.

As far as cyclists obeying the law, I slow down for stop signs and stop lights and will only stop if there is a reason to. If I can time a four way stop so that a car is crossing as I get there, I won't stop but will just cruise on through in his shadow. My reasoning for this is that it takes significant energy to start a bike up again, as compared to just flexing your ankle in a car.

The most important rule is courtesy. If I'm going to inconvenience someone with my actions, I don't do them unless the law is on my side.

Hope this helps...

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted October 23, 2008 at 21:51:06

It's idiots like Brandon that give all cyclists a bad image with a statement like "....will only stop if there is a reason to." Can you imagine if everybody on the roadway drove their baby-buggy, bicycle, moped, scooter, motorcycle, car, truck or bus with that attitude?

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted October 25, 2008 at 11:00:16

If there are no vehicles approaching a four way stop and no pedestrians approaching (as a cyclist I am far more aware of my environment than a vehicle driver) what is the point in stopping? If there is questionable visibility, I slow down enough that I can easily stop if required. In a car I always stop, as there is no effort involved in stopping the vehicle and resuming my travels. On a bike, if I'm moving at an appreciable speed, it's a more significant event.

If there are pedestrians or vehicles anywhere near, I stop, unless I can time my passage to coincide with a car traveling through the intersection as well.

Interestingly enough, ask Ryan about "Naked streets" to see how well things might work if everyone drove this way, or even better, if all signs were simply removed.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted October 25, 2008 at 18:05:10

Brandon,does your conceit know any bounds? How do you get the courage to make an asinine comment like “(as a cyclist I am far more aware of my environment than a vehicle driver).” How do you know how aware I or any other driver is.There are many idiots on two wheels like you who are alive, safe and sound, because a car driver had the skills and awareness to compensate for their reckless behavior. That happens much more frequently than a poor driver hitting a cyclist or pedestrian. The big difference is when a nice bit of driving saves an ugly incident the only persons who know are the driver and the cyclist, and most of the time the cyclist is so oblivious to reality that they don’t realize either. When a car driver is at fault, or might be at fault, for an accident all hell breaks loose. If there is any possibility that the car is at fault then charges are laid. People write blogs demanding we slow down all traffic or even better yet, abolish cars from the area. Just look at other posts right here on RTH. Yet car drivers are the only ones who have to prove that they are knowledgeable and capable.
You refer to naked streets by which I assume you are referring to no signs at intersections. I have driven in such an environment in Germany where it is common. It works really well because now again everybody is playing by the same set of rules, and they take driving a lot more seriously than we do (both car and bicycle). The big problem with your approach is that nobody else knows what you are doing. After reading your comments I doubt that you know what you’re doing either. Driving in the right direction and stopping at stop signs is the very least any vehicle on the road needs to do, and yes even an idiot on two wheels is indeed a vehicle.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 25, 2008 at 21:05:39

Hi Brandon,

Thanks for your comments. I know you're right about taking a lane, it's just that for a middle-aged gal like myself, it is indeed counter-intuitive to equate attracting attention with safety, but if I'm serious about this cycling thing, I know I have to try.

As far as cyclists obeying the law, I slow down for stop signs and stop lights and will only stop if there is a reason to.

This is how I treat 4-way stops if there are no cars. I usually stop for a 1-way stop, but if I'm sure there are no oncoming cars, I will just do a 'rolling stop'. I always stop at a red light no matter what, and if I may say so, I think you should too. When that gal on York proceeded through the red like the rules somehow didn't apply to her, she may not have been 'inconveniencing' anyone, but she was being discourteous to the rest of us poor schmucks patiently waiting for the light to turn. This is the kind of thing that ticks people off and pushes someone from the 'clueless' category over into the 'psychotic', endangering the rest of us.

If I can time a four way stop so that a car is crossing as I get there, I won't stop but will just cruise on through in his shadow.

If there are other cars waiting, I don't think you should do this. You really should stop and wait your turn like any other vehicle. Again, you may not be actually inconveniencing anyone, but it is discourteous to the others who are waiting their turn. If we're going to take a lane like a vehicle, we have to behave like vehicles when we get to intersections, IMO. When in doubt, err on the side of excessive courteousness. You might just bring a psychotic driver back down to clueless, or even considerate.

Godspeed. :-)

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 25, 2008 at 21:18:08

And another thing. Don't feed Mr. Meister. ;-)

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted October 26, 2008 at 08:36:56

Highwater,

Regarding lights, now that I think about it, I do find myself waiting at lights, even if there's no traffic. I guess when I think about blowing stop signs it's when I'm on side streets.

For four way stops, I'll take my place in the queue and cross with the car in front of me instead of zipping up the line.

But to the main point of my earlier post, taking the lane is the best thing you can do for your own safety. Drivers like Meister who are firm believers in their brilliance are usually the ones who will pass if you give them the invitation, which is what hugging the curb is doing.

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