Thursday, 26 February 2015

Home is where the heart is.

Know what I love about riding bikes? I love that you can just stop anywhere... ok, almost anywhere, and soak it all in. Here we are, soaking in the beautiful American landmark, Mt Baker, as seen from the Arthur Laing bridge. (Never mind the exhaust we were soaking in at the same time... :-| )

In a car, you can't stop on the bridge deck to check out the planes, trains and automobiles (and distant mountains!) the way you can on two wheels.

On a bike you can stop to take photos of other bridges from mid span, and you can take pictures of bridges from beaches, too.
The Lion's gate from Dundarave in West Vancouver.
They frown on people driving their cars onto the seawall to take photos. See how those trees are already starting to come to life? Some of the many varieties of ornamental cherries are already in bloom, having had the requisite 10 C (that's 50 American) and sunshine for a while now.

Lifted from BikeSnobNYC
Poor snobberdooders was out riding in the snow last weekend, though kudos to him for not letting the weather shut him down. But whilst he was navigating the cold white carpet, we were enjoying a carpet of colourful crocuses crocuci flowers.

The sunshine and early springtime is lovely for us cyclists, but it sucks to be a skier this year. Our mountains and their ski hills are barren of snow. 

Each of Vancouver's three local ski hills is closed for business at the very time of year when they are supposed to be in full swing. It's a far cry from your typical February in Vancouver, that's for sure.

It's an even worse season than we had for the 2010 Winter Olympics, when they were trucking snow in from the interior and dropping it on the slopes with helicopters. You've gotta love it. Ha! Yeah, forget Canada. From now on, they're going to have to hold the Winter Olympics in places like Texas, North Carolina, Alabama and Arkensas. Y'know, places where they get actual snow.

I love living on the Pacific for its pacifying effect on the weather systems. Works for me...

Know what else works for me? A city that loves bikes. You've gotta love a place that goes out of its way to get you to tweet #lovebikeyvr! After my last post, somebody had this to say:

It would be wonderful to get rid of the car and bike/walk everywhere. BUUTT... not all of us live in such an urban environment. My home town has been devoured by sprawl to the point that you HAVE to have a car or else ride as much as 3 times the distance just to arive at your destination. Public transport is an afterthought. Cycling here is something reserved for the DUI cases, extreme low income cases, and the eccentric fred types. Maybe thats why our hit and run count is so high. The last time i chased down a car that nearly flattened me, i confronted the driver and was told "yeah well, you never go back for cats and dogs". (Yes i replied that thats the reason i only #@!%'ed his mother once.) You can see the mentality thats created by this environment. Please, be thankful for your city and its virtues. It could be much MUCH worse.

The city of many virtues.

And you KNOW I couldn't leave it alone. I had just read about Surrey, known as "car city," what with its expanding bike lane infrastructure, and their plan to convince more people to ride their bikes. I took a deep breath, put my hand on my hip, got in touch with my inner know-it-all, and replied in earnest, and at length...

You'll find a better photo of this rack here.
Sixty years ago most of your suburban American neighbours felt righteous in actively discriminating against their African-american neighbours, too. Just because they all agree, doesn't mean they're right. 

Of course I am grateful for living in this particular urban center, but it's a chicken and egg sort of thing, isn't it? After all, we wouldn't have a bike friendly city without people who insisted on riding before we had bike lanes. In other words, I am exactly the kind of person who has made this city the bike friendly place that it is. But I have lived and ridden year round in a lot of other places. A. Lot. I started riding full time in Edmonton, Alberta, a city on the same latitude as Moscow, whose primary income is derived from the oil patch - worse, the tarsands. That was decades ago, and even though they have bike lanes now, it is still a place where car is king. I have lived in the suburbs, too, I was in White Rock, BC, before I came here to Vancouver, and before that, I lived in Surrey in the UK. And yes, of course I have encountered people like that asshole who wouldn't stop if he hit someone's beloved pet. I have also lived and cycled almost everywhere I went on island and in rural locations alike, places like Saltspring Island, and North Beach on Haida Gwaii. It isn't always simple, but it is do-able. 

And the thing is, nothing is going to change until normal people like you show the way. My friends in Vancouver's suburb of White Rock were astounded that I should choose to cycle when I could drive, but over time, they noticed the benefits of my lifestyle, and now a few of them ride, too.

In the wise words of the Lorax, "Nothing's going to get better - it's not! - until someone like you cares a whole awful lot."

But the moment someone like you cares a whole awful lot, things do get better, guaranteed, and on the spot. It starts inside, but the goodness grows. Your choices will affect the people around you. Sooner or later, people will see that not only is it possible to make healthy choices, but that it acutally feels good.

Till you find yourself living in a town that loves people who love bikes, because cyclists are accepted as normal, healthy, and sane. (Heh heh. Not that I am often accused of that!) We are still a little way from unconditional acceptance here in Vancouver, what with all of the drivers who hate us, but we're a far cry from the mean streets and fast traffic we cyclists suffered ten years ago, too. It's a work in progress, but at least it's working. 

So here's to progress. Be the change that makes all the difference in your little corner of the world. You'll feel good about yourself as you do it, and you'll be happy with the results (specially the bottom line!) when all is said and done. Change is coming, slowly but surely. Take heart.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Some things about Valentines day are heart to beat.

Gidday! Greetings and salutations from an impulseive lescyclist in circulation in Vancouver. Here we are, finally over the mid-winter hump, having celebrated Imbolic and survived St Valentine's infamous day of love.

How did you celebrate? Not Imbolic. If you noticed it, you probably nodded farewell to the darkest nights of winter and hello to the first blush of light, and if you were on top of it, you started your seeds in the windowsill. How did you celebrate love? Did you go out with your favourite person, maybe for dinner or a drink?

Did you notice how perfectly lovely restaruants turned into expensive, high end establishments, knowing full well that people are going to go out for the evening,

Special heartless Valentine's day drink prices.
and then capitalising on romance by nearly doubling their typical prices for the evening?? Unbelievable. Restaurateurs must absolutely love Valentine's day.

Note the six and seven dollar drinks on the standard menu
Know what I love? I love my life. I love Valentines Day, and I love special wishes. One gorgeous soul wrote: "In the future, may all of your falling just be in love." Nice, right? Or how about this little gem

with the sentiment inside

 I love living in one of the most beautiful, rideable cities on Earth.

Yep, you've gotta love this town, and especially the fact that you can ride where ever you go, day in and day out, all rear round.

Check our that crisp, clean urban forest air... :)
And while the Fraser Valley sometimes gets air quality advisories because of too many cars on the roads in Vancouver, those of us in the city get to breathe beautiful sweet, Pacific air. You've gotta love that. Do you remember the study that proved that as little as two hours of exposure to diesel exhaust can trigger dangerous changes to human genes?  You don't have to be in Beijing, either. All it takes is a couple of hours by the port...

I absolutely love love love that Paris is banning diesel cars, and pedestrianising a great number of thoroughfares.  The Left Bank has been completely closed to traffic since early 2013, and last year the mayor of Paris introduced a policy which allows drivers to use their cars only on every other day, so that one day even numbered plates were allowed on the roads, and the next only odd. (OMG you've gotta love Paris!)

Paris smog via The Daily Mail
If you can make your way to work without your car on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, why do you need it to get there on Tuesday and Thursday? Why are people so brainwashed that they believe they can't possibly live their lives without their precious cars? It is such a recent phenomenon in the grand scheme of things, the car-centric city, and yet people can't even imagine living in a world without them. I guess it's understandable, really ... after all I can't imagine life without my happy place.

You've gotta love Vancouver: it embraces cycling almost as passionately as do I. The city has installed heart shaped bike racks like that one in scenic locations all over town, in the hope that people will take photographs of themselves with the racks, and then share their pictures on social media with the hashtag #lovebikeyvr. 

And after all, everybody loves a great rack. Heyyyy... come to think of it - that looks like a wonderful little field trip! Hmmm. Yep. Coming soon to a bikecycling blog near you, a #hashtag calling to Vancouver cyclists: Hail and Heart-y... making tracks to the heart racks.

Between the sex clubs and the traffic bans, I am all for emulating the City of Love...

Then all of this heart thumping bike loving cycle blogging will not have been in vein.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The cycling scene has finally got legs.

This is it. We've arrived.

We're here, and we're not going away. Cycling culture is beginning to make its mark on Vancouver's red hot hot hot real estate scene, so you know it's big. You can resent us, mock us, ridicule us or even hate us, but whatever you do, you'd better get used to us, cause we're here to stay. I would like to think that we cyclists were a grass roots movement which grew in numbers. I wish we had become bigger and stronger so that along the way the world recognised the value in our lifestyle, until finally we became the new normal, and we shaped the very nature of mainstream, but no. Instead, what once was an alternative subculture simply became a clever marketing trick, so that now for a mere $300,000 you, too, can have 25,000 hipster neighbours and a apartment the size of the double garage of yore.

The Independent at Main
What used to be the parking space for the two cars any self-respecting family of four would have owned back in the day is now the square footage of your average abode. The Independent is marketed as a "Crafted Lifestyle," and sold as "Affordable Luxury." The truth is that parking spaces add zeros to the price tag of condominium living, and the gap between housing costs and salaries here in Vancouver is enormous and growing. A lovely friend of mine (clearly a tolerant, good humoured man) is a prominent architect here in town, and one evening we were discussing the costs of housing development. He said that the raw cost of building a parking space is $25-$40,000 for developers, so that by the time profit (who works for free??!), taxes and government levies are added in, housing your car adds $60,000 to the price tag of a condo here in Vancouver. Sixty grand!! You can buy a pretty nice little car for that much money.

The Car House
But it's inevitable, this shift. It is a reflection of the distribution of wealth in this crazy, mixed-up, modern world. According to Oxfam, this year marks a crucial tipping point. By the end of 2015 the richest 1% will have more wealth than the rest of the world combined. So it makes sense that here in Vancouver, developers have also created the smallest little tiny micro condos in the country to market to the average Joe. Again, they are marketed as Affordable Luxury, and again, they are the size of a garage of old.

The Burns Block
That is a photograph of the Burns Block, which is just down the road from where I work, in perhaps the most gentrified part of town. If it had been built a mile east of here, in Coal Harbour, you'd find bathrooms bigger than that. But take a good look, because what you see there is the face of the future. Unless, of course, we change our course.  So who is the 1%? I don't know about you, but whenever I hear that phrase, I always think about the 0.001%, those very, very few ultra rich people, when in fact if you're reading this, (and clearly you are!!) you might just be one of the 1% yourself. In truth, if you are calculating the global 1%, Americans ARE it , because on a global scale, all it takes to become one of the top 1% of earners is to earn $34,000 a year, whereas to be one of the 1% of Americans, you have to earn a lot more than that. In Canada, once you are approaching $200,000 a year you are a member of the 1% club.

(And if you are a member of that particular club, you wouldn't be riding the bus, so you would have missed the Toronto Transit Commission's big cock-up with the sign they recently erected... and you know that no matter what excuse they gave, the truth is that they took it down for a lack of balls all round. Heh heh.

So I hate to admit it, but I kindov like that Independent place. It's silly, really, because it's so obvious that it was built and marketed toward the young hipster demographic (IS there really such a thing as a hipster demographic?!!) because the developers want to make a profit, and not because of the health and environmental benefits of the cycling lifestyle. But it doesn't matter why it was built, only THAT it was built. A lot of the commuters you see out there on the bike routes these days are cycling because the cost of running a car in the city has become prohibitive. Last I checked, a monthly parking stall in the financial district here in downtown Vancouver was between three hundred and three hundred and fifty dollars. Never mind the price of the car, the insurance, the petrol and the cost to the environment. People who are riding to work every day feel better for it, and they benefit the rest of us with their decision, too, and that works for me. Oh, and also, it's good to ride because Legs. 

How can you argue with that?!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Crash Test Dummy Strikes Again.

I crashed last week. Twice!! I certainly wasn't alone, however. This was a whole month of many, many crashes, in truth, bicycle and automotive alike.  Each of these accidents had a different impact on the lives they touched. Some people were injured, some lost their lives, and a lucky few walked away unscathed.

The first time round
I was one of the lucky ones. Compared with some of the other mishaps I have suffered, this first one was a minor event, a slow speed tumble. But the other day, as I was riding near Science World, I noticed that the traffic lights were out all over the place. And a few blocks later, I heard a woman saying "OMG that was the scariest thing I have ever seen! That guy is so lucky to be alive." Just a little further on, I saw the accident she was talking about, and it dawned on me precicely why the power was out all over the neighbourhood.

It happened just east of the Georgia Viaduct, and for miles around, the traffic had descended into near chaos.

It was Saturday afternoon, and I had spent a lot of time on the roads that day, riding first with the club, and then with a good friend. The traffic was pretty calm in the suburbs that day, but it had a real edge to it here within the city limits. I saw several drivers running red lights and taking risks like doing that dodgy, high speed lane change that people do to mayyyyyybe save themselves a few seconds before they get to the next stoplight. And of course, I witnessed tons of drivers speeding. As usual.  But you have to wonder just how fast you have to drive your minivan to take out two power poles and blow up the neighbouring transformers the way this guy did.

What a claim to fame. His fifteen minutes came at quite a price. There were probably a dozen fire engines in the neighbourhood, along with a number of ambulances several police cruisers, and of course, a few BC Hydro service vehicles, to boot.

He was stuck in his car, forbidden to move until those Hydro crews ensured that he wouldn't be fried in the aftermath of his mess.

And every so often he seemed to express regret, though who knows? Maybe he was sad to be missing his mates at the pub. And who knows how long it will be before he goes speeding along those very same city streets again, risking life and limb? It's a habit in this town, speeding, a habit we share with drivers across the globe.

How many people will paramedics have to scrape off the streets before we finally address the carnage on our roads? Or are those lives all expendable? How did we get to the place where ninety percent of the drivers on the road at any time are speeding, and nobody is talking about it, and yet cyclists are all tarred with the same brush, and branded criminals for treating a stop sign like a yield, even though the Idaho Stop Law has been effect for decades, and has reduced, not increased the number of accidents?

Cycling advocates argue that stop signs are designed to slow the flow of traffic, not to enforce right of way, and that in most instances they don't even do that.  And if we were to consider our streets rationally for even a moment, the truth is that speeding and distracted drivers kill over a million people every year. That's right. MILLIONS. Not hundreds, not thousands, not even hundreds of thousands. MillionsAccording to the World Health Organisationroad traffic injuries caused an estimated 1.24 million deaths worldwide in the year 2010, slightly down from 1.26 million in 2000. That is one person is killed every 25 seconds Millions of people die in traffic accidents every year, and yet motorists have a hate on for cyclists. What. The. Fuck. ?!?!

So yesterday, after checking out the accident in which one man's leadfoot managed to shut down electricity to thousands of people, I tried to make my way safely home. Now, even though I choose to ride a bike, rather than drive a car everywhere I go, I do hold a valid drivers license. So I happen to know for a fact that in an instance where a traffic light is out of commission, drivers are obliged to treat the intersection like an uncontrolled intersection. And that means that you are supposed to approach the intersection with caution, and you are supposed to yield to traffic which arrives at the intersection before you do, which turns most intersections into a four way stop. Nevertheless, I was nearly struck by two separate vehicles as I attempted to cross the street here:

Because in Vancouver, an uncontrolled intersection is actually an out of control intersection. Nobody stopped. Nobody yielded to traffic sitting and waiting on the cross street, and nobody cared when pedestrians or cyclists tried to make their way across, either. And surely the vast majority of drivers in those vehicles think of themselves as law-abiding citizens, despite the evidence to the contrary. Most drivers are otherwise good people, and yet the vast majority of them speed every day, every chance they get. And we let them get away with it, enforcing their beliefs that they aren't really doing anything wrong. But heaven forfuckingbid that I should take the lane on my bike rather than risk death - yes death!!- at the hands of a driver who carelessly opens their door without checking to see if I am there first.  Because who DARES to slow the modern motorist down for even a few seconds?

It's true, that we all take risks out on the roads. Drivers speed and use their mobile phones and engage in other questionable behaviour, and cyclists do dumb things, too. This Crash Test Dummy in particular. I took a break from writing this babblelog, and found myself keeping pace with traffic, riding down Granville St as together we descended the mile long hill travelling southbound. After twenty or so blocks on the downhill without encountering a red light, both the traffic and I were moving at a good clip - 73 km/hr according to Strava. I hit something irregular in the road, and my bike bounced. When I was finished bouncing and had finally skidded to a stop I couldn't move. Paralysed. I found myself watching helplessly as the traffic barrelled toward me down Granville St. It was in fact the scariest thing I have ever seen. My first thought? " Oh Fuck. Here we go again."

And my first question to the first responders was "How's my bike?" Pretty silly, right? But surely a Crash Test Dummy gets a little leeway when it comes to asking intelligent questions. And it's more than a little ironic that I was in the process of writing about the consequences of speeding when I suffered them personally. Most of my injuries are invisible to the nekkid eye. Cept this one:

The doctor said that I was very, very lucky. My peeps already knew that. He told me that I could have broken my neck. Then he said that two other people were admitted that evening with the same injury to their spinal cord, and 36 hours later the woman still couldn't move her hands. The man will be hospitalised for some time to come, too. But I could even walk. For the first little while I had to use these fancy ski poles, because as I made my way around the hospital I appeared to be more than a little drunk, all weak, wobbly, and off balance.

Mostly I just stayed in bed, though, contemplating my navel, and the contrary nature of life.

And that's the thing. It's human nature. We all take risks. We all make mistakes. And we don't generally go about our lives with the potential consequences of those risks foremost in our minds. But the rules of the road have to be designed with everybody's safety in mind, rather and we have to re-consider how we enforce those rules, because OMG too many people are dying. How is it that Isis kills a few people, and suddenly entire nations mobilise to stop them, but millions of people lose their lives on the roads every single year, and it's just business as usual? The consequences when a motorist speeds are a lot more significant than the consequences of a cyclist rolling through a stop sign, and yet we cyclists are the only ones branded scofflaws even though the majority of motorists are guilty of speeding every time they get behind the wheel. Every time a pedestrian is killed here in Vancouver, the police put out a bulletin telling people not to wear dark clothing, as if it were the pedestrian's fault, somehow, that the driver wasn't playing by the rules.  It's an enormous injustice, and it's time we did something about it.

Sigh... we really do have a long way to go. It definitely IS a war out there on the roads, and the casualties are enormous, but we absolutely do have the power to change all that. Let's begin with a dialogue, and see where that takes us. Everybody wants to arrive safely home from their journey, however long or short it might be, and whichever mode of transportation you choose, you have the right to safe passage. Let's re-think our transportation priorities, shall we? Change doesn't have to be painful, though the longer we put it off, the more challenging it is going to be.