Saturday, June 14, 2008

Boy, am I glad I’m out of town this week!

The Toronto Police Service celebrates Bike Month in their usual fashion: by cracking down on Highway Traffic Act (HTA) and Municipal Code offences by cyclists.

The Police Service’s news release is unobjectionable, but Cyclometer (the City Corporation’s cycling newsletter) is a bit scarier:
The annual police enforcement campaign for Toronto cyclists begins officially on Monday, June 16.

Police will be enforcing Highway Traffic Act violations such as no bell ($110), failure to stop/stop sign ($110), red light ($180), no front light/rear light beginning a half hour before sunset, sidewalk riding, unsafe lane change, failure to signal, and others, and encouraging proper safety equipment for all wheeled road users. Conviction can result in points on a driver's licence in addition to the fines. The campaign, also known as 'Bike and Wheel Sport Safety', lasts for one week.

Cyclists are advised to consider carefully the rules of the road and the Highway Traffic Act as it applies to them before setting off.

My personal skin in this is minimal: the only offence I commit on a regular basis—or, indeed, ever—is not having a bell.

What bothers me much more are two things: First, the notion that a blitz on cyclists is really a worthwhile use of police time. Second, is the inherent unfairness of enforcing the cycling provisions of the HTA only one or two weeks of the year. Let me explain: if I drive through a stop sign without slowing down, in plain sight of a P.C. in his or her cruiser, they’re very likely to pull me over, even if they’re not assigned to watch that stop sign. On the other hand, if I blow through that same stop sign on my bike, again in plain sight of a P.C. in their cruiser, I am very unlikely to be ticketed–unless it’s blitz week. This sets up a sense of gross unfairness in the ticketed cyclist’s mind.

And the way the blitz is organized almost guarantees that relatively unimportant offences are focused on. During the blitz, each of the Police Service’s 17 divisions is required to report how many cycling-related offences they ticketed, and the division’s traffic sergeant reminds the patrol officers of their responsibility to (literally) fill out a form counting up the number of offences ticketed in the division. That means that the much vaunted “officer discretion” that police officers enjoy under common law is thrown out the window, and inconsequential but highly provable offences like the lack of a bell are ticketed heavily.

Regardless, I’m safe. I won’t be riding a bike in the City of Toronto until June 22. This week, like last, I’ll be in Burnaby, British Columbia, specifically its Metrotown district. (You can see a nice, schematized map of my temporary neighbourhood here; I’m staying in the Holiday Inn Express in Station Square.) I’m doing some work for the transit agency that serves Metro Vancouver and its environs, and, as I remarked to a friend, “TransLink is paying me to work this week, and they’re getting their money’s worth!” In the nearly four days I’ve been here, I’ve managed only two, or more precisely 1½, of my scheduled six work-outs: I swam nine hundred metres in the Bonsor Recreation Complex’s chaotically crowded pool, and ran 44 minutes to Central Park and back, getting tangled up in the Vancouver Easter Seals 24 Hour Relay for the Kids. Coach Steve responded to a report of my poor results by revising my training plan, and remarking, “It looks like you can get some good training in the rest of the time you’re there. Carve it out of your schedule and try to get it in.” (Emphasis added.) For the mild-mannered Steve, that’s his equivalent of yelling in my face. With my Ironman less than three months away, perhaps I need some yelling at.

Tomorrow will be a four-hour(!) ride on my bike. I have no idea where I’ll ride, but I have a hard copy of the official Greater Vancouver Cycling Guide & Map to pore over this evening–after I assemble my bike! Steve has set me with some more swims and a 1:45 run on Tuesday, which I’ll probably do along the B.C. Parkway, which mostly follows the right of way of the British Columbia Electric Railway, which last carried passengers in 1954, but traces of which you can still see, e.g., at Patterson Avenue; the r.o.w. is now mostly occupied by the elevated SkyTrain.

UPDATE: The City of Toronto’s cycling office sent this correction on June 17:
The June issue of Cyclometer contains incorrect information about the Highway Traffic Act as it applies to bicycles. We apologize for the error. Please note of the following correction:

The HTA defines bicycles are defined as vehicles. As vehicle operators, cyclists are subject to most of the same HTA requirements as drivers of motor vehicles. However, there are some important differences. The application of demerit points is an important difference.

According the the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, "the demerit point system only applies to certain offenses committed in a motor vehicle. However, I understand that on rare occasions demerit points are in error assigned to the driving record of an individual for an offense committed on a bicycle. When the Ministry of Transportation is notified of such occurrences, the error is immediately corrected." (1993 letter from Ontario Minister of Transportation to the Chair of the Toronto Cycling Committee)

We continue to hear that cyclists are being charged with demerit points in error. If you are being given a summons by a police officer ask them to clearly indicate that the "vehicle type" is "bicycle" on the Provincial Offenses Notice. If the notice is submitted to the Ministry of Transportation without a bicycle being indicated then it could be mistakenly coded as a motor vehicle offense.

Note: Some of the fines listed in Cyclometer were also incorrect. The fine for running a red light on a bike or motor vehicle is $190. Bikes are required to have a front light and a rear reflector beginning a half hour before sunset until a half hour after sunrise.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

In Chicago

Mona & I are staying at the W hotel in downtown Chicago (pictured), a hotel so hip you need a flashlight to find your way around. Arriving about 8 p.m. Eastern Time last night we slipped into the lobby bar for a sandwich & a beer, but they had only 4 kinds of beer, all in bottles, and three of them light(!), so we took our business to the nearby Elephant & Castle, where we had delicious (really) pub food and a pint of beer.

This morning about 5:30 local time I did a 50-minute run that (partly because I got lost!) took me through Grant Park before I got to Lake Shore Drive. I ran north along the lake, and then up the Chicago River to Michigan Avenue, then through the grid to a Starbucks a block from the W.

We spent all day in the RoadMap seminar. It was an interesting and (I hope) useful recharging of our GTD habits. David Allen himself is an energetic 63-year-old, who seems very oddly reserved when he’s not “on”. I do think that getting re-engaged in the GTD process will be good for my Ironman training. One decision I’ve made is to delete my IM Wisconsin countdowns. They make the day-to-day countdown too quotidian.

Before I close, check out this piece about a Spinning-class smackdown; as so often, tip of the hat to the Nancinator.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Ride for Heart 2008

Yesterday was Toronto’s Ride for Heart, which Monado has already written up for us. There are three distance options for cyclists: 25, 50, and 75 km, and I (of course) had chosen the last. At the end of an easy week, Coach Steve had set me to ride three hours at base pace, so it worked out nicely.

The Ride for Heart is famous for closing two of Toronto’s three metropolitan expressways to motor vehicles. Because these are 90-km/h (55-mph) roads, the surface is kept in excellent condition, much better than our potholed streets. And the 75-km riders get to start very early (6:45 a.m., compared to 8:15 for the masses), so for the first hour or two, you can ride quickly and smoothly, very much like you’re in a long-distance triathlon’s bike leg.

Unfortunately, an unscheduled half-hour pit stop meant I wasn’t going to make the 6:45 start, so I rode to the nearest on-ramp to the expressway, about 1½ miles from our house, and waited. I needn’t’ve, but in due course a Traffic Services car lead the 40-km/h-plus peleton of aggressive riders. My friend John waved at me from the mass. I did not tuck in behind(!), but I took that as my signal to follow, and I was alone for at least 15 minutes before the next riders came along (and, of course, passed me).

After my turnaround, near Don Mills Road, I passed a group of riders down on the curb, being attended by a pair of bike-borne paramedics. John popped out and waved me down. He’d been in the crash, been bruised and scraped and had his aluminium bike frame damaged beyond rideability and (he thought) repair. He decline my offer to call Monado to have him picked up, and walked toward Don Mills Road to hail a cab. (I called him later and he’d made it home without incident.)

After 30 miles of the Don Valley Parkway, I waited at the 25-km turnaround to pick up Monado and Andie. (Side note: the turnaround is at the so-called Bloor-Bayview Ramp, an elaborate structure that connects the D.V.P. with Bloor Street and the Bayview Avenue extension—but which is, in reality, the only section of the Crosstown Expressway ever built, during Toronto’s orgy of expressway-building fifty years ago.)

I kibitzed with a few of the hundreds of riders stopping at the rest station there. It’s funny how people’s fitness levels can vary; many of the 25-km riders professed themselves exhausted at the halfway point!

Eventually Monado and Andie showed up. Monado stopped for a drink, but Andie skittered along, so I had to take off after her. She was very fast, but I was able to find her because of her distinctive Tough Girls jersey and bright yellow Aquila Tri Kids bike, but it still took a couple of minutes fast cycling to get to her.

We finished the ride at Exhibition Park, and waited just west of the Dominion Gates for Monado, who showed up with her tale of mobile-phone woe. We rode back to the van, which Monado had parked in Riverdale. Andie is a very competent street cyclist—and clearly like me telling her so.

For a total 47 mi of riding, most of it pretty easy, I was very tired and quite beat-up feeling.