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We Love the City Posts

Hello Bad Analogy

Toronto Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong on the subject of traffic congestion:

Imagine you have a clogged sink in your kitchen. Do you try to unclog it using Drano or a plunger, or do you pour a quart of gooey lard on top of whatever is causing the clog in the first place? 

Well, first I’d try the Drano/plunger solution. But once I cleared up the immediate problem, I’d look at why the drain kept clogging up in the first place. Perhaps it would help if I stopped dumping leftover food down the drain. Or if I cleaned it a little, regularly.

No, I’m not sure my answer makes sense. But Minnan-Wong’s doesn’t, either. The argument that congestion and air pollution should be lessened by loosening any and all restrictions on cars is just as ludicrous.

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Patchwork Bike Lanes

One of the common complaints from non-cyclists is that they never see anyone using the brand-new bike lanes that are now taking up valuable road space in their neighbourhood.

Now, leaving aside the anecdotal quality of their complaints, there’s one very good reason for this: Too many bike lanes aren’t connected to other bike lanes.

Here’s the map. If you look only at the “bike lane” routes (in red), it’s pretty sparse. It gets a bit better when you add in the “signed routes”, which are generally on less-busy side streets. “Offroad paths” help to some extent, but not always as much as one might hope – the Don Valley trail network, for example, has limited accessibility.

Take the Cosburn Avenue lanes, for example, in my very own hood. I love Cosburn – it’s a fairly quiet, straightforward street, running just north of Danforth. Excellent for cyclists.

But when you get to the western end of Cosburn, you end up on Broadview, a much busier street, without any bike lane to be found. Logan Avenue is a decent North-South alternative… or at least, it would be if it wasn’t one-way for much of its length.

The much-maligned (by everyone) lanes on Eastern are similarly problematic. It’s a short stretch of bike lane, which ends at Logan. And if you keep going West past Logan – not a terrible idea, since it doesn’t appear too busy – you end up having to cross the Don amidst the DVP on-and-off ramps.

Bloor-Danforth is particularly emblematic of problems: There are no lanes on the Danforth, but they appear on the bridge. They then run until Sherbourne, at which point they disappear. That one stretch of lane is nice, but it only exists because it’s not in conflict with anything else – there are no stores, houses, or any sort of parking.

I’m not the sort of guy to begrudge a bike lane (though Eastern? Really?). And I don’t even need them most of the time; I’m usually comfortable riding in traffic. But there needs to be more political will to make bike lanes truly connected, consistent, and friendly to novice or intermediate cyclists. Until that happens – until we have dedicated east-west and north-south routes – there’s going to be limited return on investment.

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Bicycle Licensing?

My first impression of the idea of mandatory bicycle licenses is that it’s a really stupid idea. Particularly since it often seems based on the idea of making cyclists pay the same as drivers, an idea that ignores the cost of cars’ wear and tear on roads, necessary enforcement, and massive car-only infrastructure like 400-highways or the DVP.

There’s also a flaw with the idea that if cyclists are licensed, they will all obey the law. Having a drivers license doesn’t seem to stop many drivers from ignoring and/or forgetting the rules of the road. Not to mention that a cyclist doesn’t need a license to be ticketed by police.

There’s an unfortunate economic effect, since bicycles are the choice of some who couldn’t afford anything else. And how are you going to handle children? Does an 8-year-old need a license?

But then I see cyclists on sidewalks, blowing through stop signs, and riding the wrong way down a one-way street, among other things. And I think, yeah, maybe there’s some merit to this idea.

So here’s the deal: I’ll pay, say, $25-30 a year for a bicycle license. And in return, I want safe bicycle space on every street in the city. I want strict enforcement of cars parked in bicycle lanes (make them a tow-away zone!), and more police to stop unsafe drivers and cyclists. I want by-laws that demand bicycle parking and facilities in all new buildings.

I probably want more, too. But that seems like a good starting point.

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Toronto, the Weather, and Your Bike

It seems that whenever the issue of bike lanes is raised in Toronto, the amateur meteorologists climb out of the woodwork to remind us all that Toronto is in The North and it snows a lot and it’s cold and you can only ride a bike for two weeks in July.

This, of course, is bullshit.

Let’s review some basic facts, handily provided to us by the Weather Network. (Admittedly, the research point appears to be the Toronto Islands, which may be slightly different from the “mainland” part of the city. Still, it should provide a good ballpark.)

Only December, January, and February have a mean temperature of less than zero (celsius, because we are Canadian).

Those same months are the only ones to average more than 20mm of snow, though March, at 19mm, is close enough. Only January and February are particularly prone to heavy snowfall, with 13 and 12 days respectively of more than 5cm of snow.

Of course, the word “average” is key here. Anyone who’s lived in Toronto knows it can vary wildly: This past winter was fairly mild, while last year was a miserable beast.

This year was my first commuting by bike, and it really wasn’t too bad: The cold isn’t much of an issue at all – dress warmly, with some basic water-resistance, and you’re fine; a bit cold when you start, but warm and toasty by the time you get to work. It’s a bit of an investment, but still cheaper than driving or buying a TTC Metropass every month. Buy some TTC tokens, and you can avoid the worst of the winter weather.

You’d be surprised how easy it is to ride a couple days after snow has been plowed, but in a worst-case, once-every-five-years winter, let’s be conservative and say you can’t bike at all. But that hardly seems like the scenario to consider when planning the entire city’s transportation.

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It’s the End of the World as We Know it?

In anticipation of City Council’s vote on adding bike lanes to Jarvis Street, both The Star and The Sun chime in on the issue of bicycles, and it may surprise you to see who comes down where:

The Star: Don’t Narrow Jarvis:

… one can sympathize with residents living on this route who would like to see their street regain at least a hint of its former glory. Jarvis, however, stopped being an elegant promenade many decades ago. It now has a different function – that of a busy thoroughfare, providing an essential service by efficiently channelling cars in and out of Toronto’s downtown. It ought to remain in that role.

The Sun, more generally: Bike Lanes Benefit City:

The current state of the city’s bike system is woeful. To get anywhere using bike lanes you need to zig zag up and down side streets, usually taking you completely out of your way, and forcing you to make crazy dangerous turns at busy intersections.

Not that the Star is ever really pro-cyclist, but it’s surprising to see anything so reasonable in the Sun.

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New Bryan Talbot!

One of my favourite artists – Alice in Sunderland is one of the most visually impressive books I’ve ever seen – has a new book coming out in the fall!

It’s… Steampunk Anthropomorphism? I can totally dig it.

(I actually got a print of this image when I met Talbot on his Sunderland book tour. It’s a nice looking piece.)

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2010 Can’t Come Fast Enough

I was a late convert to The Wire, but I’m hoping to get in on the ground floor for David Simon’s new series, Treme. The cast list alone looks fantastic – Wire‘s team supreme of Clarke Peters & Wendell Pierce, Melissa Leo, and Deadwood‘s Kim Dickens. Plot details are still fairly minimal – it’s about New Orleans, post-Katrina – but this article makes it sound damn intriguing.

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The Greatest Movie Endings of All Time

I have many deep thoughts. I have a blog. But I am sick and have neither time nor energy to produce something deeper. So: A list!
(These are spoiler free, mostly.)

  • Manhattan: “You have to have a little faith in people.”
  • Magnolia: Aimee Mann’s Save Me and Melora Walters’ smile.
  • Fight Club: The world falls apart, and the Pixies provide the soundtrack.
  • Brazil: The real ending, obviously. Which is unreal. Sort of.
  • Casablanca: Duh.
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Just because.

Yes, I enjoy ambiguity. So what?

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Wait, what?

I should know better than to look at this sort of thing, but curiousity compelled me to look at DC’s look at the spectrum of lanterns.

Immediate thoughts:

  • “Willpower” is an emotion?
  • There is probably something to be said about the fact that the Pink Lanterns – the Lanterns of Love – are exclusively women. Or that DC apparently had to deviate from their template and change the name entirely to “Star Sapphires”.
  • “Love” and “Compassion” are pretty close. You could probably make a case for “Hope”, too.
  • I’m possibly repeating myself, but: “Death” is an emotion?

I understand that DC is trying for a theme here, but they really could have put a bit more thought into it.

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