People have a right to believe what they will but I believe climate change is not some devilish hoax. As such important changes must be made to how our society functions. The need to reduce our carbon footprints must involve the recognition that our transportation systems must change. Mass transit and active transportation are key components of this needed change.
I recognize that seemingly major changes have taken place in transportation infrastructure in my hometown, London, Ontario, like they have in many Canadian cities. Most notably many cycling paths, lanes and tracks have been constructed. This transformation is not easy: It irritates those driving personal motor vehicles like it also irritates cyclists who do not see that transformation occurring fast enough. However I recognize that this transformation must occur. During this difficult time of transition it is important to face the challenges with an open realism. Problems that develop cannot be just swept under the carpet, they must be identified and made visible. It is only through this openness that adjustments can be made with a minimum of disruption to all.
For this reason I have chosen to take a single day, November 3, 2022, as a random indicator of what cycling issues exist in London, Ontario. Photos were taken on this day while I drove through the streets of London. There is nothing special about this day. It is just something that we could expect on any typical fall day in London.
Typical Cycling Observations On A Typical Day
I begin this review with the photo, shown below, looking northward on Hale Street, taken of the newly constructed cycling facility at the intersection of Hale and Brydges Streets in east London. This intersection was altered to narrow the confines within which motor vehicles make turns. It is believed that such slower turning speeds will improve safety. The alteration also created protected lanes for cyclists.
The unfortunate reality is that there is a detrimental reason why speeds are reduced in narrowed regions whether they be here at this intersection or on any road. The reason why speed is reduced is because the narrowed area of passage increases the likelihood that a motor vehicle will travel outside of the narrowed lane. This is not an imaginary danger, it is real, and it is recognized by the motor vehicle driver. Egress from the narrowed lane increases the likelihood that an impact will occur with another vehicle or with roadside objects such as a curb, hazard marker or even a pole or a tree. Cities do not keep track of “minor” collisions thus those collisions are invisible in the official statistics. So, from an official standpoint, there is nothing but an improvement from narrowing roadways. But damage to a motor vehicle, even if minor, can be a substantial cost. A cost that remains unknown and untracked.
Another reality of cycling infrastructure is that too often cycling lanes become blocked or impassable for various reasons. In many cases motor vehicles, such a delivery and maintenance vehicles, stop in a cycling lane because there is no other way for drivers to complete their tasks. In other instances materials are left in the cycling lane. Garbage containers migrate into a cycling lane during days of garbage pick-up, snow is cleared from a road onto a cycling lane, or leaves fallen from trees are concentrated within a cycling lane. Thus there is still an infant stage of recognition that cycling lanes need more clearing of these vehicles and objects that prevent cycling lanes from being used.
Another reality is that cycling on many roads in London still remains a dangerous activity. While the City of London and the Province of Ontario continue to promote a fairytale that cycling is safer on the right portion of a travel lane, the reality is quite different along some roads. There are many roads in the City of London that remain extremely dangerous for cyclist travel. As an example, many four-lane arterials such as Highbury Ave, Oxford Street, Hamilton Road and east portions of Dundas Street contain no safe zone within which a cyclist can travel within the curb lane. It is exceptionally dangerous and unethical to continue to advise cyclists that it is safe to travel in the curb lanes of these roads when the danger of being struck is obvious. Many cyclists have come to understand these dangers and, despite the possibility that they could be fined by police, they opt to travel on the sidewalk.
Yet this decision to ride on the sidewalk places cyclists in a difficult liability position if a collision should occur. Lawyers are quick to point out that the cyclist’s presence on a sidewalk, or riding within a pedestrian crossing is against the law. As such the cyclist faces financial penalties as some blame/negligence will be attributed to the cyclist. So, while the cyclist is doing what he or she can to avoid injury or death, they are penalized by the bureaucracy of the justice system. In many cases cyclists have no idea of these legal repercussions.
There are conflicts on city sidewalks where larger numbers of pedestrians may congregate, some being children, or elderly. Common sense should dictate that cyclists ought to slow down or even stop and walk their bikes on the sidewalk when such situations are encountered. This is a preferable approach than sending cyclists onto a dangerous curb lane.
A portion of cyclists are radicalized to the point of refusing to recognize that they have a responsibility toward their own safety. While some cyclists may have difficulty paying for a good helmet there are others who refuse to wear one. It is not clear why. Decades ago many motor vehicle occupants refused to wear seat-belts as they attributed seat-belt laws as an unreasonable infringement on their right to freedom. It is not clear if a similar process is underway in the cycling community. Much like seat-belts helmets are proven to provide superior protection to cyclists, especially because serious head injury is such a common injury mechanism.
While there is considerable emphasis and discussion about buying expensive e-bikes the reality, for a substantial number of low income cyclists, is that they must use less expensive and creative ways of moving about the City. For cargo carrying it is common to see a cyclist pulling a grocery cart. It has been observed along many roadways and sidewalks in London that cyclists use grocery carts to transport beer cans to the local beer store. Cyclists can be seen holding a grocery cart in one hand while holding the cycle handlebar in the other. If more cycling lanes are built that are only 1.5 metres wide, and if cyclists begin to be forced onto these lanes, where will this put these low-income cyclists and their wider, appended cart? They will not fit within the narrow confines of a protected cycling lane. Will such riders begin to ride in the curb lane? What safety problems will that create? Observations like these are obtained from detailed video documentations that have been conducted at Gorski Consulting for a number of years.
Transportation officials continue to insist that cyclists must be defined as small-sized, motor vehicles and that cyclists must behave like drivers of motor vehicles on the roads that are designed for motor vehicles. This creates the dangerous reality that cyclists do not fit that definition. It has been demonstrated from our numerous video documentations that cycles have never behaved like drivers of motor vehicles. Without this recognition dangerous scenarios are developed as shown in the photo sequence below.
As can be seen, the cyclist in these photos is attempting a left turn out of a commercial driveway but his presence is screened from view by the white truck. Such a position could not be attempted by a car driver because of the larger size and width of a motor vehicle. Yet, being of a much narrower width, the rider of the bicycle can squeeze into such a position. As seen below, rather than waiting for the truck to clear the driveway the cyclist attempts to make his left turn regardless of the potential consequences.
In the photo below the cyclist can be seen just at the left edge of the Ford Escape such that he has successfully made the left turn across the curb lane. But now he must squeeze through the remaining traffic in the other lane.
Below it can be seen that the cyclist enters the centre, turn-lane as he looks over his shoulder for a gap within which he can cross the through lane. This middle turn lane is designated left turns in both directions such that, pulling out of a blind area the cyclist may not detect that a vehicle could be travelling toward him in that left-turn lane while his head is turned.
As shown below, the cyclist eventually determines that he can cross in front of the traffic that his is looking at and proceeds into the through lane. But this is a sequence of actions that is dangerous. Sequences like these repeat themselves on a regular basis on busy city streets because cyclists do not ride within the same rules and expectations as drivers of motor vehicles.
At times cyclists ride as if they are pedestrians and at others they ride as if they operating a motor vehicle. These differences need to be documented and understood.
New, protected, cycling lanes have been constructed at several locations throughout the City of London. At many locations these lanes are occupied by very few cyclists. Drivers of motor vehicles are not blind to this. In the minds of drivers the space that was originally provided to their motor vehicles is now being taken away for a seemingly useless purpose. In this time where we need the cooperation of all users of our road systems negative impressions about cycling infrastructure does not help.
A discussion needs to be maintained about why cycling infrastructure needs to be expanded but also there must be an immediate process of determining how more persons can be encouraged to ride their cycle on these new lanes and what is preventing them from doing so.
In London there are major problems with a disconnect of cycling lanes. The City has the mindset that building cycling infrastructure is like building or upgrading a road. Planning is prepared, a contract is given and improvements are made within the short distance of the contract. Thus a cycling lane is built for several kilometres and then that lane suddenly terminates, often leaving cyclists in dangerous areas.
There is also a problem with cycling convenience. Cyclists must be able to travel to some destination and be satisfied that they can park their cycle in a safe location where it will not be stolen or damaged. Thus secure lockers for cycles is an extremely important item. Currently there are very few secure cycle lock-ups in the City.
Cycling convenience also means that we need to address the large percentage of the public who would rather drive in a safe and comfortable automobile rather than face the difficulty of pedalling, of being exposed to rain and similar inconveniences. Some segments of the population are physically challenged by riding a cycle. There are many impatient cycling activists who believe that the best approach is to force drivers to ride cycles by making it more inconvenience and difficult to drive motor vehicles. This approach can often alienate those who might be on the cusp of exploring cycling but become angered by the restriction of their freedom to chose as they please. A better approach is to make cycling more enjoyable such that drivers of motor vehicles will want to buy and ride cycles.
Our ultimate objective is to replace motor vehicles with active transportation, not just for pleasure but for those business trips, or shopping or transporting cargo. As such many of us do not see a connection between pleasure and business. Yet there is an important connection. Pleasure trips are those that provide the initial incentive to try cycling. Once the habit is developed cyclists can come to understand that cycling does not need to be confined to pleasant trips to a park, but real work, at a cheap price, can be accomplished. So maintaining opportunities for pleasure trips can lead to the ultimate goal of replacing the automobile.
Creating and maintaining facilities for pleasurable cycling must include the understanding that “variety is the spice of life”. This means that even pleasurable trips can become monotonous and boring if there are only a limited number of paths/trails on which to ride. Although the Thames Valley Parkway (TVP) in London is a great facility, those who ride it frequently can become bored with following the same route, day in and day out. I have heard this expression from some riders in our group who have bowed out of riding on the TVP and prefer to take to the highways surrounding London. While I too am enticed by this possibility I also recognize the increased danger that cyclists are exposed to once they begin riding along the edge of an 80 km/h highway with minimal separation from high speed traffic. But there are options available. There are hidden and/or forgotten trails that can take cyclists outside of London if only someone would provide a minimal amount of capital to make this happen.
For example, an old rail line used to travel between north-west London and Grand Bend. This land was sold and transferred mainly to farm properties. But the old rail bed still remains. It would not take much capital to reactivate this line into a cycling trail.
In another example, the London-Port Stanley rail line runs north/south between London and St Thomas. This could also be transformed into a cycling path. This provides an interesting option as a trail already exists in St Thomas that heads about 5 km/h westward near Fingal Line. This is another old railway bed that extends all the way to Essex County. It passes through many smaller towns such as Shedden, Dutton, Rodney, Ridgetown, etc. It would be an economic boost to these small communities if cyclists visited their shops and restaurants. It would also provide a very long trail for cyclists to enter at designated trail heads where they please.
The creation of cycling trails that exit the boundaries of the City of London are not a large incentive to City officials who may be interested in keeping cyclists tied to the City boundaries. Yet such trails can also reduce the number of serious and fatal collisions that occur on nearby highways. By providing more opportunities for cyclists to travel on pleasure trips this creates the interest in cycling and this is needed to get the public interested in using their cycles for other reasons.
This article was originally published on the Gorski Consulting website on November 20, 2022. For an unexplained reason, shortly after it was published, it disappeared from the Gorski Consulting website. My internet provider could not explain why this happened. Fortunately a fairly-well developed draft of the article remained and this enabled me to add portions of the lost article to the draft from what I could remember. So the present article is somewhat similar to the originally-posted article. This occurrence is a reminder that the internet is a strange creation where many “bad duds” are constantly doing bad things, preventing honest exchange of ideas and information.