A lane for cars, and bikes

(pompous soapboxing alert)

Perhaps the most infuriating thing a driver can say to a cyclist while lecturing the (incorrect) rules of the road is “I’m a cyclist too.”

Let me explain a little something about the way I tend to behave while biking. With very, very few exceptions, no manoeuvre I make on the road is performed with the sole purpose of slowing you down or pissing you off. Rather, some acts that can be observed as such are done for completely different reasons, usually for the sake of safety. One such act is stopping at the left-hand side of a lane.

For those of you unfamiliar with Huron Street in Toronto, it is a two-lane, two-way street north of College Street. I have a street view grab below.

Huron Street at College, facing south-ish.

Often when I am continuing south on Huron, and always when turning left onto College, I will stop at the left-hand side of the lane, where the childish red “X” is drawn above. The purpose for this is that at red lights, cars will often attempt to turn right on red, which they very well may, but it puts cyclists waiting by the curb in a perilous position where they can get stuck behind, or, worse, hooked by the turning car. By stopping at the left-hand side of the lane, a right-turning car can easily and, more importantly, safely pass me, turn right, and we will both be on our merry way. If someone is continuing straight, they can patiently wait until I can get back over to the right of the lane until they can pass (in the event that they are even going faster than me, which isn’t often given the low speed of the road).

Today, however, a woman pulled up to my right and informed me that I was “in the lane for cars.”

Now, as any informed road user should know, there is no such thing as a lane for cars and cars only with the exception of the DVP, the Gardiner, and the 400-series highways, and particularly not on a narrow, two-lane, two-way, low-speed road; the lane is, in fact shared. So, I replied, although somewhat ambiguously, “no, the lane is for everyone.” I proceeded at the green light, and took the lane given several parked cars ahead and several stopped cars at a four-way stop ahead. The woman tailgated as closely as possible for the next block, and since her window was still rolled down, I attempted to give a better explanation as to why I was stopped where I was in the lane.

Her response to me, and I am quoting as closely as I can remember, was, “You know, I’m a cyclist too, and there are other ways to can safely stop and still keep people from turning right in front of you. You should stop in between the two cars.”

I replied, “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand at all what you mean.” Which is true – there physically isn’t room for there to be two cars going south to be side-by-side, let alone give me space to get through.

And so, with a huff, she gave up, turned left, and was gone.

Why does this bother me? Well, for one, it bothers me that someone who believes something so blatantly false about how to use lanes is driving. But on the other hand, this is someone who doesn’t understand how bikes share the road with cars, yet supposedly bikes on a regular basis. And one doesn’t get the luxury of defining their own tules of the road by virture of simply being a cyclist (just like me!). I fear both for her safety and for the image of cyclists. And with the number of close calls for cyclists getting in the path of right-turning vehicles, I’m a little appalled that someone would think that the safest way of doing things is illegal when, in fact, it is not.

Anyway, the point of my long-winded story/PSA is thus: please understand that when a bike is waiting at a stop light at the left-hand side of the lane, they are likely just trying to be considerate. And please, before you go out in a car or a bike on any road, know the rules.

(end of pompous soapboxing)

Posted in BikeTO | Leave a comment

One-sentence Wednesdays: hard-hitting journalism edition

Keep up the good work, Globe and Mail.

Posted in One-Sentence Wednesdays | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Sharpie can turn a 5 into an 8 pretty easily, I guess

I read a great little Globe and Mail article this morning wherein Rob Ford decided that we needed to cut 75% of the city labour force.

Or something to that effect, at least. I’m just going to take a page from the mayor’s playbook and make up the story as I see fit.

His worship notes that 80% of Toronto’s budget is devoted to labour costs, which Ford unsurprisingly deems to be “a lot of gravy.” His desire is to run city hall more like a business, which according to Ford involves spending about 20% of the budget on labour. Ford fanatics will know that his family runs DECO Labels and Tags, a successful business that makes some product that people buy, presumably labels and/or tags.

See what they did there? The word "tags" looks like it's on a tag. Clever!

Anyway, I pondered to myself, and to the people over at OpenFile Toronto, and to people I know on Facebook—an indignant lefty can’t shut up, apparently—whether an 80% proportion of an operating budget eaten up by labour costs is actually unusual for a city. I mean, we don’t produce anything nearly as important as labels or tags. Look at how ambiguous this image is without labels:

Solving that label problem must cost 60% extra at the very least.

Being unable to let go of petty issues, I felt compelled to look this up. Is Toronto really as big of a money drain as I’m being told? Or could I pay KPMG a large amount of money to find out I’m being lied to?

Well, I took to the Google to find out for myself. Here’s what someone admittedly terrible with financial matters was able to glean from various 2010 city budgets in Canada:

  • Calgary: labour costs, $1 200.1 M; total expenditures, $2 306.3 M; 52% of budget
  • Edmonton: labour costs, $966.5 M; total expenditures, $1 703.1 M; 57% of budget
  • Vancouver: labour costs, $672.3 M; total expenditures, $1 073.6 M; 63% of budget
  • Ottawa: labour costs, $1 261.1 M; total expenditures, $2 515.6 M; 50% of budget
  • Montreal: labour costs, $964.1 M; total expenditures, $1 595.6 M (not including $1 706.8 M contribution to Agglomération de Montréal); 56% of budget
  • Toronto: labour costs, $4 378.2 M; total expenditures, $9 213.7 M; 48% of budget

In other words, Toronto spends approximately 50% on labour. It’s a bit less proportionately on salaries, overtime and benefits than other major Canadian cities, and nowhere near the 80% Rob Ford has suggested. I’m not sure where this 80% came from. It’s possible that Ford’s lovely older brother played a trick on him and turned a 5 into an 8, like so: 

It’s possible I have misread the budget documents I found, and if that is the case, please let me know. But if I’m right, this either means our mayor either blatantly lied to us, or he just didn’t bother to find out the facts. Either way, given some of the questionable decisions made by city council as of late, and the fact that these numbers are being reported without question in a national newspaper*, this is pretty appalling.

Citizens shouldn’t have to rely on themselves to fact check and question everything they are told by elected officials, but sadly, it seems it has come to that. I’m used to politicians bending the truth to fit their ideologies, but blatantly false statements and statistics should be where the line is drawn.

*When I first read the story, I don’t think it included the actual proportion of labour spending. Either that, or I suck at reading. That said, when I reread the story after publishing this post, it contained a number of 44.8% total expenditures on labour based on a staff report. I’m not sure where the discrepancy with the approved 2010 budget proportion of 48% comes from, but I’m not too concerned over a 3% difference. My apologies to doubting the Globe and Mail in the initial version. I hope we can still be friends.

Posted in Toronto City Politics | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

An open letter to Doug Ford

Dear Councillor Ford,

This morning, I read an article in the Globe and Mail (Private toll tunnel under Gardiner appeals to Doug Ford) about some ideas you have for reducing traffic congestion that would not involve mandatory road tolls.

I have a number of issues with your arguments; for example, this layer-cake vision of the Gardiner would likely further isolate the city from Lake Ontario, and probably would probably require a massive reconstruction of the entire Gardiner given that it already seems to be falling apart. This could be chalked up to ideological differences, and I am willing to accept that we will likely always have differences in opinion, so this isn’t much of a problem. There is the other nagging problem of where one might expect all the extra cars that are taking your proposed tunnel downtown might actually go once they exit the tunnel, seeing as gridlock doesn’t just affect the inner-city highways. This is probably less of an ideological issue, since space will not change regardless of one’s political viewpoint. Since I am not a traffic engineer, I will not speak more to this, as perhaps there is some way we could change the flow of traffic downtown to remedy this; certainly, proper traffic light synchronisation might serve to speed things up, at least on certain roads I commute on.

However, there is one statement you have made I feel compelled to take real issue with, and your quote is: “If you’re asking would I pay five dollars to get downtown quicker and not knock off 14 bicycle riders on the way down Queen Street, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

In one short statement, you have implied that cyclists in the city are not only casually disposable members of society, but that the mowing down of cyclists in a manner that, if it so happened in real life (and similar incidents have happened), it would be considered anywhere along the spectrum of careless driving to mass murder.

I am a confident cyclist, and attitudes like these aren’t going to keep me off the road. But they will keep others off the road. More importantly, it is reprehensible that there are elected leaders of our city promoting the concept that bicycles on the road are asking to be run down by cars. If you ask any cyclist, even the most rabid anti-car ones out there, I would be shocked if you could find one that is actively looking to be hit by a car just to prove a point. Most people on bicycles simply want the same thing as drivers, which is to reach their destination in a reasonable amount of time and not die in the process. I doubt you would find this too much to ask for.

If you think this response is perhaps too strong, I would like to point out that the idea of the bicycle as a self-imposed death trap is prevalent in North America. You can see this in the way drivers that injure or kill cyclists are treated in the legal system (and, indeed, in the laws designed to punish these infractions). Bicycle collisions are likely to be underreported since the authorities do not seem to care about taking reports for infractions such as doorings and right-hooks, which are all too common, even for statistical purposes. And with recent Toronto bike planning, such as the spur-of-the-moment proposal to remove the Jarvis bike lanes and the underreported bike counts on John Street, it would seem the city is out to eliminate bikes from the road that vehicles haven’t managed to knock off yet, as you so eloquently put it.

Perhaps the Globe has written this out of context, and if so, I welcome you to clarify your comments. But if not, I would ask that even if you do not feel that cyclists have a place on city streets, an opinion you are certainly entitled to, that you at least speak of cyclists as citizens of Toronto and not as obstacles to be avoided when it is convenient. Cyclists are people too, and we deserve to at least be treated as though we should remain alive.

Sincerely,

Rob McWhinney

Posted in BikeTO, Toronto City Politics | 3 Comments

Inertia

I’ve been sort of following the election, I swear!

When I posted my first election piece almost two weeks ago, I was riding a personal high due to a rousing case of “hey, I might be healthy again.” And, as it turns out, I was terribly wrong. I actually still had a few days left of the horrible plague I had. Or maybe it was the black lung or something. I have worked a few coal mines in my day.

Actually, if I were to get the black lung, it’s probably more likely from getting stuck behind one of these on a bike (which is actually kind of painful for the lungs, if you ever get to experience that joy).

Granted, I wasn’t doing much biking in that time anyway, considering that I couldn’t get to Keele Street without coughing up a lung. Which would make sense that in the three and a half week period that I was sick, I only biked twice, after which I had no remaining lungs, and was thus required to stay full time in a tent of oxygen and hope that it might diffuse through my pores.

However, with the help of some antibiotics, and a some fresh new lungs I stole from a couple of local schoolchildren, I am back in action, and ready to take on federal politics with a renewed vigour!

And politics are… depressing.

The election started off on the predictable coalition front, in which Stephen Harper played up the Liberals as conniving, sneaky backstabbers who use political savvy to obtain power. Imagine… an unelected Prime Minister!

A dramatised reenactment of your supposed response to the dreaded idea of a coalition government.

Yes – Ignatieff has tried it before, and he’ll try it again!

Well, except, I guess he didn’t actually try it before, since it was that nerdy guy with the funny accent who tried it the first time. And, of course, if you were paying close attention, there was that whole incident where Harper himself said that a coalition government was a viable option.

Of course, that was different, because when he said “coalition,” he meant “a right-wing party merger and simultaneous drainage of approval for the federal Liberal party which lead us to the circumstances in which we find ourselves today and not an actual coalition because using the words I actually meant to use would be too convenient.” Oh, and that letter where he talked about forming a coalition was completely different because he didn’t actually intend to follow through with it

And of course, the smooth-yet-questionable tactical manoeuvring that was proroguing parliament to avoid a confidence vote was totally cool, while that smooth-yet-questionable tactical manoeuvring that was forming a coalition of the opposition was uncalled for, because, you know, one of them had a precedent. Guess which one?

And, yet again, it’s clearly horrible that someone who wasn’t elected Prime Minister would be allowed to become Prime Minister. Except that we totally don’t elect a Prime Minister.

But I digress.

It is pretty fortunate that the coalition issue hasn’t dominated the election this entire time. For one, it would be really, really tedious to hear Stephen Harper do on continuously about one thing over and over. Granted, what I perceive as an over-reliance of the Tories on talking points (although, all parties are guilty) is pretty tedious anyway. But it would be worse.

So, fortunately, Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals released a platform. Sure, it’s kind of boring. Sure, I don’t actually really agree with the fundamental ideas in it. And sure, I don’t actually like my family that much.

(In case you were wondering: yes, he is flashing “do me” eyes in that photo. But it’s in an intellectual way, so you can feel okay about it.)

Of course, the platform hasn’t led to much of a discussion of ideas. More exciting, and more pressing issues have clearly arisen. Like keeping a party that more than 1 in 20 voters cast ballots for out of the national debates.

Yep, that's the face I made, too.

Or, if you prefer, disenfranchising young people, blaming staff for the problem, and eventually apologising when you realise you look like an ass.

Or perhaps letting your constituents know that you don’t want them to know your stance on anything by refusing to attend local all-candidates debates.

Yes, these are all more important than the discussion of ideas.

Actually, none of this would be depressing, except for the fact that it hasn’t managed to dent the popularity of the Conservatives, although it has managed to make Michael Ignatieff seem slightly less undesirable, apparently. The popular opinion is hard to get rolling these days, it seems (unless you tap into populism, but I don’t want to think about that right now).

Sigh. Maybe next time I’ll be less pessimistic, as I won’t have left this untended for two weeks, and I’ll have less terrible things to view at once.

In the meantime, we can enjoy this teaser trailer for the tea party what is plausibly the next Conservative minority. Huzzah!

Posted in Election 2011 | 1 Comment

Election time! Party in the USA’s hairpiece!

As you may know (since, in all likelihood, you have stumbled across this post via a link in my Facebook and/or Twitter page, as I don’t have an actual readership), I have not updated in a while. I started up this blog hoping that I would post on a more regular basis of maybe three or four times a week.

I kept up with this for maybe one or two weeks before running out of interesting things to say.

Sure, I had a couple of posts half-started, but the result was never as fun, or as interesting, or even as readable as I had imagined it to be. The first one was commenting on the internet’s ability to turn everyone into coffee and tea snobs, inspired by a friend’s comment that was something along the lines of, “Don’t judge me because I made tea in the microwave.” I thought it was a bit curious that I knew myself that tea is not best made in the microwave, and why it is that now everyone seems to know the “correct” ways of making tea and coffee. But, along the way, I encountered two problems:

  1. my tea snobbery coincided with my move away from residence, so maybe the correlation is actually just from my level of trashiness in general; and
  2. everyone already knows that it’s easy to find information on the internet, and you probably don’t want to read a post that probably could have been written in the late ’90s by someone who still uses the phrase “cyberspace.”

Heh. Newbie.

I also started a post called “Dichotomies are tearing us apart, Lisa,” in which I bemoaned the slow descent into black-and-white thinking that seems to be pervading public discourse. The whole thing became preachy very quickly, and mercifully I abandoned that one as well. I think all three of us can breathe a sigh of relief that it never saw the light of day (although I still maintain that politics and media should respect the intelligence of their audience and allow them to think a bit for themselves, and the audience should likewise stop being lazy and do some critical thinking from time to time).

Anyway, as a result, this blog, along with my drive to actually write anything in it, has stagnated for a bit until I could come up with something to motivate me. And, lo and behold, the federal election came.

So, truth be told, I have good reason to be disenfranchised with our political system. For starters, I grew up as a lefty in Toryland under the watch of Ralph Klein, who, when he isn’t getting drunk and throwing money at homeless people, throws books at 17-year-old girls.

Right now, I live under a federal government with a disdain for the “Toronto elite,” which I can’t actually figure out a meaning for.

The dropping of said monocles was accompanied by a hearty, "Well, I never!"

Presumably, elite means someone who is either educated or has money, but does not support the Conservative Party of Canada. This would surprisingly include myself, made even more shocking by the 50-ish dollars I had in taxable income in 2010. Being an elite isn’t as cracked up as it might seem.

And, finally, Toronto has now earned the unfortunate moniker of “Ford Country” thanks to our current mayor, Rob Ford.

I totally live right by that yellow dot.

I know it has been said many times, but I still have to iterate that I find Ford to be highly embarrassing. He shares our federal government’s taste for media evasion, and while he used to fly off the cuff in council:

he has at least toned down since he was elected mayor, but sadly, the crazy tirades have just been replaced with bizarre talking points.

I could go on about Ford since the material is readily available, but it’s been done to death, so I’ll leave it at that. My main point is that for the majority of my life, I have lived under governments that, if not outright grinding my political views into the ground with their heel, are at least on the opposing side of the political spectrum. I have good reason to feel defeated, because in all of these cases I have discussed, the political right has fairly won the election and the left was defeated. Fair enough. It would be easy to tune out of politics, dismissing it as a bunch of talking heads who don’t speak to my interests. And if the “shut up and stop whining” call of the right is to be heeded (in the words of the lovely Sue-Ann Levy, “Read my lips you ‘left-wing kooks': You lost. Get over it“), this is exactly what I should do.

However, I don’t particularly like taking the easy way. While I have never been actively involved in politics in that I haven’t ever run for any office, nor have I gotten involved in any campaigns (although I am a member of the Green Party of Canada, just not a very active one), I think being on the opposing side of the current government is the best time to be engaged. Rather than blindly accepting the actions of “your side,” you are forced to figure out what exactly you find distasteful about the policies of your government, and what you think the ideal alternative should be. I find that I am more interested in following politics when someone I despise is in power, and that interest carries over to when someone I like is in power. It’s taught me to be a good critical thinker when it comes to government regardless of the idea. And besides, it isn’t like Sue-Ann Levy just piped down and shut up when David Miller was mayor of Toronto, as she continually bemoaned the state of politics using the unfortunately trite nickname of “Socialist Silly Hall” for city hall during the time.

I thought there was too much text here, so I needed a photo to break things up but couldn't come up with anything relevant. So, you get a grapefruit again.

And so, with that spirit in mind, I am totally excited for a federal election (May 2!), and will be following it with a good deal of interest. I decided it would be fun to write about it, rather than just mutter under my breath like I usually do. If you are not particularly interested in the election, I am hoping to be posting regularly with my thoughts, and perhaps you can follow that way. I’ll try to keep it amusing and look at each party with a fair critical eye, as despite being a member of one of the federal parties, I still consider my vote up for grabs.

Although, I admit that I have a strong bias against the Conservatives, because as much as I have tried, I can’t really offer any respect for Stephen Harper. He isn’t as bad as I thought he might be, granted, but I get the feeling that despite all the responsible government crap he spouts, he really doesn’t actually like our democracy and would be happier as a dictator. This is a politician (originally I put “man” instead of “politician,” but I judging from what little I have seen about the guy’s family, he doesn’t seem like he is as big of an asshole in person as he is in the House of Commons) who sees absolutely nothing even remotely humourous about peace, love, and understanding.

I will give him one thing: he has some impeccable hair.

First up for discussion, in all likelihood, will be the coalition fear-mongering tactics, in what seems to be the first of what will probably be many strategies by the Conservatives to campaign by deriding the other parties rather than discussing actual ideas or platforms. What fun! My secret hope is that the professorial part of Michael Ignatieff will ignore that and treat Canadians as intelligent, sentient beings like they actually are.

In the meantime, you can go try a fun little tool that CBC is putting out: the Vote Compass. Mine looks not surprisingly like this (although I did it yesterday and ended up right directly in between the NDP and the Greens, and I’m not sure what changed):

Anyway, stay tuned for more of what will, hopefully, not be a soul-destroying excercise.

Posted in Election 2011 | 3 Comments

One-sentence Wednesdays: oral hygiene edition

I get unreasonably irritated when I have to listen to someone floss or repeatedly rinse his mouth out in the third-floor men’s washroom of the chem building.

Posted in One-Sentence Wednesdays | Leave a comment