Category: People

Increasing number of dead pedestrians are a reminder that bike lanes matter

A reader recently asked a question recently that got me thinking: If conditions are ripe for cycling, why bother adding bike infrastructure?

The question came out of my recent post from Yellowknife in which I mused about the city’s potential as a great bike town thanks to its wide streets, slow traffic and hearty residents. If all those qualities already exist, she asked, why the hell would it need bike lanes?

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I was pondering that question when a few pieces of news dropped recently related to pedestrians.

First was a new report that found the number of pedestrians being killed by cars has grown in recent years. The counter-intuitive nature of this assured it a place in the news: As technology makes motor vehicles safer – especially with the promise of self-driving cars on the horizon – we are somehow managing to kill increasing numbers of people simply walking down the street (and don’t go blaming “distracted pedestrians,” the report made a point of sharing blame with excessive motor vehicle speed and distracted drivers).

I was ready to lump this statistic into my repository of horrific-yet-underappreciated news about car culture when I came across another stat that was new (to me): a report that laid even more bare the shocking nature of those pedestrian-fatality statistics. The number of people who are walking on city streets in North America has been on a 30-year decline (the study found the much heralded 70 per cent decrease in child pedestrian fatalities since 1969 also corresponded with a 67 per cent decrease in the number of kids walking to school). Which means we’re killing pedestrians at increasing rates, even as the number of pedestrians is small and falling.

This is yet another example of the mind-boggling apathy we have toward the carnage of motor vehicles, but what does it have to do with bikes? One word: Perceptions.

Despite the seemingly dire situation we are putting pedestrians in, most people, I’m willing to bet, would classify walking down the street as something safe. Sure, everybody acknowledges that getting hit by a bus can happen at any time (hell, we even have an expression about the rarity of “getting hit by a bus”), but rare is the person who would choose to avoid sidewalks out of fear of their safety.

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Similarly, the risks of driving a car are also accepted as part of life by most urban dwellers, even though driving comes with risk. Rare too are those who refuse to drive because of the danger.

Yet when it comes to cycling, masses of people still refuse to ride in urban settings because they fear for their safety, even though statistics prove that riding a bike is about equal in risk to walking down the street.

I’ll leave it to the psychologists to unpack the reasons behind our fear of riding a bike, but this fear helps explain, at least a little bit, both the success, and need, for safe and protected bike infrastructure.

Bike lanes, when well built, usually reduce the number of collisions between bikes and cars (they also, as a side benefit, tend to decrease collisions between drivers and pedestrians, and drivers and other drivers too). But that only goes so far in explaining why they also tend to draw out more people on bikes. The other reason is that protected bike lanes simply feel safer. In this case, the perception of safety may be just as important as safety itself.

So, sure, you could argue there’s little added safety benefit to spending tax dollars on bike infrastructure in a small city like Yellowknife that is already pretty bike friendly. But I’m willing to bet that a minimum grid of well-built bike infrastructure would encourage more tentative cyclists to ride regularly simply because it makes them feel good.

With all the added benefits that come with cycling – healthier people, more efficient transportation system, better street life – that feeling alone may be worth the price of the investment.

 

Contest: Win two tickets to the world premiere of Bicicles, the winter-cycling documentary

Calling everyone who rides a bike. In winter. And loves it.

We’re giving away two tickets to the world premiere of Bicicles, the Documentary, a look at winter cycling here in Calgary. Created by Calgary filmmaker Kim Kelln, the documentary follows the commutes of a cross-section of people on bikes through the Canadian winter.

If you’d like to win a pair of tickets to the premiere, which takes place Feb. 11 at the Globe Cinema in Calgary, send us a photo of your winter bike commute. We’ll choose a winner from the submissions.

You can tweet the photo to Shifter with the hashtag #frostbike, send it to us on Facebook, or email us here.

Or, you can support the film the old fashioned way, by buying a ticket.

Here’s the trailer, which features snippets of an interview from yours truly.

Bicicles Trailer from Bull and Ship Films on Vimeo.

Here are some of the photo submitted by readers

 

Via Kevin Schindel:

Kevin Schindel’s winter bicycle photo

Chris Eich’s machine for getting through a Toronto winter.

Chris Eich braving the winter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sure, I'll play the #frostbike photo contest. @Shifter_site @BiciclesYYC @TomBabin #winterride

A post shared by Darrin (@djsearancke) on

Update

Thanks to everyone who submitted photos. It’s great to see so many people out there enjoying winter on two wheels. A random winner was chosen from the entries. Congrats to Kevin Schindel!

The epic winter bike rides of this musician make your commute look paltry

It’s not easy being an independent musician in Canada. The pay is low. Tours are difficult because of the long distances. The wolves sometimes stalk you.

OK, that last one may only apply to one musician in Canada: Felipe Gomez, a Chilean-born bass player living in Saskatchewan who has, for the past several years, been riding a bicycle to gigs all across Canada. I mean that literally: He has crossed Canada with his instrument on his back, across tens of thousands of kilometres, stopping for tiny gigs all along the way, once even being paced by wolves.

Filipe Gomez riding his bike through the Richardson Mountains in Canada's far north.

Felipe Gomez riding his bike through the Richardson Mountains in Canada’s far north.

I met Gomez last year while participating in a snowy group winter ride on a cold Saskatoon afternoon. I wasn’t sure what to make of him when he first pulled up beside me and started chatting, recounting some unbelievable road stories behind a big smile in his accented English. When he told me he had recently returned from a bike-and-bass tour, as he calls them, of the far north, I was skeptical. When he said that included riding his bike up the Dempster highway, and the associated ice bridges, to the Arctic coast in the middle of winter, I was tempted to just pull away from this deranged liar.

But his stories kept coming, and he won me over with his infectious positivity and photographic evidence.

Now, at a time when most Canadian musicians are parking the touring van for the winter, Gomez is finishing up a snowy 4,000 kilometre journey through northern Saskatchewan, where he performed gigs and spoke at high schools that rarely see travelling musicians, and never on bicycles. It’s safe to say that Gomez may be the world’s most accomplished winter-bicycle travelling bass player.

Gomez on the ice road toward tuktoyaktuk, on Canada's Arctic coast, in 2015.

Gomez on the ice road toward tuktoyaktuk, on Canada’s Arctic coast, in 2015.

“I have done about 14,000 kilometres in Canada so far. Nunavut is the only place I haven’t cycled yet,” Gomez recently wrote to me in a Facebook message from who-knows-where in northern Saskatchewan. “I’ve learned that, in geography, Canadians all live in really different terrains, but at heart they are quite similar: They are all proud of their land, and often really generous with food and offers of places where I can stay.”

Epic bike rides in Canada are hardly rare, but Gomez seems to approach the entire experience differently. He’s not out to prove anything. Rather, he strikes me as a true explorer, with a desire to see as much of his adopted country as he can, and meet people along the way through his music.

Throughout his journeys, he’s adopted an inspiring mantra, which he recounts in speeches in school auditoriums between music gigs. He encourages kids to be unafraid of failure as a way of taking the kinds of risks that make life richer.

“I’ve learned that it is OK to fail at something, but fear can’t be the one thing that makes decisions for me,” he says.

He’s also become an advocate for winter cycling, in a different way than the extreme athletes who tend to undertake such epic trips.

He says his long, cold journeys started innocently, when he asked a friend in the bike industry if it was possible to travel on a northern ice road by bicycle. “I guess I was hoping for him to tell me that I was crazy and don’t do it,” he said. Instead, the friend gifted him with a bike and said he should try it. “Next thing I know, I am cycling the Dempster highway in -20 C with my bass.”

Indeed, it’s difficult to complain about a cold weekday commute when Gomez posts a smiling photo of himself in a stark winter landscape that is 200 cold kilometres from the nearest town, followed by smiling photos from such isolated places as Stoney Rapids and Uranium City, Sask. In the hands of someone else, such posts might come off as humblebrags. From Gomez, it feels like he’s actually reveling in the experience.

“I’ve learned that you don’t have to be ‘hardcore’ or ‘extreme’ to do this. All you need if you are on the city is to jump on the bike,” he says. “I’ve been in communities in northern parts of Canada where people bicycle ice roads to go to work, with no special gear or even fat-tire bikes, just normal bikes.

“After a 10 minutes ride to work in a cold refreshing day, I promise you that you will have a way better day.”

Gomez says the more he rides, and the more he sees of Canada, the more he wants to share his story. He has an event planned in his adopted home town of Saskatoon on Dec. 14, and more journeys lie ahead of him.

“I want to share the beauty of this country, and invite kids and youth to explore the outdoors and live and active life,” he says.

Why are we so afraid of letting kids ride bikes when statistics prove their safety?

Is riding a bike too risky for kids?

The question nags many parents beyond the typical helicopter-parent anxiety that permeates modern childhood. Cycling has gone from a bedrock part of childhood a few generations ago to something akin to BASE jumping in the eyes of some grownups.

Sometimes, even those trying to promote public health push the sentiment that cycling is inherently dangerous. Alberta Health Service recently removed information from its website after a mini furor over its anti-bike leanings. It warned parents about the potential dangers of cycling with kids, advised parents against using bike trailers or child seats until kids are four years old and to never take kids on streets, even if there is a bike lane. All of this struck some parents as overly cautious for something as simple as going for a bike ride.

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I don’t blame a health agency specifically for such advice. Rather it’s part of the bizarrely myopic lens in which we view kids’ cycling in North America, not as a part of a healthy lifestyle, but as a risky adventure sport.

So in wondering about the real risks of riding a bike, I put the question to Dr. Kay Teschke. She’s a prominent researcher at the University of British Columbia, and one of the most prominent researchers of bike safety on the continent. She had some illuminating insight.

First of all, she provided some statistics for context. Teschke recently served on a coroner’s panel that reviewed non-motorized road-related child deaths in British Columbia between 2005 to 2014. Over those 10 years, in the province of 4.5 million people, there were precisely zero toddlers killed while riding with their parents in a bike seat or a trailer.

Looking more broadly, during those 10 years, the review found that 17 children in B.C. were killed while riding a bike. Of those, four were under 10 years old. These are awful stories, but the details are important:

  • A two year old riding a tricycle in a back lane was killed by a speeding driver.
  • A three year old riding a ride-on toy on the sidewalk was killed by an errant driver.
  • An eight-year old at a blind T-junction was hit while riding on a rural road with no shoulders.
  • A 9-year old on a rural road with no shoulders was hit by a speeding driver with a suspended licence in a stolen car.

These are horrific stories, but compare the those numbers to those killed while riding in cars. In that same 10-year period, 280 children were killed in motor vehicles

Even walking was more dangerous: 55 kids were killed by drivers while they were on foot.

Perhaps the most heart-breaking statistic of them all: There were nine toddlers killed in a driveway when a driver backed over them. That’s more than twice as many as were killed while cycling.

Put in another way, here’s the average number of children under 19 killed every year in B.C.:

  • While riding a bike: 1.7.
  • While walking: 5.5.
  • While riding in cars: 28.

Despite those numbers, how often do do we hear warnings about children travelling in cars? It does happen, but rarely is the simple act of being in a car cited as something inherently dangerous (if statistics drove such warnings, we’d be smart to advise kids to never play in a driveway). In fact, when parents are worried about the dangers of children riding a bike or walking to school, they often choose to drive them, as if it is the safer option.

Teschke also mentioned a Quebec study that compared the risks of cycling to other activities, including sports. Only swimming had a lower injury rate than cycling. It sounds silly, but cycling even compares favourably to something as simple as walking down the street. Teschke’s B.C. study found that cycling and walking had similar fatality rates per trip, and bicycling had a lower fatality rate per distance travelled (the pattern was reversed for injury rates).

Yet cycling seems to be singled out as the risky activity. We don’t legislate drivers into wearing helmets, or shame them into wearing high-visibility clothing when walking down the street.

So what gives? Why is our perception of cycling so different than reality? Teschke thinks part of it is because most of us are smart enough to realize we don’t want to end up on the losing end of a collision with a car.

“We do see riding on city streets as risky, because we know that we are vulnerable if we are hit by a motor vehicle,” Teschke told me. “Why we see cycling as so much more dangerous than walking is interesting. Part of it is likely that walking is provided with sidewalk infrastructure along most urban streets. Some research shows that the emphasis on safety clothing, including high visibility gear and helmets, makes us perceive cycling as unsafe.”

I also think that human’s innate inability to properly assess risk plays into this problem. We tend to overestimate the risks of short-term dangers, while remaining indifferent to long-term ones. That’s why so many of us think it’s insane to undertake “risky” activities such as rock climbing or BASE jumping, yet we rarely think twice about more distant risks, even if they are much more likely to harm us, such as the dangers of poor diet or inactive lifestyles.

The latter is why it’s such a shame that cycling is seens as a dangerous activity for kids to participate in. As Teschke, herself a mother, points out, there are many studies that weigh the benefits and risks of cycling, and they “almost universally” find a net benefit from the physical activity of riding a bike, not only physically, but also mentally.

“(Riding a bike) helps children develop decision-making skills, executive function, co-ordination, and social relationships,” she said, citing the work of a colleague, Mariana Brussoni.  “Independent mobility helps children understand the world and their place in it.”

Given the risk-averse nature of our society, perhaps the only way to get over our fear of children riding a bike may be to do something radical: Build safe, separated bike lanes. Yes, they have been shown to reduce injuries, but perhaps just as important is that such bike routes make us feel safe.

“Being a parent does make people (including me) think differently about our roads and their safety,” Teschke said. “Parents worried about their children were the catalyst for building safer routes in Holland starting in the 1970s. Parents seem to be strong advocates of safer conditions for cycling in Canada too.”

Update: Some clarifications were made to ensure accuracy on Oct. 13, 2016.


Get some bike safety tips over at Folding Bike Zone. 

A handy guide for avoiding uninformed anti-bike rants

The rant was so out of touch as to be almost quaint. Earlier this month, Canadian Sen. Nicole Eaton, 71, went on a Twitter campaign  against cycling in Toronto, criticizing the construction of bike lanes using the same old arguments that are often thrown around by uninformed reactionaries: Nobody rides a bike, cyclists don’t obey the laws, and bike lanes begrime cities.

What made Eaton’s rant especially rich was its unique combination of laughable ignorance (she tweeted that wasting money on bike lanes was unbecoming of a global city such as New York, London and Paris, which are all actually chock full of cyclists and bike infrastructure) and it’s low-hanging-fruit hypocrisy (Canadians find it ironic to hear tax-fighting arguments from a senator, when the Senate is a largely symbolic piece of government stuffed with elderly patronage appointments who have a horrible history of wasting taxpayer money on enriching themselves).

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Still, Eaton’s rant wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last. So in the name of public service, we’re here to offer some help. Below are some answers to common misinformed anti-bike criticisms, presented in handy wallet-card format. So if you’re a politician or public figure who has yet to embrace urban cycling, print this card, laminate it, and put it in your wallet or purse. Whenever you are tempted to go on a ridiculous anti-bike rant, pull it out and read the answers before opening your mouth or tweeting. Not only will this save you some embarrassment (and your Twitter account, poor old Sen. Eaton has now deleted hers), it might just elevate the debate over cycling.

Enjoy.

Behold: the ultimate tool for transforming our cities, the humble camera

For all the work that goes into making streets safer and more welcoming for cyclists, consider perhaps the greatest and most under-appreciated tool of this transition: The ubiquitous camera.

Street photography is nothing new, of course. From Henri Cartier-Bresson to Robert Frank, impromptu moments from city life have always been at the forefront of photographic art.

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s famous Hyères, shot in 1932.

You could even argue the first photograph ever taken of people was street photography.

“Boulevard du Temple,” a daguerreotype made by Louis Daguerre in 1838, one of the world’s first photographs to include people.

 

That influence has only grown in recent years, from blogging (the Sartorialist) and then social media (Humans of New York, everything on Instagram that isn’t food). And thanks to that little computer in your purse that happens to have a camera lens attached to it, sdtreet photography these days transcends even its own medium and helps define the esthetic of cities.

That’s why it’s evolved into such a powerful tool for urban cycling. Consider Mikael Colville-Andersen’s Copenhagen Cycle Chic, which spawned imitators all over the world.

 

Green Light Go - The Birth of Cycle Chic

The original Copenhagen Cycle Chic photo by Mikael Colville-Andersen.

Cool photos, right? But because these photos involve bicycles, and everything about bicycles these days is political, this type of photography is inherently political.

In Toronto, during 2011 and 2012, photographer Lincoln Clarkes captured dozens of images that became Cyclists, a book of photography of people on two wheels, most of them looking sexily non-plussed despite the hostile environment surrounding them at the time. While not overtly so, the politics of these photographs is obvious considering Clarkes shot them at the height of late mayor Rob Ford’s anti-bike backlash, when the ever-thoughtful mayor compared riding a bike in Toronto to swimming with sharks.

A shot from Lincoln Clarkes’s Cyclists.

In the book’s forward, Clarkes is quoted saying the photographs serve as “sexed-up, environmentalistic, fashionesque portraiture, which is a subtle protest against the petro-chemical and automobile industries.”

Here in Calgary,  a bike-loving man named Peter Oliver has started a formal project to harness the political power of bicycle street photography. He’s part of a group that rallied support for the adoption of a pilot project of downtown bike lanes last year, and now he’s hoping to solidify that support by giving people a glimpse into exactly what those bike lanes have wrought: People on bikes.

#YYC #yycbike Photo by @brycemeyer

A post shared by People on Bikes YYC (@peopleonbikesyyc) on

Oliver hopes showcasing photographs of everyday cyclists in Instagram will help dispel the notion that all cyclists are latte-sipping hipsters or angry Lyca-clad suburban commuters blowing through red lights (or sometimes both).

“I really want to get down to people on the street, and show the diversity of people who ride bikes,” Oliver told me over a beer recently. “I want to break down the stereotypes about who cyclists are, and show that’s it’s just ordinary people doing what they do. It’s just part of their life.”

Bryce Meyer, a top editorial photographer, jumped at the chance to be the first contributor to People On Bikes YYC. Meyer, a former competitive road cyclist who ended his itinerant career in his early 20s after being robbed at gunpoint while training in Arizona, says the project is less about the politics or fashion for him, and more of a passion project. He loves everything to do with cycling, and he thought this was a way to give back to a cause he cares about while indulging himself (the fact that he’s managed to learn how to shoot photos while riding his own bike certainly helps — “Forget the viewfinder,” he advises. “Trust the shutter.”)

“It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing cutoffs with socks up to your knees or whatever,” he says. “It’s all about the riding.” 

It’s a simple concept that has proven political punch. Think about the defining images of Amsterdam, and you’ll probably think about a bike. In Paris, those cafes will elegant French women fingering cigarettes often have bicycles as a backdrop. Even in Montreal, photographs of hirsute young artists riding a Bixi bikes are becoming a de facto brand.

All of which shows that bikes can be a seamless part of any city.

 

Middle-ground fashion: Are we in the midst of transitional North American cycle chic?

In addition to cheese, trains and museums, Europeans tend to look down on another aspect of North American life: The way we dress on a bike.

Cases in point. This image is from my city of Calgary.
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This one from the Netherlands.

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Calgary.

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Netherlands

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See the difference? I’m not judging their fashion choices (good lord, have you see my wardrobe?). I’m pointing out how North Americans tend to gear up for athletics, while Europeans gear up for the cafe.

But as our cities grow more bike friendly, I’m seeing more and more casual cyclists who are following the mantra of former Calgarian Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize and dressing for the destination, rather than the journey.

Still,the default North American bicycle commuter isn’t exactly haute couture. Rather, what I’m seeing is more people finding a middle ground between full MAMIL diaper shorts and Coachella street style. Let’s call it transitional cyclist casual.

Case in point.

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See what I mean? She is still rocking that quick-dry reflective MEC jacket that is nearly de rigueur for commuter cyclists in my neighbourhood, but has at least made some accommodation to fashion on the lower half. She could walk into a downtown coffee shop, strip that jacket and not feel at all out of place. 

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A step further. This dude could park his bike, eat dinner, go for a drink at the pub and not stand out, even though he’s still made a few accommodations for the bike, including the backpack and the helmet.

This isn’t about anyone’s sense of style, or lack thereof , I’m just pointing out that stylistic choices among the commuter set seem to be changing, in so far that style does seem to be emerging as an actual choice.

Perhaps this is the transition period, a unique North American interpretation that strives for the dress-for-the-destination aspiration, while remaining rooted in the realities of bike transportation in cities that don’t make it very easy to ride a bike for transportation.

So there you go: North American Transitional Cycling Couture.

Until we see more people like this. From Calgary, not Copenhagen. Seriously.

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