Photo Credit: Design by Evgenia MIkhaylova, Photos by Amielle Christopherson
Tucked into the program at a recent Ontario Bike Summit was a session on sharing the road, cycling and road safety. No surprise there. But who was invited to speak? A representative from the Canadian Automobile Association!
What the hell?!?! Isn’t that like asking Michael Vick to speak at a conference about abused dogs?
Maybe not. Maybe, just maybe, it suggests that more people are catching on to the fact that increased cycling would benefit everybody — especially fiscal conservatives and die-hard motorists.
Why is that? Well, as the population of any city grows, so does the amount of car traffic and the total time it takes you to drive to and park at work. If more people were riding bikes instead of driving, there’d be less congestion, less demand for car parking downtown, and less stress for drivers.
But I can hear the hardcore drivers out there saying, “Screw special treatment for bikes! My taxes paid for these roads! If they want special lanes, they should pay for them on their own.”
Sorry, Donny Driver — it turns out that cyclists are in fact subsidizing you.
Many people tend to assume that motor vehicles should take priority over other modes of transportation because roads are funded by motorists, but that’s not true in urban centres.
“Although motorist user fees (fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees) fund most highway expenses, funding for local roads (the roads pedestrians and cyclists use most) originates mainly from general taxes,” according to research by the oft-cited Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI).
What are general taxes? In Saskatoon, 14 cents from every dollar of municipal property taxes are put toward transportation (including roads, bridges, and snow removal). So, if you live in this city, you pay the same percentage of your taxes to roads as everybody else.
The infrastructure requirements of bicycling are very modest compared to those of motorized modes of transportation, says Transport Canada. As well, vehicles also cause the greatest amount of degradation to roads, so ultimately “people who rely primarily on non-motorized modes tend to overpay their fair share of roadway costs,” says the VTPI.
In other words, motorists don’t subsidize cyclists: it’s the other way around.
Nevertheless, the assumption that vehicles should take priority has left its mark on public policy and city planning. For example, we’ve got “more dispersed land use patterns” (i.e. sprawl), the VTPI points out. Because of this, traffic safety programs tend to give less attention to biking as a mode of transportation, and “place the onus for reducing risk on pedestrians and cyclists.”
When you compare bicycling bylaws in Canadian municipalities to those of bike-friendly cities across the globe, two very different understandings of liability become obvious.
In some places, cyclists aren’t considered dangerous pests; cars and car drivers are. (What a novel concept!)
“Car drivers should take the responsibility for avoiding collisions with cyclists,” says the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment in the Netherlands. “This implies that car drivers are almost always liable when a collision with a bicycle occurs.”
There are obvious costs to owning a private vehicle — buying it, insuring it, filling it with gas, parking it and repairing it. But as students of true cost economics know, there are always hidden costs. Because vehicles have such a huge impact on the way that we work, live, eat and play, drivers suck from nearly every public teat.
We all pay for building and repairing roads and highways; we pay to build barriers to reduce the harmful effects of road noise, and we pay for water pollution. The biggest drain, however, is on our publicly funded health care system, through which we all pay for the effects of air pollution — and of sitting on our asses most of the time.
Our inactive lifestyle costs us a ton of money. To take just one example of all of the diseases that could be prevented with a healthy lifestyle, cardiovascular disease alone costs the health care system over $7.3 billion in direct costs annually. That cost could be cut by at least 50 per cent if Canadians exercised regularly. But we don’t.
The benefits aren’t limited to health and wellness. A recent study out of Copenhagen estimated that one mile travelled on a bike provides a $.42 economic gain to society, while one mile of driving is a $.20 loss.
In the UK, a charity promoting sustainable transport (Sustrans) estimates the overall public benefits are twenty times the cost of providing better cycling routes. More modest studies place the cost benefit ratio at about 20:5 or 20:4. The investors on Dragon’s Den would jizz themselves for that kind of return.
In an age of austerity and budget cuts, why aren’t fiscal conservatives calling for a major shift in spending from car infrastructure to bicycle infrastructure?
SEPARATE, BUT TOGETHER
As things are, you have a higher risk of injury on a bike than in a car. With that said, virtually any study you read will say that the huge net health benefit of increased cycling greatly outweighs the individual risks. And, advocates point out that the danger isn’t in cycling per se, it is in sharing the road with vehicles. So what’s the best way to share the road?
“For cyclists, that’s obvious; we’re unwelcome on the road and in pedestrian spaces, so I think we’ve figured out that each mode of transport goes at a different speed, and that each needs its own fully separated safe space,” says Ellen Quigley, a community activist and founder of We Are Many, a youth-run arts and environmental organisation.
According to a recent study out of the University of British Columbia, the best way for city administrators to reduce injuries and fatalities for cyclists is to give those biking their own physically separated lanes, streets, boulevards or cycling tracks.
“The true measure of a cycling city is whether you see women, children, and the elderly on bikes. That is emphatically not the case in Saskatoon yet, nor should it be — we’re 100 per cent exposed to cars on 90 per cent of our routes. You pretty much have to hug the riverbank or hope you can take a shortcut through the university if you want to be truly safe. So Saskatoon is great for cycling if you’re a daredevil, but if you’re a 50-year-old woman, you’d be nuts to bike downtown,” says Quigley.
Safe infrastructure would help to legitimize and increase the presence of cyclists on the road, making for a more positive relationship between cyclists and motorists. And of course, there is safety in numbers.
“The more people cycle, the safer it becomes; the more careful drivers become,” says Tom Wolf, vice president of Saskatoon Cycles, an advocacy group with 1300 members that has lobbied for better infrastructure investment. Evidence suggests that injury and fatality rates decrease as cycling mode share increases, which might owe to the fact that drivers become more cautious when they see more pedestrians and cyclists. It might also represent the results of providing better cycling infrastructure.
This year, the City is working with its biggest cycling budget to date. Saskatoon recently announced a proposed bike boulevard for 23rd Street to be completed in 2012.
Green street signs will indicate that it’s a priority route for cyclists, as will pavement markings. Signs will provide directions, distance (in kilometres) and average travel times to various destinations. Eventually, it will link to a shared pathway project that will include a paved section between Diefenbaker and Confederation Drives, extending beyond the Shaw Centre to the west and as far as Idylwyld Drive to the east.
But without anything to significantly divert or calm car traffic, critics say it won’t be a true bike boulevard — and worse, they worry that it might attract even more car traffic. The City says they’re taking a “wait and see” approach, “putting stepping stones in there so that people can imagine cycling [more often], so they can get comfortable,” says Don Cook at the Transportation Branch.
Not exactly what cyclists want to hear.
“It’s a toe in cold water. We’re a little bit disappointed. Rerouting [car] traffic requires council approval, which would probably cause a public backlash. We have a very strong resistance to the idea of even implying traffic be diverted in this city,” says Wolf. (That’s actually not unusual: even the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world have faced major opposition to cycling initiatives at one time or another.)
Nevertheless, Saskatoon has a strong, welcoming and rapidly growing cycling community, and not just because cycling is efficient, cost effective and environmentally friendly. We’ve also got the Meewasin Trail, relatively flat topography and mostly sunny days.
Plenty of cycling advocates (not to mention medical professionals) believe that we need to pave a trail alongside the west side railway tracks and create a bi-directional bike lane (separated from car traffic) where cars currently park on the south side of Taylor Street.
“In a city Saskatoon’s size, safe bike corridors at least every 10 blocks in every direction are totally achievable,” says Quigley. “Saskatoon could be an amazing cycling city in five years,” she adds.
Whether you drive, cycle or both, let’s be clear: you want that.
DIFFERENT SPOKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS
So you’re looking to get a bike — but which bike is right? A good bike can cost you anywhere from $20 to $10,000. If you’re just beginning, buy (or borrow) a used bike or an entry-level model, because you can always upgrade if riding becomes a serious hobby. If you’re a cyclist and you know it, rest assured that you’ll probably end up saving the money you would’ve spent on insurance, fuel costs, parking and registration fees for a car anyways.
Bicycle manufacturers are always adding new features, tweaking gear, and perfecting the look of any given model. And, the number of varieties, styles, and types are multiplying every season. You’ve got road bikes, which are designed for pavement, including performance bikes (for competitions or triathlons), fitness bikes, and lifestyle, cruise or “comfort” bikes, such as your low rider, retro cruiser, or recumbent.
On the other hand, off-road bikes like the downhill, all-mountain, freeride, or cross country bike handle best off pavement. Hybrids offer the best of both worlds. You’ve also got your BMX-style bikes for those who like getting air (and maybe some attention) on dirt tracks or streets; these are very popular with adolescents and those of us stuck in emerging adulthood.
But when it comes to picking a bike, the best advice comes from Jay Woytowich at Doug’s Spoke n’ Sport, who said that there is no single bike he would recommend to everybody. “The best bike is the bike that fits you,” he says.
FOR THE LITTLEST OF LITTLE ONES
Get your kidlet rolling with a pushbike. They’re usually constructed out of wood, they don’t have pedals, and they’re tiny — low enough to the ground that your little Energizer bunny can use her feet to propel herself, stop, balance, and burn off energy.
FOR THE ENVIRONMENTALIST WITH A HEART CONDITION
Don’t be a hero. If your commute is extremely long and difficult and you find yourself taking a breather every two blocks, you might as well get a pedal-assist bike. They aren’t as expensive as you’d think, and who doesn’t like a little help sometimes?
FOR THE FASHION-CONSCIOUS FOLKS WITH TIME TO SPARE
At the risk of sounding like an Urban Dictionary entry, I have to say people who ride cruisers are babes. Many retro-inspired cruisers allow you to fully extend your legs (and not waste the power of a full extension) while still being low enough to lay your feet flat on the ground when you come to a stop. These are best with a wide saddle-style seat, which gives a wider and more comfortable butt perch. They’re generally not ideal for long trips, and their design isn’t the most efficient going up a steep incline. But, if you like to keep your rides easy, short and relaxed, you’ll want this bike. Go to the Bike Doctor, get a mint-green Electra Townie, and you’ll be a certified babe.
FOR THE DUDE WITH THE BIGGEST PICKUP TRUCK
This bike is FOR THE EXTREMELY TACKY BAD-ASS WHO USES ALL CAPS TO ADVERTISE CAR PARTS ON KIJIJI. The only detail you need to look for is the price tag, because it doesn’t matter which bike you recommend to this person. “He’ll always just buy the most expensive bike,” according to one bike expert I spoke to. Decorative chrome testicles not included.
FOR THE STARVING STUDENT/ARTIST/ETC.
Who gives a shit what kind of bike you get, as long as it’s cheap. Unlike a cheap car, a stylish retro-beater will inspire a whole lot of love from the moral compass that is your Instagram following.
FOR THE PERSON WHO NEEDS TO CROSS MIDDLE EARTH
With its big fat low-pressure tires, an “omniterrain” bike like the Surly Pugsley looks like the monster truck of bicycles. The company says the incredible “floatation and traction” afforded by its unique tires “can get you over and through otherwise unrideable terrain… sand, mud, wet rocks and roots, ice and many kinds of snow.” This bike is not for hobbits, though — strong arms are a necessity for better handling.
FOR THE DIGNIFIED YET PRACTICAL TYPE
If you lug a daypack from your home to the office to the store to the pub (and back), then you need a utility bike with a high-capacity rear rack (and maybe even a basket, too). This is the most popular type of bike in the world, because it’s good for everything — bike path jaunts, coffee runs, supermarket missions or just a lazy Sunday city cruise. Best of all, you can get where you’re going in a respectable state, because you’ve got mudguards. Being always prepared, you just might be the most spontaneous person you know. /Johnson
JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM!
YOU’RE WELCOME FOR ALL THOSE ROADS!
In the mid and early 1800s, road conditions were very poor because the government had its mind on the railroads, according to the Canadian Cycling Association. It wasn’t until the bicycle arrived in the late 1800s that upper-class people began lobbying for better roads on which to cycle. By the time people started producing our precious automobiles, the bicycle had already paved the way.
I’LL BUY THAT!
Studies show that there’s a good business case for biking. Retail businesses on Union Street in Vancouver, for example, say their location on the Adanac Bike Route has played a big role in building their bottom line. If you want to spend less money on advertisements, put your store-front on a route travelled heavily by pedestrians and cyclists, they say. Oh, and don’t forget to put a bike rack out front.
SHOW ME THE MONEY!
According to the Share the Road Cycling Coalition in Ontario, bicycle travel and tourism is a $49 billion dollar industry in the U.S. The number is $134 million in Québec, where the nearly 5,000 km-long Route Verte trail network attracts excursionists and cyclotourists across the province.
If you’re a U of S student (or just a person in the area) and feeling a little deflated, look between the Thorvaldson and Arts buildings. The green stand you see is a bike repair station, complete with an air pump and various tethered tools for quick tune-ups. It was installed last November by students’ unions and the University’s Office of Sustainability.
LET ME PARK THAT FOR YOU!
Saskatoon Cycles will continue to offer its Bike Valet service again this summer, so look for a free, secure bicycle valet when you go to festivals and events. Last year, they parked over 4,000 bikes, and saved patrons of the Jazz Festival (among others) the trouble of searching for a place to lock up.
FOGGING UP AND LOVING IT!
Lots of people bicycle the shit out of winter. Boulder, Colorado, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Madison, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis, Minnesota are consistently listed as the most bike-friendly urban terrains in North America, even though they get snow throughout the winter. In Montréal, cyclists can get around all year round thanks to dedicated snow removal in some bike lanes. Here in Saskatoon this February, 180 people gathered at Saskatoon’s annual Ice Cycle – billed (despite relatively warm temperatures) as “the coldest bicycle parade on the planet.”
AHEAD BY A CENTURY
While ultimately depressing (and really, like comparing apples to oranges), it’s fun to fantasize about some of the incredibly innovative cycling solutions cities have implemented around the world. Portland, for example, has four-lane “all green” bike intersections that stop vehicle traffic to allow cyclists to cross in any direction. They also paint the bike-lane pavement a different colour, especially across intersections, to prevent collisions and remind motorists to look for bicycles.
In many bike-friendly cities, bike traffic has its own set of lights at busy intersections. They give cyclists a head start by turning green a few seconds before car traffic lights. This makes cyclists far more visible to motorists and gives priority to those on bicycles.
In Denmark, they love their bike lanes so much that they send a special little vehicle equipped with laser technology to scan and detect in advance possible maintenance problems under the surface of the pavement across the entire network of bike lanes.
Oh, one more thing: in a survey of commuters in the Netherlands, a vast majority (70 per cent) of respondents said they associated “joy” with cycling as a mode of transport. How cool is that? /Johnson
RULES, REGULATIONS AND REMINDERS!
Cyclists have the same legal rights and responsibilities as motorists — but they don’t have the advantage of a gigantic safety-engineered shield of steel, glass, and rubber weighing up to three tonnes. So, even though they have an equal right to share the roadway, cyclists need to be the mature ones.
AS A DRIVER, YOU NEED TO:
* Look for cyclists. You’ve been taught to watch for other motorists, but you should always look for cyclists. When you’re opening your car door, do as they do in Amsterdam and open it with your right hand, which will force you to turn your body towards traffic in the adjacent lane. Failure to look may be anoffense under the Highway Traffic Act.
* Give plenty of room to bicycles, especially when you’re passing them. They need about 1.5 metres of lane-space to avoid potholes, broken glass, and sewer grates.
* Not follow people on bikes too closely. You don’t need to remind them that you are bigger, stronger, and faster by tailgating them. They know these facts.
* Not throw Big Gulps and scalding hot coffee at cyclists. Apparently, this doesn’t go without saying in Saskatoon — sigh. Remember that many cyclists travelling up the University Bridge to Royal University Hospital are the medical professionals you might need to rely on to save your life in the event of a vehicle collision.
AS A RIDER, YOU NEED TO:
* Make sure your ride is equipped with all the necessary safety shit (bell or horn, lights or reflectors, and working brakes). Shoulder-check, use turn signals, and stop at red lights. Apparently this doesn’t go without saying in Saskatoon — again, sigh.
* Not ride drunk. If you’re bobbing and weaving all over the road, you might earn yourself a public intoxication charge at best — or the honour of being a hood ornament at worst.
* Ride single file on the right-hand side of the road. When you need to make a left turn, shoulder check for other vehicles, signal and move into the left-turning lane when it’s safe to do so. Then scoot yourself back as far as you can to the right side of the road (after signaling and shoulder-checking, of course).
* Walk your bike on the sidewalk, even if there’s no safe place to ride your bike on the street. Try not to let this catch-22 infuriate you… unless being infuriated inspires you to write your City Councillor about the need for more separated bike lanes.
* Not let your friend sit on your handlebars or hang off the back of your bike. It will hurt his or her butt, and unless said friend is a child in a specially-mounted bike seat, doubling is illegal.
* Be as loud, brightly coloured, and predictable as possible. Basically, be Richard Simmons on wheels. American Apparel seems to have no shortage of fluorescent garments with which to blind and/or hypnotize this season.
* Wear a helmet, even though it’s not required by law in Saskatoon (despite what my mother had me believe for most of my life). Policy makers have argued that requiring a helmet might discourage people from being more active, but if you like your brain you should wear a helmet.
* Not listen to your iPod while riding. You need all of your senses, and you can’t hear the engine of a car, the squealing of tires, the hard acceleration of an engine or the terrible, obnoxious music blaring out of open car windows. Especially when you’re on a narrow street, you need to listen and be prepared to pull to the side of the road if such a douchebag approaches.
* Practice. TheSaskatchewan Prevention Institute reminds us that cycling demands skills gained through training and practice. Take the example of shoulder-checking. Doing it properlywithout swerving can be tricky for some new cyclists. Try this: move your right hand toward the center of the handlebar, then drop your left hand off the bar as you turn your head to look back. People will be very impressed.
* Make eye-contact so that you know that drivers can see you. Give a thank-you wave when they give you the right of way.
* Keep at least one hand on your handbars. Wrap your thumbs around it instead of resting them across the top. You’re in pothole country, after all.
* Finally, children are taught that bicycles must be respected as vehicles, not toys. Remember that. And of course, eat your vegetables. /Johnson