Cycling as a wedge issue.

From Wikipedia

A wedge issue, when introduced, is intended to bring about such things as:

  • A debate, often vitriolic, within the opposing party, giving the public a perception of disarray.
  • The defection of supporters of the opposing party’s minority faction to the other party (or independent parties) if they lose the debate.
  • The legitimising of sentiment which, while perhaps popularly held, is usually considered inappropriate or politically incorrect; criticisms from the opposition then make it appear beholden to special interests or fringe ideology.
  • In an extreme case, a wedge issue might contribute to the actual fracture of the opposing party as another party spins off, taking voters with it.

*emphasis added

When I think of wedge issues, I’m usually considering those that appeal to people’s feelings or beliefs as opposed to (and often intentionally bypassing) reason, not to mention fairness, the law, and human rights. It can be base politics at it’s most cynical. It’s another reason why I don’t pay much attention to most politics.

After many years as an Edmonton Sun columnist failed mayoral candidate Kerry Diotte, currently running for a federal nomination, knows a wedge issue when he sees it. He likes to fan the flames of hate towards cyclists because, like abortion, same sex marriage, and almost anything associated with fundamentalist religion, it’s a “wedge issue” and can get people fired up – often in the worst possible way – with righteous anger and a sense of injustice.

It’s populist politics at it’s worst – getting people riled up and convinced they are hard done by when they are really nothing of the sort. Or taking a small problem and making it bigger, while promising to do the opposite, to get people’s votes.

And it can work. See Toronto – Rob Ford (“War on cars!”). It’s the opposite of “Revenge of the Nerds”. Something like “Bullies Fight Back”. I’m bigger than you, and that’s all there is to it. Get out of my way, because I’m more important than you.

In a recent Facebook post Diotte inferred he didn’t ride a bike because cyclists look like Pee Wee Herman, insulting cyclists, and Pee Wee Herman for that matter. I guarantee if Diotte was running against Pee Wee Herman for anything he’d get slaughtered.

I think this particular wedge issue has proven to be a failed approach. I might refer to it a a sort of tyranny of the majority, but I don’t think those people are anywhere near a majority. Too many people have kids that ride their bikes, for one thing. He should have stuck with his flawed no-to-everything conservative fiscal policy, not that I’d ever consider voting for him.

One unfortunately predictable consequence is that the antipathy Diotte foments against cyclists can tend toward righteous fervour in some and can lead to a few drivers (strawman alert) massaging the chip on their shoulder with a kind of “I don’t know or care what the law says, they bug me and we need to get rid of them” attitude. “I’m right because I’m bigger than you”. They don’t want us on the roads, they don’t want paths for us, they don’t want a dollar spent on facilities.

And it can lead to conflict and confrontation on the road. Frontier justice. Those same bad drivers (who usually think the are great drivers) other motorists have to deal with can be real bad news for cyclists.

They are stuck in traffic and see a cyclist whiz by on their bike lane and they resent the few feet of space, feeling a sense of injustice. Or they see some kid on a bike doing something stupid and dangerous. I can see where some of that might come from. Some want to be able to drive as fast as they think they safely can with no distractions or delays. Despite, I don’t know, 70%+ of the city’s land mass given over to the motor vehicle, they think the answer is more roads and parking lots.

The main problem, for drivers (not cyclists), is obvious to anyone who has stood at the side of the road waiting for a bus and watched “rush” hour traffic go by – there are too many single person vehicles on the road. All going the same direction, and each carrying the equivalent of two couches, or more, and a closet, among other things.

I’m not inferring any of these people individually are the problem, or that they are bad people. They know what the problem is. They’re looking at it through their window. Too many cars on the road. It’s the cars that are in the way.

That’s why we need to provide alternatives to people, including public transit, cycling, skateboarding, running, and walking. It’s better for them, of course. But it’s also better for drivers who will never get out of their car. I know a lot of drivers who would rather take public transit, especially the LRT, but it doesn’t go where they want (yet). I already know people who ride to work, but I know a lot who’d like to as well, if the facility to do so was there.

One more person on a bike is one less car in driver’s way.

Kerry Diotte is a nice guy I’ve been told. He’s smart enough to know better. I don’t know if that makes it better or worse. What I do know, for sure, is that cyclists can find themselves on the receiving end of a lot of vitriol, and worse, as a more or less direct consequence of something he’s said or done. I’m a big man – I can take it. But I shouldn’t have to. And neither should the kids, students, couples, grandparents, siblings, friends, etc, who only want to be able to safely go for a nice ride on their bikes.

Diotte doesn’t want people to calm down and be rational, because then they won’t vote for him. Seriously.  He’s still selling papers, only now he’s trying to get his name in there. He’s intentionally polarizing and wants to get people talking about him. I’m only doing it once here, and take comfort in the fact I have a small (but mighty) readership that largely consists of people wanting to sell me, and you, dear reader, weight loss products.

At times like this I like to remind myself of the many drivers out there that have been very courteous to me. They are the vast majority. They don’t yell the loudest, and they aren’t angry all the time, so they can become invisible. They are the norm, and the norm, by definition, doesn’t stand out.

When I first began commuting I was struck by how courteous and understanding the drivers were, as opposed to what I had expected. I really didn’t really know what I was doing, and did some dumb things. Never had a single problem with a driver – even in Winter. Maybe it was the fact I adorned my bike with strings of Christmas lights 🙂 .

I think Edmonton is a great city to ride in, and it’s gotten much better. Some of this is thanks to better facilities, but most of it has to do with Edmonton drivers. They’ve been great for me, and the bad ones are the exceptions that prove the rule.

So thanks Edmonton drivers. Sincerely. And I’m not running for anything.

The Eternal Debate – Edmonton Bike Lanes

The notion persists that cyclists aren’t paying their way. Cyclists pay, through taxes, like everyone else. The argument can be made they pay more than their share.

Bike lanes aren’t for me. They’re for cyclists less comfortable on the road, or out for a leisurely ride, maybe with kids. Bike lanes also serve to remind drivers cyclists belong on the road.
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Elizabeth Solis

I generally avoid posting tragic bike stories. They’re usually significant enough to warrant localized media coverage, including major media. They get so much attention it can obscure the fact that cycling, by and large, is safe if we apply due care and attention, and have a safe place to ride.

Riding a bike was clearly one of Elizabeth Solis’ great pleasures. She was an experienced cyclist who rode predictably and made sure she was highly visible to drivers, wearing a reflective vest whenever she road. She took safety seriously.

Elizabeth Solis and Edmund Aunger in New Brunswick on their way to PEI

Most if not all regular riders have experienced being caught on “The Wrong Road” because there weren’t any other options. It’s unpleasant, and the kind of road Sovis consciously avoided. They made her nervous.

She and her husband Edmund Aunger were biking along a two-lane highway in Prince Edward Island this summer when she was struck from behind by habitual drunk driver Clarence Moase.

On Tuesday December 12, 2012, Moase was sentenced to six years in prison (and, I believe, a lifetime driving suspension). He had four prior impaired-driving convictions.

Aunger had mixed feelings about the sentence, saying he was afraid locking someone up wasn’t going to change the real problem, and referring to Clarence Moise as a scapegoat

“We need to create safer bike trails to ensure no one else dies the way my wife did.”

Elizabeth Clovis planned to spend her retirement helping develop safe cycling trails in Alberta – a cause Aunger is hoping to carry on.

Read more at CTV News

Linda Hoang, CTV Edmonton
Published Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 11:03AM MST
Last Updated Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 1:13PM MST

Alphonse, Gaston, and the Flashing Yellow Lights.

Alphonse and Gaston

Alphonse and Gaston

PRONUNCIATION:
(AL-fons uhn GAS-tuhn)
MEANING:
noun: Two people who treat each other with excessive deference, often to their detriment.

“… their “After you, Alphonse”, “You first, my dear Gaston!” routine often gets them into trouble, such as when they can’t evade a trolley which mows them down while each insists on letting the other go first.”

A recent, occasionally heated exchange (sorry about that) on the subject of riding vs dismounting in crosswalks took a sudden turn for the better, yielding this tiny nugget of advice from the goldmine of yours truly, the gift that keeps on giving, Captain Obvious: Don’t ride out in front of crossing (moving) traffic.

It’s not a question of rules, rights, signs, or lights. As basic as “don’t step in front of a speeding train or you’ll be killed”. That simple. Darwin aside, everyone over a certain age can do that math. It’s instinctual. Shouldn’t need to be said. Anyone who doesn’t understand needs to stop reading now and go over it until they do.

Even smart people do dumb things, sometimes. Especially when distracted. Or impaired.

Flashing yellow lights don’t afford cyclists the same legal or actual protection as they do pedestrians. (One advantage to cycling is being able to easily get off the bike and become a pedestrian. The woman or man stuck in traffic can’t do that).

At a flashing yellow crosswalk, pedestrians, including you if you get off the bike, have right of way over everyone else. Drivers and mounted cyclists should expect to grant it. Drivers have right of way over crossing cyclists who stay on their bikes. Cyclists should expect to cede it. Too many don’t. Point taken.

Cyclists move a lot quicker than pedestrians, may be harder to spot (“she came out of nowhere”), can’t stop or “jump out of the way” as easily as pedestrians, and drivers just may, correctly, take the right of way. As they should.

It all works so much better when we all follow the rules all of the time. It really does. But we don’t. None of us do, all of the time. I don’t.

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Broad changes, not just helmets, key to bike safety

Broad changes, not just helmets, key to bike safety.

I doubt there are many people more adamant about wearing a helmet than I am. As I wrote in a previous post (“thanks Bell”) – my helmet saved my life.

But I don’t support mandatory helmet laws for adults. This article outlines some of the main reasons.

Cycling is very safe. We cyclists often like to talk about our close calls, bad drivers that nearly hit us, wipe-outs, the challenges of riding on icy roads, blocked bike paths, etc. We play up the dangerous aspects because it’s the aberrations we notice, not the mundane circumstances that make up the overwhelming majority of our riding.

It’s just not very interesting to relate a story of yet another uneventful ride. While cycling is immensely enjoyable in and of itself, it’s not very interesting to hear about second hand.

So we relate our stories of danger. It makes us feel and appear brave, and it’s exciting. But it doesn’t give the true picture.

What it does, predictably, is lend the perception that cycling is dangerous. Which discourages potential cyclists from getting on a bike. Which, ironically, makes cycling less safe. One of the most effective means of ensuring cycling safety is by getting more cyclists on the road. Cyclists are treated as if they belong when there are more of them out there.

Many more people would ride except for the perceived danger. Ironically, driving a motor vehicle is much more inherently dangerous, but it doesn’t stop people from doing it because the danger is primarily to other people, that is, people on the outside of the car (I’m not suggesting most drivers aren’t concerned with the safety of others, but it’s only natural to feel safer when wearing seatbelts surrounded by a metal box). And you can’t fall off a car.

So, let’s think twice the next time we start to relate some of our harrowing tales. And let’s concentrate on how enjoyable the activity is, how good it is for us, and how much money we save over driving. The more people we have driving, the better.

And, please, (says to self) WEAR YOUR HELMET!

Cycling safety and Bike Paths/Lanes

Cycling is a big issue for me, and I see encouraging cycling as having numerous benefits, to everyone, including those who will never trade their car for a bike for any of their trips. I’m far from an anti-automobile guy. I’ve bummed too many rides over the years to do that. Most people I’m close to are drivers. They aren’t evil, or bad, or even wrong, and they aren’t the enemy. We all need to get along.

I’m deeply disturbed by “activist” cyclists who demonize the automobile. I feel it causes those on the other side of the debate to dig in their heels. It breeds resentment, not understanding, and certainly not agreement. I see some of those cyclists as having some kind of hero complex. They want to be known for standing up to the “bad guy”. They’re less interested in solving a problem as in spoiling for a fight.

There’s a perception bike paths and bike lanes make cycling safer. They don’t, necessarily. An argument can be made the reverse is true. What does make cycling safer is more cyclists, and to the end the perception of increased safety leads more people to take up cycling, they help. I understand where the perception comes from. From a distance it seems obvious. Similar to riding on the sidewalk, which would logically appear much safer, but ironically has been proven to be among the most dangerous things you can do as a cyclist.

It seems safer. But my experience says otherwise, as have studies on accident rates, including some from the cycling Mecca, Amsterdam (actually Groningen in the North of the Netherlands. has the highest cycling rate, with 60% of trips by bicycle). Unfortunately the perception has taken on the air of incontrovertible truth, again understandably, and I’m concerned we’re spending tens of millions in Edmonton without addressing the real problem, and real solutions.

As someone who’s life was saved by my helmet (not in traffic), I’m hesitant to put too much faith in safety lectures by those (Europeans) who, for the most part, refuse to wear one.

I like bike paths. I’d like to see more of them. But only if done right, and not if it means a real or perceived loss of cyclists right to the roads (ie: “get the hell out of our way paths”). Doing them right means, among other things, education as to the laws and best practices, and to potential dangers, for both drivers and cyclists. I can’t quote figures off the top of my head, but I know the vast majority of cycling deaths occur in intersections (including alleyways and driveways), and there are just as many on most bike paths. With the added dangers from drivers who are less aware the cyclist is there, and cyclists too often lulled into a false sense of security.

At some point all cyclists will have to ride on the road, and they need to know how to do it, safely. Some best practices are seemingly counter-intuitive, such as always riding as far right as possible – seems like a good idea, but it’s often a bad idea.

Riding on the street, now, is not only very safe if done right, but even mundane. There are certainly streets I avoid. But most are fine. The key is vehicular cycling, riding predictably, and obeying the rules of the road. That way we all know what to expect from each other and can ride/drive accordingly. Fundamental to that is knowing the rules, rights and responsibilities, and best practices.

Riding in crosswalks

More people visit this post than all others put together. I think it’s a search engine thing. Since people actually do visit looking for advice, I though it best if I updated and re-arranged for clarity (and to make myself look better). Less rant – more info.

Thanks to “G, on September 10, 2012 at 11:04 am” for pointing out my mistakes.

Riding in crosswalks

I was riding home, here in Edmonton, Canada. It was warm, sunny, and clear. A beautiful fall day, and a beautiful ride, mostly through parkland. On a day like that there’s no place better to be than Edmonton.

I have a fair commute, each way. While the ride may be awesome, especially on a nice day, I’m in as much of a hurry to get home as any commuter.

I’d just crossed the river, turned left off of the LRT bridge, and was riding west along the River Road path, I’m guessing around 6:30 pm. I approached the River Road crossing I use to connect the River Road path to the Victoria Park path that climbs out of the valley.

The yellow lights were flashing, All traffic had stopped to wait while a pedestrian and another cyclist crossed. I was right behind them. Looking good so far, for me anyway. I took a look, and turned to cross in the crosswalk, still mounted.

A guy in a van a couple of cars down in the line screamed at the other cyclist that he had to dismount in a crosswalk. I yelled back, “No, he doesn’t.” A couple “Yes, he does!”, “No, he doesn’t!”‘s back and forth, and he became incensed.

I slowed down and looked back (at this particular crossing you have to). He proceeded to turn right when the traffic moved and chase me, driving behind me with his head stuck out the window yelling at me. I pulled into the Royal Glenora parking lot and got the inevitable lecture, after which I told him what my impression of the law was.

He said he had the right to run me down if I was riding in the crosswalk, and charge me with any damages to his van. People like that scare me, not so much for his misinterpretation of a law that isn’t very clear, but for the fact he thought he’d have the right to hit someone.

Yikes!

He had a blinking yellow, was required to yield at any rate (*only because cars in front of him have stopped), and he’d have had to wait much longer if we’d dismounted and walked across. It was to his advantage that we rode across, but that wasn’t the point, for him.

Really, I wasn’t sure of the law, and this puzzled me for some time. I recall reading that cyclists aren’t required to dismount when riding through crosswalks (not referring to riding on the sidewalk, but where bike paths and multi-use paths cross a street on a crosswalk). I’ve never been able to find where I read it. Was the guy right?

Drivers are required to give right of way to pedestrians, but not to cycists riding their bike.

If you’re walking your bike, you’re a pedestrian, and have the right of way.

If you’re riding your bike in a crossing, you’re a vehicle, and are expected to cede the right of way to any crossing traffic, including motor vehicles, pedestrians, and even other cyclists.

*Yellow Flashing Lights are for pedestrians, and don’t afford cyclists the same legal, or actual, protection.

So I sent an email to the city, and they helped clear it up for me:

Good morning Jim,

Thank you for your e-mail of September 29 [2009]. Your current impression of the legalities regarding cycling in crosswalks is correct.

There is currently no section in the Edmonton Traffic Bylaw 5590 or the Alberta Traffic Safety Act specifically dealing with cyclists in crosswalks. Cyclists are not legally required to dismount at crosswalks and there is nothing to prohibit a cyclist from riding along a crosswalk.

In terms of the operations of a crosswalk, as stated in the Alberta TSA “Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation” Part 2, Division 4 (75): “A person driving a vehicle shall yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within the crosswalk.”

Therefore, as you had recognized, only if a cyclist dismounts and is therefore considered a pedestrian and not a vehicle by law, does he or she obtain the right-of-way over motorists.

If a cyclist chooses to ride his or her bike along the crosswalk, they are considered a vehicle. The crosswalk only serves to provide protection for pedestrians.

This does not excuse vehicles from exercising due care, but they are not legally obligated to yield to a cyclist who rides through a crosswalk.

From our perspective, we typically encourage cyclists to dismount, especially at busier intersections. We must address all cyclists and their varying levels of skill and comfort.

I hope this helps. If you need any more clarification or have further concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. Have a great day.

So, now we know.