Category Archives: cycling

Warm Out Today. Warm Out Yesterday. Gonna Be Warm Out Tomorrow.

I’ve been experimenting with different ways of getting to work. I’ve tried driving (took me 35 minutes), walking (30 minutes), taking the subway (20 minutes) and biking (15 minutes).

This morning I wanted to try something new, so I swam to work. You know, through this soup we Torontonians sometimes refer to as “air.”

Southwestern Ontario is seeing some of its highest temperatures ever recorded today, and last night was Toronto’s warmest evening on record. Add to that the deadly pollutants that make up smog, and we’ve got one thick, sticky, stinky situation on our hands. (Stephen Colbert has started referring to environmentalists as “airhuggers.” As in, crazy hippies who are so out of touch with reality that they think breathing air is important.)

Unfortunately, all this heat doesn’t appear to be a coincidence. The Earth is warmer than it’s been in 400 years or longer, and the science suggests that human activity is the cause.

One of the best ways we know of to heat this planet up as fast as possible is by using lots of energy on things like air conditioners. So, when it got hot today, of course the natural thing to do was crank the AC. People in my office building have been shivering all day, and during one meeting I noticed pronounced goose bumps on my arms — it’s genuinely cold. (That might have something to do with what the people who make the decisions are wearing.)

The result is, we’ve burned too much fuel, which is making it too hot in here, so we’re going to turn up our air conditioners, which necessitates burning even more fuel, which in turn will make it even hotter. And the circle of life goes on. (Never mind that a recent 40-year study showed air pollution deaths in Toronto outnumber deaths caused by extreme heat 8 to 1.)

Heat was the number one story on the radio this morning, with the IESO predicting we’d break another energy consumption record by 5pm today.

They were wrong — it only took us until noon. Ontario’s demand for power reached 26,331 megawatts, topping last July’s record 26,161 megawatts. Power consumption has continued to break records every hour since. The IESO is now predicting that we’ll hit 27,225 megawatts any minute now. Brownouts and blackouts are a serious possibility, though not as serious as the increased numbers of people who will show up at emergency rooms and/or die prematurely today because of smog-related respiratory problems.

What should the government do? For one, make energy prices reflect their real cost. The fact that my office is still too cold for comfort, even in the face of all this, is a pretty good indicator that energy prices are too low.

What can you do (besides turn stuff off)? I recommend making use of this handy vacation planning calendar.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go change into my swimsuit for the long swim home.

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Stolen Bike, Angry Boy

Claire’s and my bikes were stolen yesterday. They were locked together to the same ring-post with a cable lock, and a U-lock doubled up on Claire’s bike. We left them outside of the Toronto Reference Library for approximately three hours. The cable lock must have been cut, but the U-lock remained, attached to the ring-post and Claire’s bike’s abandoned quick-release wheel. (Learning #1: U-locks work better than cable locks, but shouldn’t be attached to things with the words “quick-release” in their name.)

I felt worse about Claire’s bike than mine. Aside from some money I’d just put into a tune-up and some new tires, my bike had more sentimental value than monetary (I’ve had it since I was 14 or younger). Claire’s was fancier and newer. I felt all the things people feel when they’ve been robbed, and had a hard time getting to sleep last night.

One particularly frustrating point is that the theft took place in daylight, in a high-traffic area, and would have been transparent to anyone in the area (picture 2 bikes being removed at once, bolt cutters, a wheel being left behind, someone either carrying a one-wheeled bike away or loading it into a vehicle).

But hey, let’s get past my emotions. Claire and I will get nice new bikes from craigslist (or, come to think of it, maybe somewhere else that’s less likely to sell us someone else’s stolen bikes). Instead, let’s look at some good ideas to cut-down on bike theft (aside from advanced locking techniques mentioned earlier).

One of the best ideas I’ve heard is to require bicycle shops that buy used bikes to record the identity of the seller, in the same way pawn shops do. This is relatively simple to implement, and would be both a deterrent to thieves and a tool for police.

And speaking of police, I know they’ve got a whole lot to do and that they’ll never be able to enforce all laws perfectly. But given the number of public complaints they receive about how they treat bike theft, I’d like to see it bumped up on their priorities list. Here’s one place they could free-up some resources. (As I write this I’m waiting for them to call back. They told me to keep the line free. That was over 2 hours ago.)

As for my pain and loss, maybe I’ll just resort to poetry.

Two Visions of the Future

Yesterday’s TTC strike serendipitously coincided with the opening of Toronto’s Bike Week. For the annual kick-off event, cyclists from across the city converged on Yonge and Bloor (conveniently close to where I live) for a “group commute” down Yonge St, then over to City Hall for a free pancake breakfast.

The group left the intersection of Yonge and Bloor around 8am; I got the time wrong and showed up at 8:20. As I began my trip, cars clogged the streets. I slowly weaved through near-gridlock as frustrated drivers leaned on their wheels. Taxi passengers watched meters tick on as people on the sidewalks passed them. Confused commuters waited at the corner for buses that weren’t coming. A friend of mine later told me that Bay Street was the same. This is Toronto without transit.

It only took a few minutes, however, to catch up with the group commute as they headed down Young street. Hundreds of bikes took up the whole right lane for as far as I could see. The cars were stuck behind me–a distant memory–leaving only cyclists and pedestrians. I came up to a friend of mine and we started chatting. Others were deeply engaged in conversations with strangers. Torontonians were enjoying their city, their public space. This is Toronto without cars.

At an event I attended today, Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume put it another way. “The greatest shame,” he said, “was that all of those people who filled the street were taken from subways, buses and streetcars instead of from cars.”

I’m not saying we should get rid of all cars (yet). It’s just that, for a moment, I saw Toronto without them. And it was a beautiful sight.

First Bike of the Year

It is with a healthy mixture of excitement and embarrassment that I announce that today was my first “bike to work” day of the year. Excitement because I love biking around Toronto; embarrassment because it took me this long to get my tires pumped and find the key to my bike lock.

This morning reminded me of what I discovered last summer: that despite all obstacles and barriers, and even when compared to the first way, another way, and the better way, biking really is the best way to get around the city. Unfortunately, it still needs to be even easier and safer before it will enjoy the mass-adoption we need it to.

Let’s be realistic. The population of Toronto is expected to grow by 1,000,000 over the next few years (and that doesn’t even include the number of Green Party voters I’m trying to trick into moving to my riding). Just try and picture a million more cars on the road. No? How about 500,000 more? Ok, try imagining cramming just 10 more people onto a Yonge Street subway at rush hour. Ain’t gonna happen.

I’m not saying there’s no room to improve TTC infrastructure, but I’m doubtful it will happen in time. As for automobiles, Queen Street isn’t going to get any wider. Cycling is a big part of this city’s future. And that’s good news, but we’ve got some work to do before we get there.