Thursday, October 7, 2010

CBC's Bike Story

The CBC's report on active transportation was supplied in large part by Bike to the Future who indicated that drivers are taking their anger out on bikes.

I see this as pushback to try and gain sympathy for the bike lobby. I certainly have concern for bikes who may have had close calls but I am less sympathetic to some in the bike lobby who were intimately involved in the planning of the pathways being constructed now. While some of the paths are safe and effective transportation routes, there are several that put bikes, pedestrians and drivers in conflict.

The CBC takes the angle that bikes have been the recipients of anger without looking into the anger some on bikes have to people in cars.

A few times over the years, I have had to drive down Wellington Crescent to pick-up or drop off someone who lived on the street on a Sunday. On a few occasions, I have been yelled at by people on bikes even though I was driving at a Sunday driver pace. It has been a number of years since I have had to drive someone on this route but I have heard more than once about aggressive cyclists confronting residents who are trying to get to their homes. On numerous occasions I have seen the barricades on Sunday placed over the entire road which I have been told is done by some cyclists to block all road traffic despite the signs that say local traffic of residents is allowed.

It is very belligerent behaviour on the part of some. CBC would do well to ask people who lived on the Wellington Crescent about what they have had to face since the 1970s.

It isn't like aggressive actions of bikes have not been recorded in Canada. Ontario's former Attorney-General was attacked and in terror for his life fled someone on a bike who was after him. That clash resulted in the cyclist being killed. All charges dropped against the former AG were dropped after witness accounts and video of the incident was reviewed.

There is no excuse for not giving bikes room on the street. However, the bike lobby should take responsibility for some of the conflicts that their involvement in the planning of these routes has caused. I don't know that it is possible to honestly say that the existence of white stripes on Winnipeg roads will provide a safe zone for bikes. They barely create safe zones for cars.

The safest routes for bikes to take are ones that are dedicated to bikes and pedestrians. This shouldn't be done by throwing residents, businesses and organizations like churches under the bus by taking away access to their homes, their parking or cutting their trees down.

My personal opinion remains that the conflict on Assiniboine Avenue could have been avoided if the city had looked more carefully at using the center median of Broadway Avenue. Likewise, I think in River Heights, the city could have used the center of Wellington Crescent or if residents approved, they could have converted the north sidewalk of Grosvenor Avenue to bike path and the south side to pedestrian path.

I don't know if there is a solution for Berry Street. However, when I look at the picture of the street:

I wonder if it was possible to do something different than shave off 1.5 metres of boulevard on each side of a narrow street? Was it possible to just make the sidewalks slightly larger and place stripes down to separate the pedestrians and bikes (they seem to co-exist most of the time along the Assiniboine Park routes). It certainly might have been an idea to bounce off residents.

The CBC should have looked a little bit farther than cyclists being victims of selfish or oblivious drivers. Much of the conflict now is because the main bike lobbies were driven to get their paths in without thinking of the consequences.

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bwalzer said...

There is a Winnipeg bike lobby now? When did this happen?

Anyway there are quite a number of obnoxious drivers found on Wellington Crescent on any given Sunday. In general if you drive more than a block you are one of them. From time to time the police have to hand out tickets to the worst offenders.

John Dobbin said...

Bike to the Future is one of the main lobby groups and one that active transportation consulted when putting up bike paths that threatened ended parking on Grosevnor including a church.

There are no restrictions on local drivers accessing their own homes or where they access their own street. Many people who are locals wish to enter and exit on streets that have traffic lights for obvious safety reasons. In many cases that entails driving to one of four intersections off of Academy.

The only tickets I have ever seen issued are for those who are not local residents using the street in contravention of the local exemption.

Some cyclists who have attacked people who are local residents somehow think the rules are no cars period. The signs on Wellington state "Share the Road" and "Local Traffic Only." They don't say "Locals Can Only Travel One Block" or "Local Cars Will Be Yelled At Regardless of What Route They Take To Get Home."

The Wellington Crescent case surely gives pause to people who live on a street that might be turned over one day in seven to bike traffic. It is not obnoxious to try to get to your own home using the best route possible for your road safety.

Now, having said all that... the bike route has been generally well received over the years but residents should never fear they will be attacked verbally nor have to navigate past barricades moved by cyclists to block local traffic.

The Great Canadian Talk Show said...

Our story about the history of the bike path on the Crescent

bwalzer said...

Bike to the Future is hardly a lobby group. They are a bike transportation special interest group. The only real lobby like activities I have ever heard of them engaging in are counting bike commuters to produce a case that stuff like Active Transportation is a good idea. That was all volunteer work. No one got paid. I doubt anyone from that group hangs around city hall on a regular basis...

At any rate the Active Transportation thing mostly comes from the political will of unaffiliated people such as myself who are tired of having to risk serious injury or death just trying to get from place to place. Any secret bike conspiracy is peripheral to that.

John Dobbin said...

@bwalzer: I think special interest group is the definition of lobby group. They are meeting with mayoral candidates specifically to lobby tomorrow.

I have no problems with the majority of cyclists or accommodating them when I am driving. I'd expect the same treatment if I was riding my bike.

However, I think that the present problems with bike active transportation is that the bike lobby was consulted and residents and other concerned users were not.

And how do we know this? Well, the email lists of the city indicate they informed bike people and not others.

I don't know that cyclists are made any safer by poor planning and I feel badly for just regular people on bikes who want to have good routes to travel on.

I hope you can get your safe bike routes but this doesn't appear to be happening.

@Great Canadian: Thanks. Good link. I love Wellington Crescent but the simple principle of share the road is not well understood. It means that local traffic is allowed and they should be ashamed of accessing their own homes.

bwalzer said...

Talking over concerns with a political candidate is not considered lobbying. Please refer to a dictionary for the accepted meaning of the word.

John Dobbin said...

@bwalzer: So Bikes to the Future is not advocating for anything in their meeting?

Colin said...

As a year round regular biker I can attest that there is plenty of blame to go around on the issue of appropriate behavior on the road, however I have to express what a hostile city this is to ride in. At least once every two weeks I get sworn at, honked at and told in very aggressive ways that I do not belong on the road. More than once otherwise nice generous people, parents of friends of my children, have recounted stories of how they like to swear at and scare cyclists, and this is after they find out I cycle daily. Civility and safety of cyclists is a joke to many drivers. I can't condone poor behavior by cyclists however I do understand the anger.
On your idea of using the center median on Broadway, it has several difficulties, most glaringly of all, drivers do not pay attention to 'unorthodox' crossings which would make every cross street a significant danger in which only cyclist will be engaged in ensuring safety. It is better to include cyclist in the regular driving patterns of the streets in planning because that is where drivers eyes already are, creating a new place for drivers to watch is a disaster waiting to happen.

John Dobbin said...

@Great Canadian: That should read "not ashamed of accessing their own homes."

@Colin: I have no doubt there is a lack of civility on the roads of Winnipeg. I have written about this before in this blog.

As far as Broadway goes, the median has been used as a transit corridor before. Streetcars used to run down it.

My thought is that the median route would have to be traffic light controlled just as each intersection is. Using similar strategies that buses use, the median light would go green first allowing bikes to clear the intersection prior to cars entering.

The Assinibone Avenue route being used now seems destined to forever create rage from people who now can't get deliveries, handi-transit vans, parking for their businesses or clear two way traffic.

bwalzer said...

OK whatever... How about in the future if you mean Bike to the Future you simply say Bike to the Future? The "bike lobby" thing thing came up on another blog recently and an entire list of different entities were suggested as possibly being part of this lobby. It would be helpful if the people using the term could at least define it in some meaningful way. I remain unconvinced that such a thing even exists.

John Dobbin said...

@bwalzer: I am simply stating what their organization is. Under provincial rules, they are registered as a lobby group. Any time they meet with a minister or staff, it is recorded as a meeting with a registered lobbyist group.

On the Bike to the Future site, they make note of the Free Press description of their organization: "Winnipeg cyclists were named "Most Effective Lobby Group" by the Winnipeg Free Press during the election."

It isn't just my opinion that Bike to the Future is a lobby group. The law says they are and they say so on their website.

I have nothing against lobby groups personally. My big problem is that there are always difficulties when the lobby groups have insider status in public policy.

bwalzer said...

@John Dobbin

OK, point conceded (again). If Bike to the Future thinks they are a lobby group then I guess they are. Note though that for the Active Transportation stuff they were approached by government to work with the committee (not the other way around). Thus no actual lobbying was done in the case we are discussing. If this arrangement lasts then we could say that they in effect are an appointed government committee. Sort of a group of volunteer bureaucrats. Such things are not uncommon.

The reason I do not like the term "lobby" is that there is a lot of negative emotional baggage attached. The assumption is that attempts are made by such a lobby to subvert the normal political process (as you have stated in your post). I do not agree that that has happened in this case. I could just as well start referring to opponents of Active Transportation initiatives as "axe murderers" in that they destroy the hopes of the citizens of Winnipeg to someday have a better city in the same way the AM destroys the hopes of their victims. It's really just a sort of metaphor right?

Pointlessly loaded and inaccurate turns to not lead to useful debate. If you have some proof that BttF (or any other group) is somehow involved in some dirty politics you should simply present it rather than implying such a thing in your use of terms.

bwalzer said...

Typo, sorry:

... inaccurate terms do not lead ...

John Dobbin said...

@bwalzer: I don't think I mentioned dirty politics.

I have said there is a problem when interest groups are consulted and then policy formed based on their interest.

It is the same difficulty we see in pharmaceutical companies being consulted by government on drug policy. It is sometimes not in the interest of the general public.

We have seen over the years what happens when policy is written sometimes verbatim from what an interest group wants. In terms of federal copyright legislation for Canada, it was like the Motion Picture Association had written the law. Not surprisingly, the legislation met stiff resistance from the public such as you and me.

Consultations on active transportation were too narrow and this is why there is conflict now.

bwalzer said...

@John Dobbin

You can hardly compare the lobbying efforts of pharmaceutical companies and the MPAA to local efforts to improve things for the bicycle/pedestrian set. They employ paid lobbyists that actively approach politicians with gifts, social events, campaign support and in some cases overt bribes.

I of course cannot prove that the sort of thing that a reasonable person would consider lobbying has never occurred. You can't prove a negative. I can however prove that the political will for the Active Transportation initiative mainly comes through the normal political process. Simply refer to the campaign literature from the last few civic elections (including this one). Improvements to alternative transportation are a commonly seen campaign promise. Implying that the Active Transportation thing is somehow the result of some sort of shadowy conspiracy is simply dishonest.

I really don't have any more arguments I can make. I am done here.

John Dobbin said...

@bwalzer: The comparisons comes from the fact that Motion Picture and pharmaceutical people were approached by government just as people from bike interest groups were to craft a policy.

Once again I refer to the Bike to the Future wesbsite that says they were instrumental in the planning process.

I had made no references to shadowy conspiracies. I have simply said that bike interests were called upon and helped in the planning process. That proved to be too problematic since the interests of others were not informed or consulted along the way.

The federal government gave the city $20 million and city officials turned to the bike groups for advice on how to quickly spend the money before the deadline. This has been well documented. The was where the process ran into problems as we see now.