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A bicycle revolution April 22, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, consumer, energy, environment, journey, learn, life, world.
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carlton street 2
Originally uploaded by Seeing Is

I rode my bike to work today. Not because it’s Earth Day, but because I have a class tonight and riding will get me home and to a late supper a lot faster than walking. But since it is Earth Day today, it’s a good time to think about the cost of commuting.

I’m fortunate enough to live only a 20-minute walk from work. I live and work downtown, within a few minutes of the Don Valley and only a short bike ride from Lake Ontario. I own a car, but I usually save it for out-of-town trips. Besides, parking is expensive!

One thing I’ve noticed, as a pedestrian and occasional cyclist (and even less frequent driver), is that cars in the city are most times at a disadvantage. Traffic — and drivers — get snarly during rush hour, and a driver can sit at an intersection waiting for three lights to change before being able to turn left (I’ve been in that situation, knowing full well I could have walked home in the time I took to turn one corner!). Cars double-park or stop in bicycle lanes because there’s no convenient parking spots left near the Tim Hortons. And then there are the risks of bad drivers, taxis doing sudden u-turns, pedestrians dashing across four lanes right in front of you, cyclists weaving through stopped cars and barrelling the wrong way down a one-way street…

But while I’ve had quite a few scares — and a lot of stress — as a driver, my only accidents (except one as a new driver) have been as a cyclist. I’ll tell you briefly about these two incidents, because I learned something important on each occasion.

1. Head-on: About 15 years ago, I had a head-on collision with a car. Literally. I was on my bicycle, turning left with the traffic, but the car which turned with me was a lot faster, and I found myself in the middle of the intersection in the path of an oncoming car. I don’t remember the collision itself, but I know that I managed to twist sideways on my bike and hit the car windshield with the back of my head. Yes, I was wearing a helmet; it saved my life, or at least saved me from serious head injuries. The car windshield was shattered, my body left a large dent on the car hood, my bicycle was twisted, and I was knocked unconscious. But I walked away from the hospital with only a few bad bruises. Lesson: wear a helmet!

2. Face first: The second incident happened last fall. I was leaving a class, in a hurry to get home, and started pedalling quite energetically. I was crossing the street in front of the school and turning to go left when my front bicycle tire slipped into a streetcar track. The next thing I knew, my face was on the pavement, my glasses were a few feet away, and my first thought was, “oh no, not again!” Fortunately, there were no cars coming, and several people came to help me right away, including a doctor who asked someone to fetch ice for me. My helmet didn’t help me this time (because I fell face forward), but I still managed to walk away with some bad bruises and some dizziness that disappeared after a month. Lesson: don’t be in a hurry!

hitching posts

This past Sunday was the first time I had been on my bike since that incident, and I have to say that I felt no hesitation. I love the feeling of gliding on my bicycle, not being caught in rush-hour traffic, not having to pay for parking. And I really like the way bicycling is for people of all ages, that I can ride my bike even when my body gets old and creaky!

And when I read about other cities where bicycling has become part of the transportation grid, about the way commuting by bike is part of the culture in places like Holland and Denmark, I feel like I’m part of a revolution. And this revolution is good for our planet. Happy Earth Day!

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Related Links:
Commute By Bike blog — check out the Gas Savings Calculator
11 Most Bike-Friendly Cities in the World
New York Times: “In Portland, Cultivating a Culture of Two Wheels”

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Comments»

1. lavenderbay - April 22, 2008

It sounds as though your head is like a number of other good things: if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it! 🙂

2. eyegillian - April 22, 2008

Yes, you’re right about that, lavenderbay — I definitely want to keep a head on my shoulders!

3. jamilynnfitz - April 22, 2008

Loved this article. I found it informative, fun to read, and not preachy.

4. eyegillian - April 22, 2008

Thanks for your comment, jamilynnfitz. Keep on biking!

5. Jeff - April 23, 2008

Hi. Please join the Bicycle to Work! LinkedIn networking group. Members pledge that they will try to ride their bicycle to work or on an errand at least once a week. Although the benefits should be obvious, let me outline them here.
Right now people in the industrialized world are facing two very grave problems: obesity and a growing scarcity of oil. Compounding this problem is the new food shortage brought about, in part, by the conversion of food cropland to bio-fuel crop production. Most people feel powerless to help, but there is one thing that we can do. Ride our bicycles to work.
If everyone would agree to ride their bikes to work one day per week we could cut oil consumption by as much as 10-15%. No one would argue that riding a bike burns more calories than driving the car. Although popular politically right now, most bio-fuels consume more energy than they produce. We would be much better to eat those bio-crops then use our own energy to transport us around.
So spread the word. Make it a movement! Bicycle to work one day a week and do your part to cut back obesity and the overuse of oil and precious cropland.
Just go to my profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffreylstevenson and you can click on the group to be included. While you are there, don’t forget to ask to link to my network of more than 7,000.000 like-minded professionals. I accept all invitations and look forward to meeting you.
Jeff

6. goodbear - April 23, 2008

e.g. it is so crazy that you posted this yesterday….when i happened to have my very first accident. (don’t worry ….it wasn’t bad)

i was t-boned by an 8 year old. i saw her coming at me, but unless my bike had a reverse gear, there was no way to get away, i was going SO SLOWLY and had just rounded the corner and she was on the wrong side of the road and couldn’t stop. she rode right into me and i went down right onto the grass at the curb.
SHE WAS SO LUCKY I WASN’T A CAR. she would have been dead. she had training wheels on and no parents in sight. actually, they may have been near by, but were too busy laughing at me to come tell their daughter not to ride on the wrong side of the street.

i keep thinking about how horrible it would have been if i was in my car and not on my little 2-speed bike!

7. eyegillian - April 23, 2008

Thanks for the invite, Jeff. LinkedIn is a cool place, and I’ll check out the Bicycle to Work group… sounds like fun!

And, wow, goodbear — that’s crazy! I’m glad that neither you nor the careless 8-year-old were hurt, but that must have been really scary for both of you. I don’t understand how anyone would have been laughing. I hope you said something very stern to the young cyclist.

As I write this, I’m reminded of an incident from my early cycling years when I crossed the road on my bike right in front of a car. The driver squealed to a stop and was obviously quite frightened for both of us — he got right out and lectured me. And there I was at the foot of our (long) driveway, and all I could think was what if my mother looked out the window and saw me. When I slunk indoors, my mother asked, “what was that?” so I know she heard the squeal of the car tires when the driver slammed on the brakes. I said, in typical adolescent fashion, “nothing” and she let it drop. But I was obviously scared enough from the near-accident to be more careful from then on!

8. Rafael - July 18, 2008

wow, I started riding my bicycle a couple of months ago and I’m loving it. Thankfully I have not had any accidents… either I’m lucky or safe. I would hate to get into an accident with a car… must not be fun. But I agree with you about all the benefits of bicycling… such a great feeling of coasting down a hill… (not so great when it’s uphill but at least I’m burning calories) 🙂

9. eyegillian - July 19, 2008

Thanks for your comment, Rafael — it’s great to hear from someone who is just getting into cycling! I must admit I’ve been more cautious lately, which mostly means not riding as fast, not competing to race the traffic and hit the next light before it turns red. It used to bother me when other cyclists zoomed past, but no more. Stay safe!


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