Bikers flaunt laws with impunity and risk life and limb. I know . . . as I count myself among them. I am talking about bicycles of course.
Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act defines a vehicle as including a bicycle and a motorized vehicle. So some of the same rules apply. The size difference suggests a David and Goliath type of interaction, but the same biblical result rarely occurs.
Researchers study why cyclists tend to disregard traffic laws. Sometimes, cyclists pull through stoplights in order to get ahead of motor vehicle traffic. This perhaps provides a greater level of safety, but it tends to aggravate car drivers. Creating more bike lanes sometimes draws the scofflaws into a safer area and they are less inclined to break traffic laws. Canadian cities spend tens of millions of dollars developing extensive cycling networks.
I went on my first real cycling adventure just recently. I really mean that I followed my wife to work on a bike. I was telecommuting on my laptop one fine sunny June morning when she suggested we both could bike to her office. Now, bike commuting was the exact opposite of what I was trying to accomplish that day, but the suggestion was accompanied by the “it’s something we could do together.” The request was not a relationship issue, but I could accidently make it one.
She travels to work like this on a regular basis and she enjoys the opportunity. I admired her for being a commuting cyclist. She initially bristled at the term, so I explained that commuting demonstrates an admirable lifestyle choice.
I am more of a fair-weather, purpose-driven cyclist. I do like to go somewhere and come back again during times of great weather, low car densities and low risk of bone breakage. Cycling at the time of highest car density diminishes my keenness, but I eagerly agree this morning notwithstanding.
My wife commutes with all the mandated gear: helmet, mirror and a steely don’t-frack-with-me attitude. Her specialized commuter bike can handle various types of weather and pavement. Shocks and disc brakes are a must. The act requires that the rear brake be able to produce a skid and I used to do this all the time as a kid, but I haven’t tried it since.
The act does allow a rear flashing light and hers flashes at a frequency that motorists can find nausea inducing. Apparently, all is fair in love and commuting.
We set out first thing in the morning. We live on the edge of downtown on a forested street, but two blocks over, you are not in Kansas any longer. We quickly encounter hundreds of individuals commuting in steel-surrounded, leather-upholstered, supplemental restraint system-enclosed vehicles, benignly defined as “traffic.” My own car incorporates six air bags scattered across the interior. You don’t think of them until you don’t have them.
The act mandates that cars overtaking a bicycle shall, when practical, leave a distance of not less than one metre. I have seen the clever use of a pool noodle attached to a bike to suggest a non-offensive reminder to drivers.
We join the flow of dozens of other cyclists and at this point we also become “traffic” and “drivers” instead of riders. These other biking commuters must have been feeling virtuous, but I couldn’t tell from their appearance. No one looked particularly happy, but then again everyone is going to work.
My wife follows a specific route to her office along the various bike lines, times the lights and emanates that specific attitude previously mentioned, which should not be ignored.
While going down these bike lanes along a one-way street, I have a bit of an “oh, dear” type of moment. I know how to motor vehicle home from her place of business, but I have no idea how to safely bike back home. Apprehensively looking around, I search for a road to safety. Eventually, I see an adjacent road sign with a bike path. Knowing that I have a clear path home, I cycle further into the city’s heart of darkness.
You can easily discern professional commuters. Sensing their environment, they confidently enter the intersection after the light turns green. Their traffic awareness becomes their air bag and attitude becomes their car horn.
Finally arriving at my wife’s work, she pulls out two titanium locking systems for the frame and both wheels. Earlier that week, someone took the rear light and the handlebar grips. The light had a disco/strobe/stroke-inducing effect, and I could see someone taking that away. But the grips were not causing anyone harm.
We say our goodbyes, and I venture on in confidence. Turning from the “commuter” mode into a tourist mode, I enjoy the return home. I never cycled downtown before. I look around at the various city construction areas and watch the activity. The road construction delays no longer cause aggravation. I notice some of the smaller sitting parks and the people with their various brands of specialty coffee. The green space around the legislative buildings has a giant inuksuk that I never noticed before. Cars insulate you from all of this activity just outside your window as drivers focus on the road, their sound system and going around cyclists.
Back home, I return to my traditional tele non-commute. Later in the day, I go for a ride through the park with my road bike, away from downtown and avoiding traffic, even though apparently I am “traffic.” I appreciate fewer vehicles whizzing by me.
That evening, my wife returns from her commute. She asks about my day, and I tell her that I had a great day of commuting and the things I saw and experienced for the first time. We recently booked a Napa Valley cycling tour, and we endeavour to appreciate life more. But I am going to brush up on California traffic laws just to make sure.