Presto has been in the news quite a bit lately. I had a cranky-making experience with being unexpectedly out of tokens on a cold night and having the fancy Spadina streetcar-platform machine refuse to sell me one unless I had exact change (the machines CAN take Interac or Visa, but don’t — the option is greyed out), so I decided to be a sheep and try Presto. Hey, maybe it’s great! Baaa!
Well, no. Not so far, anyway.
I had to order a card online and register it in a rather protracted 4-step signup process. You have to create a whole account and there are separate passwords for the card and the account. I thought I’d get one for my kid too, but it seems that you can’t order more than one card at a time. Perhaps I missed the option; the interface is not exactly user-friendly.
Eight days later, the card arrived in the mail. You can’t set up auto-reload — which is really the key feature; never running out of fares because the card knows when it’s low on funds and magically grabs more from your bank account — until you activate it. But activation is a 2-step process: first you need to go online and enter a 17-digit number. Then you have to use the card, i.e. find a subway staton that has a Presto terminal and use it to pay for that trip. The terminal at St Patrick was broken, so I had to walk up to Queen’s Park to do this.
THEN you have to wait 24 hours until you can go online and set up auto-reload or do anything else to it. The auto-reload system makes you enter dollars and cents but can’t actually handle amounts other than full dollars — when I tried to enter $8.50, it barfed.
You can go online and check your balance, but this isn’t real-time either. The system only updates once a day so you’re always looking at yesterday’s data.
You can add more cards to your account if the cards are already registered; apparently their owners also still have them on their accounts and can log in and mess around with them too, so what a mess if you’re trying to keep your accounting straight. Oh, and the card expires in five years (why?).
If I still want a card for my kid, I get to go through all this rigmarole all over again, with the addition of annual in-person trips to Davisville to have the “concession” student fare applied to her card.
This is not the 21st century I signed up for. This is complete nonsense and is not a significant improvement over the current metal-trinkets-and-bits-of-paper system. I have no idea why we aren’t just buying some sensible transit-card system from someplace that’s figured it out — there are plenty to choose from.
Results There were 116 reports of death or injury of pedestrians wearing headphones. The majority of victims were male (68%) and under the age of 30 (67%). The majority of vehicles involved in the crashes were trains (55%), and 89% of cases occurred in urban counties. 74% of case reports stated that the victim was wearing headphones at the time of the crash. Many cases (29%) mentioned that a warning was sounded before the crash.
This sounds a bit confused — were there 116 incidents, or 74% of 116? One wonders. Either way, 116 over seven years (16.6 fatalities a year) doesn’t seem like a lot to get excited about, given that the USA has over 30,000 fatalities annually from car crashes (did they have their car stereos on? Perhaps it’s the music that’s at fault).
One also wonders, if I count as “one”, why the headphones are being blamed here. Being a pedestrian is not in itself inherently dangerous. It’s hard to kill yourself just walking around; it’s the large vehicles with which one may suddenly come into contact that are the danger here. As a pedestrian walking around at 6km/h, I am not dangerous. A motor vehicle comprising a bunch of metal traveling at 50km/h or more is dangerous.
A train is also dangerous. If 55% of these crashes involved trains, mostly in urban areas, why is the focus not on decreasing pedestrian access to train tracks? And since when is 29% — where “a warning was sounded” — “many”?
This sort of blame-the-victim writing really ticks me off.
I finally got my Bixi key last Wednesday, hurray! But I had to wait with tappy-footed impatience to try it out since I wasn’t downtown until today. I’ve been looking forward to its launch, as my own bike has been languishing due to the need to take the subway to get M to school and home again (there’s really no kid-safe bike route between our house and her school, and anyway 6km each direction is probably a bit far for a kid’s commute). It’s almost another 3km to my office. I often walk at least one direction, but being able to bike is a nice (and faster) option.
For the uninitiated, Bixi is a bike-sharing service. You pick up a bike at whatever station you like and return it to whatever station you like (the same station or a totally different one). You can pay by the day ($5), 72 hours ($12), month ($40), or year ($95). Trips of less than half an hour are included in those prices; trips longer than that cost extra. Since at the moment it’s a downtown-only service, however, it’s mighty hard to exceed thirty minutes unless, I don’t know, you ride around in circles for a while or something.
There’s a Bixi station just by M’s school, with ten or so bikes. So I stuck my key in the lock to get the station to release a bike, adjusted the seat height (they have convenient numbered markings), clamped my purse in the front basket, put on my helmet and off I wobbled. I got the feel of the bike within a few blocks and stopped wobbling — they’re just very different from my own bike!
Heavy but stable – these things feel solid. Tanklike, almost. No light breeze will push you off-course on one of these things. It takes some effort to drive them. I wouldn’t want to, say, put it on my back to go up the Casa Loma stairs or anything. On the other hand, they’re very stable, not twitchy or fussy or unpredictable at all. Solid. Once they get going they have some decent momentum. I hope they’ll be easy to maintain.
Very upright – they’re cruisers, definitely. I found myself sailing along in an almost perfect standing position, like Mary Poppins on her carousel horse. This is so entertaining I don’t think you could help but be in a good mood while riding one. Also, it gives you excellent visibility.
3 speeds, none particularly fast – if you’re used to zooming along at near-traffic speed, well, forget it. These are not fast bikes; sit back (stand back? One barely sits) and enjoy the ride. They have three speeds controlled by gripshifters — the lowest will probably get you up most big hills, the middle will get you started at stoplights, and the highest will carry you along at a reasonable but by no means speedy clip. I found myself wishing for a fourth gear. Because of the weight of the bike, though, I found I did work up a bit of a sweat as I sailed along. These bikes are not going to win anyone any races, although a race of Bixi bikes would be very entertaining to watch. A bunch of sweaty upright folks working to exceed 20km/h…
Soft brakes – you can’t stop in a hurry. It takes a bit of time. Not that you’re going very fast. There’s no possible way to flip yourself over the handlebars by braking too hard (my specialty!) on one of these puppies. Still, I pity the pedestrian who steps off the curb without looking and gets nailed… the weight of the bike combined with the inability to stop on a dime is going to hurt.
Step through frame and chain guard – clearly these are bikes made for riding in whatever clothes you happen to be wearing. Smart. It’s nice not to have to carry a pants clip.
No clips on the pedals – this was the biggest adjustment for me. I am, apparently, very used to my clips. I had a couple of false starts where my attempt to raise the pedal by lifting my foot left me looking pretty goofy. I’d kind of forgotten about having to push off the ground to start! By my second trip I’d more-or-less got the hang of it, but my first few stoplights were probably pretty funny for onlookers.
Overall: I was thoroughly amused, got to where I was going in less time than it would’ve taken to take the subway, and can recommend it fully. Let’s hope they’re successful enough to expand the service area!
Happily, it’s easy to avoid, isn’t it? Just never ever allow your cycling self to be between the front and rear wheels of a large vehicle at or near an intersection. Simple. It’s not like you won’t notice they’re coming; those things make a ton of noise. So get out of their way. Don’t pull up on their right. If they’re behind you, take the lane so they can’t pull up on your left. Give them some space. Done.
I mention this because I think we need to remember what the primary danger is when cycling.
Is it the act of cycling itself? No. It’s pretty darn hard to kill yourself on a bike. If you try very hard and if you don’t wear a helmet you might manage it, but generally a fall won’t kill you.
On the other hand, on one discussion board I’m on, just this past weekend two participants were involved in serious car crashes. Luckily they’re (mostly) fine, but it’s not that hard to kill yourself in or with a car. People do it all the time. In fact it’s one of the most popular ways to die if you’re under 45 or so.
Think: how many people do you know, even very slightly, who have died in car crashes? I’m betting it’s a nonzero number. Someone from your high school class? A colleague? A friend of a friend? All of the above?
As a society we’ve somehow normalized a very substantial death rate due to motor vehicles and made it acceptable, just like we’re not especially fussed about the thousands of people who die each year of seasonal flu. Somehow we manage to delude ourselves into thinking that it all happens to other people when demonstrably it does not. We do the opposite when we think about cycling: we’re sure some jerk in an SUV will kill us, when in fact it’s wildly unlikely. As a society we completely suck at understanding risk.
Anyway, my point is that it’s not the bike that’s the danger here. And my other point is that as a cyclist even with millions of cars around it’s pretty hard to be killed in city traffic unless you do something foolish around the rear wheels of a very large vehicle.
So, bike commuting. It’s not as dangerous as you think. It’s often faster than either a car or the TTC, it’s definitely better exercise, and it’s probably more fun. Give it a try!
If you’re uncomfortable riding on your own, get someone experienced to ride with you the first few times if you like, but make sure they’re not Asshole Cyclists of the stop-sign-running, wrong-way-on-a-one-way-street-riding, weaving-in-and-out-of-traffic kind because the last thing Toronto needs is more of those jerks. Ask if they’ve taken a Can-Bike course, and book yourself into one. They’re good and they’ll give you both experience and confidence riding in traffic.
Aside from a bike, there’s other stuff that makes your riding life more pleasant. Here’s my list, but (as with baby supplies) what some people find absolutely necessary others find useless, so consider it just a starting point.
Well, except for a helmet. That’s not really optional if you prefer your brains on the inside of your head. Helmets are hot and mostly ugly but if you fall they reduce your chance of a head injury by (estimates vary) 63-88%. After the Ontario law requiring children to wear helmets came in, cycling deaths in that age group dropped by half. Sure, you might ride carefully and slowly but you never know what other people are going to do so best to wear the darn helmet.
Helmets have become both more comfortable and much cheaper in the past fifteen years, so it ought to be possible to find yourself something that fits you and doesn’t feel like your head is in a packing crate for a reasonable sum. If you have a micro-noggin like mine, go for a Giro. Otherwise you have a broad range of choices.
Don’t wear it on the back of your head; the front edge belongs two fingers above your eyes. This is so the helmet can protect your forehead. Frontal lobes are good things so you probably want to protect them.
Kind of like a helmet for your hands. You hardly need bike gloves for comfort over a typical commuting distance, but if you fall they’ll save the skin on your hands. I spend a lot of time typing for a living so I find this important. I buy very cheap gloves, since I’m not riding hundreds of km at a time and thus do not care about gel inserts and whatnot. I toss them in the washing machine every week (in a mesh bag) and dry them on the ends of my handlebars, so they don’t last forever but nor do they get really smelly.
For colder weather you can get a lobster-claw type of mitten-glove hybrid which is warmer than normal gloves but which still lets you brake and shift easily.
I like to carry both a U-lock and a cable. Neither are top-of-the-line, but my theory is that if some evil bike thief sees two locks on my bike and one on the one next to it, mine is more likely to be the one that’s still there when I come out of the office at the end of the day.
If you can park your bike inside, do so.
3. Rack and pannier
A rear rack is pretty cheap and so is a low-end pannier or basket. If you have a rack and pannier (or two) you don’t have to carry your stuff in a backpack, which can be really sweaty. Those black wire baskets that attach to rear racks are cheap, permanently attached and foldable, so they’re a reasonable choice. Also, they hold a 12 of beer.
4. Water bottle cage and water bottle
It’s nice to be able to have a drink at red lights.
The law in Ontario says you have to have a front light and a rear light or reflector. This makes little sense. Unless you’re doing something deeply inadvisable, a front light isn’t all that helpful in a well-lit city setting. You can generally see where you’re going thanks to streetlights, and you can also see anyone coming toward you. A rear light lets people see you as they come up behind you in the dark, though, and THAT is important. So get both front and rear lights. There are lots of good, cheap LED options now, and it makes a HUGE difference in your visibility.
The law in Ontario calls for a bell, horn or gong. There’s a sad, sad lack of bike gongs out there.
A bell is nicer than a horn because you can ding lightly and politely to announce your presence without startling the heck out of someone.
7. Light-coloured cycling jacket with reflective stripe
If you’re riding at night this is a good idea. Never mind that it looks dorky.
8. Padded shorts
Again with the dork factor. I like my lady bits to stay unbruised, however, and I find my 10k commute is long enough for some serious discomfort if I don’t wear the shorts. If you have a reasonably short commute (or more durable bits) you might not need these.
I just wear any old t-shirt. Some people like those bike jersey things but they’re all made of polyester and they all seem to have pockets right in the sweatiest part of the small of your back. Bleah.
9. Bike computer
For data geeks. It’ll tell you how fast you’re going, your trip distance, and all that kind of stuff. Mine’s a really cheap one but I like having an odometer. It’s fun and motivating to watch it tick up and up.
10. Repair kit
This doesn’t have to carry anything major, just enough to fix a flat or otherwise get you home. Anything more serious than a flat and you’re going to want a bike shop, or at least somewhere that’s not the side of the road. My kit includes a tiny pump, a spare tire tube, some tire irons, two quarters (so I can use the air machine at a gas station), a subway token in case things REALLY break, a couple of wet wipes, and a really clever little carbon dioxide tire inflater device that’s like a teeny scuba tank full of compressed air. It’s the size of my thumb and it holds enough air to fill one of my tires very well in three seconds with zero effort. I highly recommend them.
The whole kit probably sounds huge but in reality it’s about half the size of a kleenex box. The tube is the biggest space hog.
A patch kit would be smaller than a tube and probably more environmentally friendly but in practice I never patch punctured tubes. It takes ages and it’s messy and unreliable, at least when I do it. I find it’s easier to just chuck a new tube on there, deploy the CO2 inflator and get back on the road.
There’s zero point darting in and out of car traffic to try and get one or two cars ahead. Day after day I see people do this and you know? There they are stressing themselves out with this bizarre unsafe gotta-pass-everyone stuff while I hang back and wait ten seconds for dude in the car to make his right turn or for the light to turn green or whatever, and yet I get to where I’m going at exactly the same time as they do. Plus I feel more relaxed and have time to look around a bit. It’s not a competition.
If you’re just starting out, don’t worry too much about what bike you get. It won’t be the one you ultimately find you want. Take a few bikes for test rides — any good shop will let you test ride — and then get something that fits (get the shop to fit and adjust it properly for you), that you like right now, and that isn’t too expensive. In a year or two you can trade it in once you’ve figured out what style and features REALLY appeal to your needs. In the meantime grab something and go!
On my ride home the other day I ended up stopped at a red light. There was a streetcar right next to me so when he honked I looked up to see if I was the target of the honk. But no, he was looking at another streetcar on the other side of the red light.
Streetcar 1: Honk!
Streetcar 2: Honk!
Streetcar 1: Ding!
Streetcar 2: Ding!
Streetcar 1: Ding de ding ding!
Streetcar 2: Ding de ding ding!
Streetcar 1: Honk honk Ding de ding ding!
Streetcar 2: Honk honk Ding de ding ding!
Streetcar 1: Ding de ding ding honk honk ding de ding ding!
Streetcar 2: Driver extends his arm out his window, holding a small device. He pushes a button and: Doot diddly oot doot, doot diddly oot doot, doot diddly oot doot, doot! He raises his arms in a pose of total victory.
The light changes. Streetcar driver 1 drives away in icy dignity.
She chose the red one over the white-and-pink one. I hold out hope that perhaps the pink phase might be nearing its end.
Of course, finding a bell that matched the bike’s frame colour was THE most important thing.
We spent some time practicing starts and stops at the school track. She had one swervy sort of crash in which she kind of forgot to steer while trying to shift and brake simultaneously, but she still managed to avoid hitting the major obstacles — Dad, wall, bench — and nothing got hurt but her pride. We dusted her off and reassured her yet again that everybody falls down sometimes and made her get right back on, and of course two minutes later she was just fine.
Zoom! And many thanks to all the grandparents whose birthday and Christmas generosity gave M such a nice present.
Important pedestrian safety issues have emerged with the advent of hybrid and electric vehicles. These vehicles are relatively quiet—they do not emit the sounds pedestrians and bicyclists are accustomed to hearing as a vehicle approaches them on the street or at an intersection. In a recent study, human factors/ergonomics researchers examined participants’ preferences for sounds that could be added to quiet vehicles to make them easier to detect.
They’re not even seeing the problem clearly. The problem here is that most cars are insanely loud, not that a very few of them are quiet. The problem is that those of us in cities have to put up with increasing levels of noise pollution. The problem is that drivers of cars (loud or quiet) don’t watch properly for pedestrians and cyclists, nor are they much good at sharing the road with them — or even recognizing that anything other than a car has any right to use our publicly-funded roads (but that’s another rant for another time).
Deliberately add noise and that compensatory human response to safety measures will kick in: my car makes a special noise, so it’s other people’s problem to get out of my way (cf. the beeping noises of trucks backing up — truck drivers never seem to bother checking behind them anymore, assuming the wretched beeps do the job).
The answer is not “make the cars louder”. It is to teach people this: if you’re silent, whether it be as a pedestrian, a cyclist, or the driver of a blessedly quiet hybrid car, pay attention. Assume you’re invisible, or assume the guy trying to cross the road in front of you is blind, or (even better) assume both of those things. You’re not a guided missile aiming for your home or your office, you’re part of the grand dance that is traffic. Try to keep in time and try not to step on people’s toes.
Actually, I’d like the folks using non-silent modes of transport to think that way too.
Falconer talks about the history of automobiles, Detroit then and now, car culture, the quirks of traffic, urban sprawl, and much more, all structured around a long road trip of his own. Somehow he manages to treat all the various viewpoints with great sympathy and doesn’t shy away from that word complicated in the title.
His topics range from the expected:
Most people equate automobiles with freedom, and the more they have, the greater the independence, but the executive director of DU’s Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute doesn’t see it that way. “Owning three cars is enslavement,” he told me, citing all the time and money needed to maintain vehicles. “If we walk or bike, we can be free. That, in fact, is more freedom than being forced to buy three cars.” (p.211)
to thought-provoking side-effects of urban sprawl:
it dawned on me that sprawl encourages impaired driving. People heading out for a night on the town, or even a dinner that includes a bottle of wine, don’t want to take a cab because they can’t flag one at the end of the night — and they have to travel so far they couldn’t afford the fare anyway. So they drink and drive. (p. 141)
In an appendix it contains an amusing playlist of car tunes, which is really an indispensable part of any road trip. Nicely done.
My colleagues and I settled into our VIA trip yesterday. The snack cart went by, then the conductor came by to collect our tickets, perhaps 30 minutes out of Windsor. Just as the conductor was returning our ticket stubs his radio squawked: “Uh, we just hit something, over”. “OK” responds the conductor tersely, disappears. The train stops. Hm, I think, maybe I misheard that. I am constructing hopeful mental scenarios involving fallen branches on the tracks or maybe a stray dog.
We’re sitting in some fairly picturesque bit of landscape — Lake St. Clair on our left, some pretty cottages on the shore, some nicely-kept bungalows on the right, sun on fresh snow.
We sit there for a while, then there’s an announcement that there’s “been a serious incident with a pedestrian”. We could be delayed up to three hours. I’m not paying much attention up to that point; too busy fighting with the very spotty onboard wireless Internet to do a bit of work which nobody who was actually in the office that day was available to do. But “pedestrian” definitely catches my attention.
People in reflective vests check the outside of the train on both sides, front to back.
The Windsor Star shows up.
We sit there and sit there. The conductor wanders back in and the women sitting across from us ask if the “pedestrian” is OK. Don’t know, he says. Still alive? Don’t know.
Our student nurse wonders if she should’ve offered her help, and wonders how she would respond in a real emergency situation. We chat about that for a while: I say that I’m sure she’d be just fine, that in my experience you step up and do what’s necessary at the time, then once it’s over and you have time to sit down and actually process it a bit, the shakes and the panic start. I mention that after one spinal rescue I helped with at camp that all of our hands were shaking too badly to open a packet of coffee grounds (why we felt stimulants would help I have no idea, but we did) and we had to go find someone else to make the coffee for us. I also recall — but do not mention — being pulled out of lunch once to look for someone’s big toe after he did something foolish with a lawnmower, eventually concluding it had been more destroyed than severed, helping one fierce Scottish camp nurse talk the other rather wimpier camp nurse into giving him a decent whack of painkillers (“I’ll just give him a bit.” “No! It’s an hour to the hospital! Give him as much as you’d want for yourself!”), packing him and his mangled shoe full of blood (and, we hope, what’s left of his toe, but we’re SO not looking) into a car to the hospital, and then the deep strangeness of heading back to lunch. I don’t recall whether I ate anything else. I bet not.
It feels discordant to be sitting there looking out at the sun shining on the pretty lake.
Eventually it’s announced that in order to move again we need two new engineers and “clearance from the Coroner’s office”. Well, that answers that question, then. How are the engineers doing, we ask. Shaken up, says the conductor.
VIA announces that snacks are free for the rest of the trip and we all get a travel credit worth half the value of our tickets for the inconvenience of the delay, even though it’s not the slightest bit their fault. We compare this to Air Canada’s typical screw-you response to delays. More discordance as we munch free chocolate bars and debate whether we should risk the stinky train bathroom or whether our bladders might hold out until Union Station. No luck there. We risk the loo. The onboard Internet connection gets less spotty for a while and I finally get the unavoidable bit of work done.
More people in uniforms walk up and down the sides of the train.
After two hours the Coroner concludes there was no evidence it was an accident. Someone deliberately stepped in front of the train, it seems. Of course since it was deemed a suicide there is no news coverage.
I wonder if people who decide to step in front of trains recognize that there are real people driving them who’ll feel responsible for their deaths, or whether they just focus on the train itself as a source of oblivion?
I always end up reading Outside magazine on airplanes. I compulsively buy it in airports. Is it just because airport newsstands have a terrible selection, forcing me to choose between Maxim and Today’s Bride before I finally spy Outside hiding behind a pillar? Maybe.
There I am jammed tightly in a tin can with a few hundred other people, breathing recirculated air, trying to keep the seat from doing permanent damage to my tailbone, and I choose to read about Everest base camp, $9500 custom bike frames, the best rivers for whitewater, and how to remove a tick from one’s boy parts*? It’s a peculiar form of masochism, like reading Gourmet while sitting in a leaky tent in the middle of a rainstorm, eating cold corn straight from the can. One might think it would work as an escape fantasy but it doesn’t — it just serves to magnify the unpleasantness of one’s current situation.
Outside is a frustrating magazine, big on swagger and the marketing of absurdly expensive gear that nobody really needs. It’s also big on large, shiny photos of hot blond boys (very few women, despite an obvious hetero-male target audience) flinging themselves and the aforementioned gear through various bits of wilderness. But once in every few issues there’s somebrilliantlongpiece that often later gets turned into a book. So I suppose that’s my story: I Buy It For the Articles.
The articles are mostly about people vanishing, perishing, or bashing themselves up in novel ways, such as travelling economy class on Air Canada.
A study done in London compared cellphone use and seatbelt use for normal cars and 4-wheel-drive behemoths. The results will surprise noone:
Results Drivers of four wheel drive vehicles were more likely than drivers of other cars to be seen using hand held mobile phones (8.2% v 2.0%) and not complying with the law on seat belts (19.5% v 15.0%).
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