Observations from not going on a public bike ride with a municipal candidate

So last night, Capital Ward candidate Christine McAllister was hosting a Capital Ward Bike Tour:

This seemed like an interesting event, and I commend candidates for getting out and doing new and different things with potential voters, so I decided I’d join in. I didn’t really have any interest in being instructed by CanBike people, but I was intrigued to see what McAllister did with this opportunity.

Alas, I was not allowed to participate. More on that later.

When this event was first announced a few weeks ago, I thought about the idea of a nice ward tour, and about how it is absolutely impossible to conduct. There is no safe, comfortable and legal way for me to get around my ward. If I wanted to ride proper infrastructure to get to the starting point (Immaculata High School), I’d actually have to bike up to Somerset Ward, across to Rideau-Vanier and then come back into Capital Ward.

(This is not an ideal scenario, and not the route I chose.)

I decided I’d take Pretoria Bridge and if the traffic wasn’t too bad and there wasn’t too much garbage in the bike lane, that’s what I’d take. So I rode down Fifth Avenue (which appears to maybe sometime be getting a bike lane…more on that in a later post), hooked up with the canal MUP and headed to Pretoria.

Traffic was ok, and the street looked recently-swept, so I took the bike lane. I noticed two other bicyclists up ahead of me, walking their bikes on the bridge sidewalk. They wore matching light blue t-shirts, so I figured they might be going to the bike tour.

The crossed Colonel By drive, and then it appeared one of them walked their bike on the sidewalk along Colonel By and one rode their bike on the sidewalk. I have no issue with them doing this. It’s a horrible, non-connection (I would ride my bike across the Pretoria Bridge sidewalk on the way home for similar reasons).

As they and others were crossing in the crosswalk, a car tried inching into the bike lane and the crosswalk to turn right, cutting me off (and again, don’t fucking drive your car at people). Due to physics and such, I was able to turn right first and get over into that really dumb left turn bike lane to the contraflow lane on Graham.

I guess that’s unnecessary conflict number one.

I took Graham to Main to use the “Complete Street” cycle track. That’s a dumb connection. There’s a sign that told me to keep right, but the cycletrack is on the left. Good work, guys.

As I was going down the cycletrack, I came across the first bus stop and the zig-zag paint on the cycletrack warning bicyclists about potential conflicts. But there were no buses nor people waiting, so there was no problem…and anyway, we all have to co-exist, so whatever, I’ll slow down for riders and let them get on the bus. It’s cool.

Then I looked to my left, there were four car lanes on the road. This is why Main is not really a Complete Street.

There could be a floating bus stop there, allowing bicyclists to go behind riders. There could actually be more than about eight and a half inches of space between the bike lane and the curb, giving riders more room as they get on and off the bus.

But no, we can’t value transit users or bicyclists, we need four fucking car lanes, instead.

I came upon the next bus stop, still no bus, but there was someone waiting for the bus. As I approached, they started walking to the curb (for no apparent reason, but, whatever). They stood there, then moved a little more into the bike lane.

I rang my bell. I rang it again. And again. And again. The person just walked further into the bike lane, still no bus and, anyway, there were looking the wrong way. So I had to actually call out to them to make them aware that I existed. Visibly startled, they moved out of the way.

Maybe, just maybe, all that space for cars could have been better used.

So I pull into the parking lot and see a group of bicyclists and start making my way over…and, yes, many of them were wearing those same blue t-shirts.

I had the chance to exchange about three sentences worth of pleasantries with the candidate, Christine McAllister, before a lycra-clad woman came over and asked me if I had a helmet at home I could go get.

The answer was no. I wasn’t going home to get a helmet and then coming back. I was told that I couldn’t participate; it was an insurance requirement.

I had wondered if I’d be helmet-shamed. CanBike is extremely pro-helmet. Their reputation among bicyclists is…mixed. I mean, their business model is based on people being scared to ride on public streets. I was concerned when I first heard that McAllister was signing up CanBike instructors; now it seemed she had turned the event over to CanBike.

I worry about what lessons were being learned. Was it all “wear your helmet and take the lane”, or was it, “so much of our infrastructure is shit and we need a council that does better”? This is what I was hoping would be answered, but, alas, I’ll never know.

I’m not particularly angry about this. It was inconvenient, but, again, whatever.

The issue of insurance is an interesting one. A number of organizations have helmet requirements for insurance purposes, but other organizations have people sign a waiver, instead. That’s still dumb as shit, but it’s not really a problem.

[Note to insurance companies: stop pulling this crap. Helmets offer no safety benefits for normal day-to-day biking and may actually endanger people. You don’t make people in a walking tour wear helmets, not do you require people in cars to wear helmets. You’re either being idiots or you’re just anti-bike.]

So, I wasn’t allowed to join in. McAllister apologized, earnestly, and I rode back home. I hadn’t learned what I’d hoped I’d learn, but I did learn something.

Now, to be clear, I don’t think this was a disqualifying issue for McAllister. I still think she’s a solid candidate, and I’m still considering her for my vote. No candidate is perfect and no candidate will run a flawless campaign…but, make no doubt, this was a flaw in her campaign. Flaws do add up.

So to other candidates, if you’re planning to have one of these events, be careful about who you invite to run them. CanBike is not a worthwhile organization to attach your campaign to, assuming you care about safe bicycling. And make sure that your events can properly include everyone. Other people may get more turned off by such incidences than me.

To Christine McAllister, it’s too bad that I didn’t get to be part of the bike tour. I’d still like to know what your plan is for creating safe streets in our ward. I guess I’ll just have to wait a little longer to find out.

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