All posts by Mike Boos

Mike is a new homeowner and father, who walks, bikes, buses, and drives his son around Kitchener.

Pulses, Headways, and Hubs

I live on Queen Street, about a 10 minute walk from Charles Street terminal. It’s a 3 minute bus ride though, and the stop outside my building is served by four different routes coming in and out of the terminal. In theory, based on the number of buses passing through each hour, you would expect an average wait of 3.5 minutes (up to 7 minutes) making the bus competitive with walking if I’m in a hurry or the weather is poor.

However, this is not the case. You can often see two or three buses coming one after another down Queen, which means there are up to 16 minutes of no scheduled service at times. We should expect 6.5 minutes of delay based on the number of buses, making taking the bus marginally faster on average. But because of the variations in bus headways, it takes almost twice as long as walking at worst. I can’t simply step out my door and know whether walking or taking the bus at any given time would be faster. Clearly, the bus schedule is not very optimal for wait times near my home. If the departure times between buses travelling to Charles Street were equally spaced, rather than all arriving at once, the bus network could be made more efficient and predictable, for the same amount of service and expense. (more…)

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Focus on helmets ignores more important cycling measures

This column first appeared in the Kitchener Post on June 21.

It was inevitable. The expert panel even predicted it. The media’s response to the provincial coroner’s Cycling Death Review released in June has been to focus on just one of the fourteen recommendations – namely, that Ontario investigate implementing a mandatory helmet law for cyclists of all ages. This review studied the deaths of 129 people on bicycles in Ontario from 2006-2010, to determine the leading causes of cycling-related fatalities and how they might be prevented.

The helmet law recommendation, and the ensuing media coverage, does disservice to the otherwise excellent report which declares that all cycling-related deaths are preventable. It’s not that wearing a helmet isn’t a good idea (it can be), but requiring one has unintended consequences, as even some members of the coroner’s expert panel point out in the report. Places like Australia that have implemented mandatory helmet laws have subsequently observed dramatic decreases in the number of cyclists, often with a negative impact on safety outcomes. One of the most well-understood factors in cyclist welfare is safety in numbers. This becomes much more difficult to achieve when barriers to cycling have been raised. This also leads to less healthy lifestyles; as Dr. Thomas J. DeMarco writes in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, “helmet laws save a few brains but destroy many hearts.”

Cyclist by aiisuki, on Flickr

(Photo: aiisuki via Flickr)

The Dutch have a cycling fatality rate that is less than half the rate we have here in Canada, despite the fact that almost no one wears helmets there. What’s their secret to safe cycling? An abundance of protected cycling infrastructure can take you anywhere and makes cruising on your bike as convenient as driving your car. Strong laws keep motorists responsible for keeping an eye out for cyclists and giving them adequate space. Safe cycling education is integrated into primary school, which most children travel to via bicycle. All this was part of a deliberate strategy to protect cyclists and make the Netherlands more resilient to fluctuating oil prices. Their success in encouraging 30% of all trips to be made by bicycle comes from actually preventing collisions, not by imagining that collisions have to be inevitable and that the best defence is a piece of foam and plastic.

Provincial action on eleven of the fourteen recommendations from the coroner’s review would nudge us closer to the safer Dutch model. These include a ‘complete streets’ strategy that would require roads to be designed to give pedestrians and cyclists equal consideration as well as development of an Ontario Cycling Plan. Traffic and municipal laws should be clarified to make laws concerning cycling easier to enforce, hopefully to include actual consequences for negligent driving. A long-overdue one-metre passing law is proposed that would obligate motorists to respect the space around cyclists. Education at schools and at all levels about cycling safely and inclusion of road sharing in driver training is also recommended. These steps would put Ontario on the road (or is it perhaps a complete street?) to a safer cycling future.

Let’s not repeat the failed Australian experiment with mandatory helmet laws or allow the helmet debate to sidetrack more effective measures. Instead, let’s help our provincial and municipal leaders implement the recommendations that will actually make a difference in creating safer streets and lead to more healthy and sustainable transportation.

Mike Boos is a member of the Tri-cities Transport Action Group (TriTAG) who still wears a helmet when he rides his bike, mostly because he thinks it makes his hair look better in the morning. His loving wife disagrees. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeboos

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A Better Vision for Car Free Sundays

Recent media coverage has been particularly critical of Waterloo’s Car Free Sundays, despite being hailed as a huge success when they were held last year. To counter this negativity, I want to cast a bigger, better vision of what Car Free Sundays could be. Based on my personal experiences from last year, here is what I’d like to see:

  1. Increased hours. A 4 hour time slot (which includes set-up and tear-down) is far too brief to enjoy the diversity of events offered as part of Car Free Sunday. Last year, my wife and I found ourselves rushed to leave church, eat lunch (more on this later), and then find our way to Uptown by bike and participate in many of the activities before things were packed up and put away. Increasing the hours would allow more people to find time to enjoy these events.
  2. Greater frequency. My wife and I tried to invite several friends to join us last year, and many had made other plans on these weekends. Kitchener’s single participation was spoiled by sweltering heat. Making Car Free Sunday more frequent and regular, to say, every one or two weeks, would give more opportunities for success. It would foster a greater sense of community to be able to see each other face to face out on the street more often, and hopefully inspire more cultural change. And nobody would be caught off guard or late for church if they could regularly expect King Street to be closed and plan their commutes accordingly.
  3. Food! You can’t host an event that covers lunch hour and not have something to eat! It was a major oversight last year that there weren’t many food vendors brought in. Where were the chuck wagons that surround Columbia Lake every Canada Day? I would like to enjoy food from all cultures, not just from Uptown’s one hot dog cart. (Arguably a culture all unto itself!) Selling food permits would also be a great way for the cities to recoup some of the costs.
  4. More participation from community groups and businesses. Clubs, churches, and other organizations often relish opportunities for exposure to their community. Many churches today are coming to grips with the fact that they sometimes need to sacrifice a few of their Sunday morning services to interact with those who’d never pass through the church’s doors on their own. It’s a good opportunity to connect with the community in a visible way.
    Businesses in Uptown could take greater advantage of the event with sidewalk sales and sponsorships. Care would need to be taken so that this isn’t overdone – it would harm the ‘do-it-yourself’ spirit of the event if it were to become overly commercialized. We should continue to invite local artisans to set up tables to promote their work.
  5. Reduced police presence. One of the most expensive aspects of last year’s Car Free Sundays was the presence of a police officer at every intersection. We don’t post an officer on guard every time we close a street for construction. I’m sure motorists can figure out on their own not to drive down a barricaded street.
  6. Promotion. A lot of friends we talked to had never heard about Car Free Sunday, but might have been inclined to go had they heard about it ahead of time. Perhaps put up road closure signs like they do for days or even weeks in advance of construction. This would also have the added benefit of alerting Sunday drivers to plan an alternate route or choose to bike instead.
  7. Encouragement for our representatives who are investing in healthy lifestyles, community, and civic pride. Our governments invest hundreds of millions of dollars locally on car-centric infrastructure that isolates us from each other. There should be no stigma for investing a comparably paltry couple thousand on promoting and celebrating a healthier lifestyle and future. As citizens, we should be open about supporting and thanking representatives who have the courage and vision to make these investments, and urge them to complement these events with more permanent active transportation infrastructure.
  8. Name changes if necessary, but only with good reasons. Arguing that “Car Free” isn’t inclusive is a bizarre twisting of reality. Clearing away the cars makes King Street a level playing field for everyone to enjoy equally. Contrast this with “Cruising on King,” where we exclude everyone from the street except those with pre-emissions standard automobiles. (Ironically, Cruising on King often gets held up as an example of how a successful event is run.) This isn’t to say that we might not want another name that promotes Car Free Sundays better. But we shouldn’t walk on eggshells, pretending that having King Street briefly free of cars is a bad thing.

I think last year’s Car Free Sundays were a fantastic start. But I want to see them be made better and become ingrained into our local social and cultural fabric. I want to be able to continue to enjoy Car Free Sunday for many years in the future, long after the canard of the “war on the car” has been put to rest.

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