Wednesday, April 25, 2012

To speed or not to speed

In less than a week, the local transportation community has spawned two proposals for a change in speed limits.

The first, from Ontario-based, wants the provincial highway speed limit RAISED to 120 - 140 km/h. And the other – from Toronto chief medical officer, Dr. David McKeown, is to CUT Toronto municipal speed limits to 30 km/h.

Ironically, both are citing safety as a factor. says that drivers travelling under 130 km/h, which they claim is the average highway flow of traffic, are a hazard. The reason is, this causes “other motorists to brake rapidly, tailgate or frantically attempt to pass.”

McKeown cites in his report “Road to Health: Improving Walking and Cycling in Toronto”, that pedestrians were less likely to be killed for every 10 km/h reduction below 60 km/h. Standard Toronto speed limits are 40 to 50 km/h.

This drew guffaws from Toronto’s venerable Sun newspaper, which plastered a photo of a horse and buggy on its cover with the headline “Slow and Stupid.”  

The real reason for the Chief Medical Officer’s report is to encourage walking and bicycling, which would generate health benefits and reduce health care spending in Toronto by $110 to $160 million. Additionally, costs associated with pedestrian-vehicle collisions cost Toronto over $53 million, and cyclist-vehicle collisions over $9 million.

Could our police department keep up with any of it? When to ticket, when not to ticket? Would we lose revenue or gain it? Which war is being fought here – the war on the car or the war on the cyclist and pedestrian?

Neither proposal has a snowman’s chance in Hades to get the green light. But we need to hear about them, if only to keep the conversation going. Road safety belongs not only in the headlines but in our heads. Let’s keep talking. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The trouble with young people today

Remember counting down the days to your 16th birthday? Some of us even skipped school to run down to the government office to sweat through the test that would bestow upon us that coveted, sacred rite of passage into adulthood – the driver’s licence. It was a heady symbol of freedom ... autonomy ... and independence.

But these days, that sacred rite could be on the threatened species list.  It’s true. Young people are shunning the driver’s licence for – shudder – a SIM card.

A study by the University of Michigan Research Institute shows a steady decline in the number of licensed drivers in the United States under the age of 30. There has been 22 percent drop in the number of licensed drivers since 1983. Furthermore, that decline is echoed across countries such as Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Norway, South Korea and – yes – Canada.

Used to be, young folks needed a car to go to the mall and hang out with friends. Now all they have to do is visit their Facebook page or text them. You get to meet more people with an iPhone than you do with a Corvette. Sad but true. You may even get to impress some chicks if you have an iPhone 4S with Siri and some waycool apps.

The U of M’s study found that those countries where folks like to spend lots of time surfing the internet, young people had fewer driver’s licences rates. Could that translate into virtual contact being more important than actual contact? That's more than a little bit disturbing.

Maybe it's be the money. It does cost a lot to buy and maintain a car, and the insurance for a 16-year old male driver is stratospheric. There are much more reasonable – and green – alternatives, like car sharing, taking transit, walking or bicycling.

Possibly. But as Advertising Age noted, just as the automobile shaped a generation like the Baby Boomers, the internet seems to be shaping the Millennials. Perhaps they’re just smarter than we are – texting while driving is deadly. There are no WIFI highways.

Perhaps that’s a lesson that Baby Boomers could take to heart. We might live longer.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A woman walks into a bicycle shop ...

… and asks for a bicycle made for a woman. The kind of bike, she says, that would be good for riding around her neighbourhood, maybe some local trails, something that’s affordable and oh yes, very light. She doesn’t need 76 gears or heavy-duty suspension, won’t be participating in any triathlons or mountain climbing.

So the salesguy checks her out, and brings her a white ladies’ touring bicycle. The cables and fenders are white. It’s whiter than the china at Buckingham Palace. It’s so white, it hurts my eyes.

Yes, I’m the woman in question. Taking the white-on-white bicycle for a spin, I was  nervous – not so much about the belligerent cab driver behind me but getting grease on the pretty white cables. Nah.

Next bike shop, same story. This time I know to ask for a step-through bicycle, and explain that I need something functional, affordable, built for a woman like me. This salesguy nods and brings me a pastel blue bicycle with a wicker basket on the handlebars, which by the way, have curlicues on them. I point at a low-slung grey number which is more my style, and take it out for a spin. Alas, the price point is a bit too high and I trudge on.

At last I find a bike shop with women selling bicyclesUnfortunately, they didn’t have anything in my price range. I tried – I really wanted to buy a bike from them. But I’m a freelance writer and as such, on a permanent austerity plan. It doesn’t help when they tell me I need a lock that would cost exactly a third of what their cheapest bike is selling for!

Finally, I did find the bicycle of my dreams. It’s a pale metallic blue Genesis with seven gears that takes me back to my childhood in a good way. It’s not too girly, not too technical, nice and light and drives like a dream. Bonus – it was on sale! And the cats approve. The straight-talking salesguy reminded me of my veterinarian, who has a somewhat abrupt bedside manner and shoots from the hip. Like my vet, whose main concern is the animal, this guy was focused on the bicycle. “Solid aluminum frame, lightweight, good value for the price,” he said in heavily accented English. I’m not sure where he was from, but the bicycle is from heaven.

It’s going to be a great summer.