Obsessed with light

*Blink* *blink* *blink*

If you overtake me, day or night, the blinking red light is what you'll see.

If you're lucky enough to see me after dark you might catch me from the side and see a fancy pattern of stars or diamonds. 

From the front it will be a shining beacon of hope, bright white that will make you think the angels are appearing out of the heavens.

But as you get closer you'll just see it's me, making certain with my lights that you can judge my position and speed while we share the road.

There is a basket of lights at my house. More front lights of varying brightness. Rear lights from big to small with plenty of interesting patterns ready to blink for your attention.

Even bought an EL wire light that goes on the trailer and provides visibility for my groceries or my daughter.

A few years ago, the Kelowna Area Cycling Coalition put together a Light The Night campaign to help bring more awareness to making sure cyclists were thinking about their visibility when the sun goes down.

We all get a bit complacent during the summer with the late night sun and laid-back tourists.

We had the goal of getting more people thinking about lights on bicycles. 

Back in 2013, there was a study published that looked at the different types of "visibility" strategies that cyclists used, how far away they thought cars would be able to see them at, and how far they actually could be discerned from the streetscape.

The best finding that came out it was "if you bike more often, you tend to get a better sense of just how invisible you can be at night."

In essence, we, as cyclists, have to start with the assumption that we're invisible and then work up to being visible. 

Just like the other study that found drivers who have a bad attitude toward cyclists are more inclined to "not see" people on bicycles.

By promoting the use of lights, I don't want drivers to think that it's solely the responsibility of cyclists to keep themselves safe. This is the wrong position to take.

Car owners would have to think about lights too if their vehicles didn't come with safety features that automatically lit up their vehicles like Christmas trees.

Using lights is a matter of communication. Making certain that all road users have a good chance of noticing you is "best practices" because it fulfills the responsibility we have to others on the roads no matter the mode of transport.

If you're still undecided on the whole blinking versus solid light conundrum, don't worry, the jury is still out and the best advice is to run it the way that you feel most visible.

I use a blinking rear light while I have a combination front light that has a solid bright centre with some pulsing smaller lights around it.

  • Light clothing is better than dark clothing.
  • Fluorescent and reflective clothing is better than light clothing.
  • Lights are better than any clothing.
  • Bright blinky lights are the best of all. Find what makes you visible.

Just as drivers are classified as bozos for not remembering to turn on their lights after dark (hence the need for "automatic" lights as a safety feature in cars), as cyclists we should help brighten on the world after sunset or before sunrise.

Tis the season!

I'll continue answering people who tell me my light is on in broad daylight with, "Of course it is. You just saw me and that's what it's there for."


A child shall lead them

With school just around the corner, it seems appropriate to talk about the kids.

Too often, I’ve heard this answer when asking someone if their children ride: “I won’t let my kids ride their bikes around here, it’s not safe.”

My response is usually, “Do you ever ride with them?”

At this point, I usually get a blank stare.

Kids absorb what they see around them. Our obsession with driving and cars becomes the legacy they grow up with. We have to change this.

When the Pedestrian & Biking Master Plan was being shown publicly one of the members of the Kelowna Area Cycling Coalition asked the question, “Why can’t we use the measure of how many kids bike to school to gauge success?”

I thought that was an idea worth pursuing.

Studies have shown that kids aren’t getting enough activity. Can we use biking to fix this? Studies show that we can.

According to the plan that the city put together, there is a 20-year timeline set up to increase the number of trips under five kilometres.

Children in primary school will be adults in 20 years. If they start cycling now, when they are adults there is a much greater chance they will still be riding as adults.

Face it, we adults love cars because it extends our reach.

That is exactly the same reason that kids love bicycles. It changes a boring walk that would take forever into something easy and fun.

The other day, I suggested to my daughter that we ride our bikes to pick up some cat food. The response was less than keen. “I’m too tired.”

I cajoled and prodded, eventually we rolled our bikes out the door.

For the next hour we rode. I never heard her mention being tired again.

The new school year starts next week. The weather will be good. How many bikes will you see in the bike racks at school?

Schools can do any or all of three things:

  • provide crossing guards
  • provide bike racks
  • provide promotional material.

Motorized vehicles aren’t going to go away, that’s the reality. Crossing guards make it safe for kids to get to school by active means, either walking or cycling.

This requires either adults or older children who are trained in making sure the communication occurs.

If a student rides to school, but finds there are no spaces left on the bike racks then they won’t ride next time. Bike racks need to be front-and-centre, this provides safe parking by being very public.

They act as a reminder that fellow students are riding.

Promotional materials can be something as easy as a map. Put together with traffic measures that show low-volume traffic and slow-traffic routes.

When kids get comfortable riding, when they learn the skills to ride safely; when they gain the freedom that enhances their self-esteem, everyone wins.

If your children ride more, don’t you think you might think about riding more?

Becoming a teenager and getting our licence shouldn’t be the end of riding our bikes. It should be seen as an extension of our reach.

Bicycles aren’t childish things, but if we treat cyclists as children, we’re going to continue the same pattern that has created untenable traffic, horrible air quality, and an inactive population.

I want to count the number of kids riding to school not just on my fingers and toes, but I want to use yours and yours and yours.

That's not the point

Sometimes being an advocate for cycling makes my head hurt.

People have so many different ideas that are sometimes based on experience, sometimes on knowledge, and sometimes just plain conjecture.

I think we can all agree that we don't slow down; taking time to smell the flowers has gone out of style. We like our information in bite-sized pieces and many times we dish up opinions without thinking.

Driving has become the de facto standard. You meet someone new over the age of 15 and you can be 95 per cent certain they have a driver's licence and have gone through the training that goes along with it.

There's a common frame of reference.

Cycling, on the other hand, has so many different uses and purposes that one cyclist might not have the same experiences as another or even have the same outlook.

Road cycling, recreational cycling, mountain biking, cruisers, recumbents, folders, and the list of different aspects goes on. Not to mention the root question, "Do you even cycle, bro?"

So when it comes to being an advocate, there are many comments we hear from people who might or might not cycle, who might or might not have a lot of experience, who might or might not be able to think from the other side of the road.  

Recently, we discussed a proposed design for Ellis Street and how we felt it created problems for all road users:

  • drivers
  • cyclists
  • pedestrians.

Most of our issues stemmed from the plan not following the OCP, Downtown Plan, nor the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan.

One of the comments that came back was, "Since we're spending all this money on Ethel why can't cyclists go use that if they don't feel safe?"

It's like saying to a driver, "Since we've spent all this money widening Spall to four lanes why not use that to get from the airport to North Glenmore instead of Sexmith if you don't feel safe driving with trucks?" 

Something that was addressed last year with the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan was the future layout of the cycling grid. The distance that was proposed between main legs was 400 metres. This was based on surveys and experience. People are willing to ride anything for 400 or 500 meters before they get to better infrastructure for longer trips.

Based on the original comment, someone who lives in Central Green would ride over to Ethel Street to go up to Cawston Avenue and then back to go to a Rockets game at Prospera Place. 

A trip that is just 1.2 kilometres straight up Ellis Street would become almost three km by detouring over to Ethel Street. The equivalent of telling someone in a car that they need to detour through Salmon Arm around the back way to get to Vernon.

This is an example of how treating cycling as a second-class transportation mode will keep people in their cars.

Another comment I hear sometimes when pushing back on new infrastructure is, "Why would you not want more bike lanes?"

Again, to put it in car-speak, "Let me build the left-side portion of the road with a sharp hairpin turn that dead-ends into the back of the old Bargains Bargains store."

No one should ever be satisfied with half-complete infrastructure. If an installation doesn't provide end-to-end service it will be ignored.

Cyclists have to deal with this all the time as municipalities save project costs by adding infrastructure where there are already plans to upgrade vehicle roadways. 

When Abbott Street from the Sails to Harvey Avenue was resurfaced, there were new bike lanes added that went to Leon Avenue, but from there, nowhere. Not until months later when a connector was made from the southbound side to the sidewalk.

Northbound is still a miss as there isn't a way to get there unless you use the crosswalk.

Bike lanes along Clement Avenue between Ellis and Richter streets — if you're riding along Clement there are no bike lanes from Sunset until you get to Ellis and then they end at Richter.

Disappearing roadways?

It's never that we don't want infrastructure. The real matter is that getting non-cyclists to consider cycling requires better end-to-end support. Many cyclists have already waited for years for better treatment; let's get the will and the money together to do it right the first time.

The current population consists of people who drive, people who cycle, people who walk, and people who do two or all three.

We need to stop prioritizing any mode of transportation over another. Whether we want to admit  we have a problem with the number of cars on the road or not, it just makes sense to support more active modes as that helps our health and our society.


Suicide by car

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About the Author

As a youngster on two feet, a teenager on two wheels, then a young adult on four wheels, Landon has found that life is really about using all modes of transportation. Currently a cycling advocate with the Kelowna Area Cycling Coalition he tries to lower road rage on both sides.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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