Road rage

Spacing Wire is carrying a curious story about a road rage incident in Kensington Market, between a parked motorist and a bike courier. Normally, this would be no big deal, just another day in the big city. But Adam Krawesky captured some evocative photographs, and now the story is making the rounds on the Internet.
The photographs only show one side of the story, the end of the altercation. It began with passive aggression: the motorist throws food out of the window, and the courier throws the food back in the window. (Passive aggression is both very Canadian, and very typical for a cyclist, I think.) The driver then escalates to assault by dumping coffee on the courier, who retaliates with property damage by keying his car. And it ends with the driver escalating to full physical assault, shown in the photos.
The full set of images are available here.

Planning for Cycling

For some time, I’ve been curious to learn more about European approaches to designing bicycle routes. I’d heard the statistics: over 30% of all trips are made on bicycle in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and even more in some Asian cities like Shanghai. But how did they make bike routes that were safe enough for so many people to feel comfortable doing that? Unfortunately, they publish mostly in Dutch or Danish, not English. The English-language publications I’ve seen have been dominated by American designs, which tend to be either a) stone age; or b) trying to reach the bronze age. (That’s just the state of transportation issues in the U.S., I’m afraid…)
So I was pleased to find Planning for Cycling by Hugh McClintock of the University of Nottingham. It’s a collection of chapters from a UK perspective, including chapters from several European jurisdictions. A few interesting bits of trivia from the book:

  • In Denmark, all taxis must be able to carry bicycles
  • The Dutch really hate bicycle helmets. While they may help with cyclists who fall off their bikes, they don’t help much in car collisions, and they’re really uncomfortable and unfashionable.
  • 42% of the streets in Copenhagen have “cycle tracks” (sidewalk-level bicycle paths).
  • 30% of the traffic signals in Copenhagen give cyclists priority over motor vehicles (an early green)
  • Both the Danish and the Dutch acknowledge the typical factors for their success (flat terrain, “cultural” tendencies, dense cities), but also emphasize that their explicit policies supporting bicycles have been decisive influences.
  • Bike-ride-bike (”sandwich”) travel is common in both Denmark and the Netherlands, where the traveller combines a transit/train ride with a bike stored at either end.
  • A survey of several thousand children in the UK found that many would vastly prefer to be able to travel by bike. Over 50% of 11 year olds preferred bicycles (compared to 16% who preferred cars). I think that children really lose a lot in terms of independence and self-reliance when forced to live in car-dependent areas.
  • Despite increasing federal funding by a factor of 10 between 1990 and 2000, the U.S. has only seen a 10% increase in cycling.

I’ve got quite a few notes on the book, available here.

New bike

I’ve had used bikes all my life. I did own a nice one, once upon a time – in 2000, I bought a Miele racing bike for $500 used. Unfortunately, it was stolen in 2003 just before I graduated (from behind my back, as I was picking up glass off the bike lane). At that time, I had no cash left in the bank account, so I bought an old racer from a labmate for $100 – and I mean old; it had a serial number stamped with 78xxxxxx on the bottom, and I think that means the frame’s as old as I am.
But now I have a little more cash, and I still bike everywhere. So I thought I’d invest in my first brand new bike. As a utility cycling advocate, I wanted to see if I could buy a bike off-the-shelf with all the practical things you need for commuting: fenders, a rack, a chainguard, a kickstand, and lights. I discovered that you could buy these bikes easily in Europe, but they were hard to find in North America. The Cannondale Street is a bit overpriced at $1100. Local boutique Jorg & Olif sell stylish imported Dutch bikes for $1150, but they’re not quite good enough on the hills for my house (at the top of the city’s ridge), and they’re also pretty pricey for a basic bike. There are a few other nice bikes elsewhere in North America: Kronan sells in Victoria, Breezer is at a Vancouver shop that I didn’t get to visit, Biria doesn’t have a Canadian dealer any more, and Kettler and Skeppshult never sold to Canada. So, I gave up on an off-the-shelf utility bike. It just can’t be done in North America yet. (No one even sells or displays bikes with fenders. Maybe they haven’t noticed that it rains in Vancouver yet.)
My next choice was a regular hybrid bike, with accessories tacked on. I settled on two models: the Specialized Sirrus Sport and the De Vinci Oslo. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the gorgeous De Vinci bike in stock in my size. The De Vinci Amsterdam was even more beautiful, but a bit too flashy for my taste – too likely to get stolen. So, I went with the Specialized bike, and I haven’t regretted it one bit. The regular model had a nicer red colour, but I wanted the higher-quality components of the Sport model. I tricked it out with a full set of accessories, and finished up with a bill for about $900. There are a bunch of photos here.
I bought the bike at Dunbar Cycles in the end. I visited a lot of shops, and I was quite impressed by manager Lea Holz’s friendliness and knowledge regarding commuter bikes. I would also recommend Dizzy Cycles highly, and both Reckless Cycles and the Cyclepath were good. I’ve heard good things about the Bike Doctor but didn’t get out there. The Jorg & Olif boutique was very different but neat – lots of fashion, very few bikes – but they were fun bikes to ride.
I wasn’t very happy with Bicycle Sports Pacific’s service, which tended to be a bit pushy and know-it-all, and disparaging of commuters’ needs. and I hated Cambie Cycles weirdly sexist website enough that I didn’t even go there. Most other local bike stores had too little variety in hybrids, with more of a focus on mountain bikes or road bikes.

Secret Toronto subway stations

As a longtime Toronto subway user, I always liked the weird parts of the subway: the urban legends about running the tracks between stations, the “garbage pickup” trains around 2:00am, and the horrible stories about suicides and subsequent therapy for drivers. But I never heard about the secret stations beneath my feet. Apparently, Bay Station has a second level that was only open for six months, and Queen Station also has a second level underneath it. They’re still there, ghostly rooms in the heart of the city: Toronto’s lost subway stations.

Bike & compute

I’ve been looking around for a new set of panniers to replace my current beat-up pair. (For the uninitiated, panniers or “saddlebags” are bags that strap to the rack on the back of a bike.) Since I bike everywhere, having good bags is critical – I need to move around groceries, papers, and my computer from A to B, and I need to do it during typical Vancouver drizzles and downpours. I was a backpack man for a long time, but I needed to carry more goods, and panniers were fantastic for avoiding that sweaty back.
My biggest problem has been the computer, which is too big for my current panniers, and really needs a waterproof container. I have a Targus computer backpack that keeps the rain out, but it’s heavy and sweaty on my back. Enter Ortlieb – beautiful German-designed panniers for typical commuter purposes, although at steep prices. I finally bit the bullet, though, and picked up a $170 office-bag for the computer. It’s a real marvel of design: a roll-up top like kayaking bags for some serious waterproofing; a nice shoulder strap for carrying off-bike; and not too much of that bike-geek look. They’ve got some other good bags too, including one designed for shopping and two backpack designs.
I do own a lot of bags now. I guess it’s part of being car-free – I don’t take my own 3300L storage space around with me everywhere, so I need a few 50L bags for different purposes. (That figure is for a Saturn, with 2850L passenger volume and 450L trunk volume.)

AutoDesk Mapguide setup

AutoDesk has a bizarre approach to setting up their Java-based MapGuide client. In theory, it should work on most platforms – but they only document it on Internet Explorer on a few platforms, and on Netscape 4.x on Solaris. On top of that, most of their installation instructions require using an extra Java applet to do the installation, or downloading a big shell script for Solaris.
I got it to work under Mozilla Firefox on Linux, and I’m sure it would work like this on Windows or MacOS as well. Here’s how I did it; adapt my approach to your setup.

  1. Download the JAR archive (mgjava.jar) from here.
  2. Try to figure out where to install it. I did this by visiting the VanMap website, which fails to load since it can’t find the JAR file. I right-clicked on the broken Java applet, which brought up a menu that allowed me to open the Java console. On my Java installation (J2RE 1.4), I got an error message like this:

    load: class com/autodesk/mgjava/MGMapApplet.class not found.
    java.lang.ClassNotFoundException: com.autodesk.mgjava.MGMapApplet.class
    at sun.applet.AppletClassLoader.findClass(
    at java.lang.ClassLoader.loadClass(
    at sun.applet.AppletClassLoader.loadClass(
    at java.lang.ClassLoader.loadClass(
    at sun.applet.AppletClassLoader.loadCode(
    at sun.applet.AppletPanel.createApplet(
    at sun.plugin.AppletViewer.createApplet(
    at sun.applet.AppletPanel.runLoader(

    and instructions telling me to press “s” to view the system properties. I did that, and found the Java CLASSPATH setting java.class.path = /usr/lib/j2se/1.4/jre/classes. If you can find that classpath setting, you’re good to go.
  3. Go to the classpath directory. On my system, the “classes” subdirectory didn’t exist and I had to create it. Unzip the mgjava.jar file to there (yes, JAR files are just zip archives).
  4. Restart Firefox. Visit the VanMap website again and see if everything’s working.

This whole procedure is amazingly painful. Debian’s documentation claims that the classpath is something different – they say it’s in /usr/share/java/repository. There are some jar files in /usr/share/java, but there is no repository directory. Installing the jar file there didn’t help at all. It’s also annoying that you have to unzip the jar file – that wasn’t obvious to me at all. Sigh… at least I’ve got it working now.