Friday, July 8, 2011

It's "Be Nice to the TTC Driver" Day!

On Monday there was some kind of spat on the Bathurst streetcar. According to the National Post (written by Kelly McParland) the "conflict" began when:

"passengers were kept waiting on a hot summer evening for a streetcar that didn’t arrive. Estimates of the wait vary — somewhere between half an hour and 40 minutes. It was rush hour and people wanted to get home. When the car finally arrived, the driver further aggravated the crowd by hopping off for a short break. A middle-aged woman said something and the driver said something back. “I don’t like your attitude and you are not getting into my car,” the woman (who now has a lawyer) says she was told.

She ignored the command and got on the car. The driver ordered her off. She refused. The crowd sided with her and the driver got his back up — one passenger claimed he was “out of his mind.” The driver called a supervisor,who.. tried to settle things down, insisting the woman leave the car."

It goes on to say that all of the passengers agreed with the woman and that one of them started videotaping the situation, the supervisor grabbed the camera, a passenger tackled them, the police were called, blah blah blah blah.

The bullshitty thing about this article is that it makes it sound like the passengers were kept waiting on purpose in deadly heat. It also makes it sound like the driver is responsible for the lateness of the street car, that he purposefully aggravated the situation by taking his break, and that he was not justified in asking the woman to not board the street car. Finally, this article is ALL based on hearsay from "witnesses" and the woman who started the whole thing by being kind of a bitch.

Ooooh, it was "hot" out. People wanted to "get home." We live in TORONTO. It's not that goddamned hot here, we have crapp TTC, I'm guessing it was rush hour(so people should expect delays- this is the biggest city in the country and you are ALL going home from work at the same time), and it's summer time in the city so chill out.

I hate late TTC as much as the next person. When I lived at Christie and Dupont and took the Dupont bus to Spadina station, it was late every single day. Every. Single. Day. I also commute to York frequently and I don't even need to explain that.

It's incredibly frustrating on some days, some days you're not so cranky so it doesn't bother you as much, and some days you are proactive and plan for it or you just walk. Bring a book, listen to your ipod, do some squats. If you want transit that is always on time, move to Germany.

That being said, I have never, EVER taken out my own frustration on a TTC driver. As someone who has worked in retail, in the service industry, and as a Teaching Assistant I understand that people's frustration often lands on the first person they come into contact with.

Had a bad day? Waited forever for a table? Your coffee isn't as hot as it should be? Well, I guess you asking me if I'm "retarded" is fine! Sure, go right ahead and snap your fingers at me from across a crowded restaurant, then leave me a fifty cent tip.

Or, don't. How about for five seconds you stop, take a deep breath, and recognize how entitled and rude your behaviour is and how disgusting it is to take out your problems out on somebody who is doing their job and who has nothing to do with your crankiness. How about this little thing called "respect"? Or "basic, human dignity"?

It SUCKS having to wait 40 minutes for a street car. It blows beyond belief. But guess what also sucks? Driving in heavy traffic, in a vehicle STUCK ON TRACKS. Streetcars are literally stuck on tracks, people. That means you can't pass or take detours, you are at the mercy of traffic. This "clash" happened on the Bathurst Streetcar. Uhhh... the Bathurst streetcar is a mess. It doesn't have a dedicated lane, the traffic moves slower than molasses, and here are a billion traffic lights. Any time I have ever taken the Bathurst streetcar I've been late. It's not the driver's fault, it's that there isn't proper transit infrastructure that prioritizes their movement through traffic.

Street car and bus drivers don't just say to themselves "I know what will be awesome, making my passengers wait 40 minutes for me!" No. They understand that every minute they are late, somebody is waiting to screech at them for it and be rude to them. Some people spit on them, or hit them.

A TTC employee is assaulted in some way or another almost every day, that's why there's a zero tolerance on the TTC for behaviour that is in any way abusive. They have to be able to set boundaries and ground rules on the vehicles they drive, because it's the only way they can feel safe doing their job and also the only way the TTC can actually stay safe. The driver is the authority on the bus, and when you have an authority figure that noone respects? CHAOS!

You know who else boundaries protect? Passengers! I can't even count how many times I've been on the TTC and watched the driver kick someone off for doing something dangerous or threatening people. And every, single time that's happened I've breathed a sigh of relief that I didn't have to be the one dealing with that person and now I can enjoy the rest of my ride home without some crazy man screaming in my ear that he's going to kill me.

According to the Toronto Star's "coverage" of this particular news item, the woman in question "recalls" just politely asking the driver why he was late. Oh really? I have this sneaking suspicion that asking the driver a polite question doesn't get you tossed from the street car. The Star and the NatPo have also very selectively chosen their witnesses. According to our own sources, there were just as many people yelling at the woman to get off the streetcar and allow it to move as there were "defending her" and taking a stand against the evil driver.

I tend to believe that people were yelling at her to get off the street car. The majority of rush hour riders really do just want to get home, and they don't need any more stress than they've experienced during the day. I've never been in a situation where other passengers were like "hell yeah I'll wait here all day for this lady's right to be rude to the driver!" No. Generally, other passengers are uncomfortable with rude people and will eventually start yelling at the person to disembark.

In any case, it doesn't matter what she said because it's the drivers right to kick her off. It's like being at the airport-- they can bar you from getting on the plane for a lot of different reasons, and most of us think that's probably for the best. Like, I'm more comfortable if that super drunk dude who keeps staring at the children DOESN'T get on the plane. Or, in a bar--if you're being unruly they can toss you out, and most of us other patrons generally think this is also for the best because it helps us enjoy our evening and makes us feel safer. So, why is the TTC any different? Because the Toronto Star and National Post love to attack Unionized workers? Because they'll do anything to turn a little thing into a big news story that they don't actually have to do any real reporting on?

I just feel like TTC workers get a really shitty deal. All of this over a short break?? For all we know, this driver really had to pee. Maybe he hadn't had his break yet, and maybe he was stuck in traffic a really long time. Would we prefer that he pee in a jar whilst driving? If a driver peed in a jar, heaven knows someone would complain. They just can't win. Maybe the driver is diabetic and needed to eat something really quickly. Maybe he had a kidney stone. Maybe he has a urinary tract infection. Maybe he had diarrhea. There are a lot of really great reasons why it is mandatory that we get breaks during our work day. We don't expect Admin Assistants to sit at their desk all day without peeing or eating, so why should we expect the same of our TTC drivers? Sure, they aren't perfect but neither are you and neither am I and we are still entitled to breaks at work.

So how about this: next time the street car is late and your driver hops off to do whatever it is that he is legally entitled to do, just smile. Say hi. Ask if it's been a busy day. Lots of traffic today? It is actually amazing how much that kind of behaviour can alter the atmosphere on the TTC. Being rude to anyone while they are at work ruins their day. It ruins my day, it ruins your day, and it ruins the TTC driver's day as well.

If you have to vent your frustration then call your City Councillor or, better yet, call the Mayor. Tell them that the TTC infrastructure is not conducive to fast and efficient transit in this city. Tell them that you are frustrated with the thought of another fare increase when service is no better than it was last year, or the year before. You're waiting 40 minutes , it's making you cranky and frustrated -- so pick up your cell phone that you're texting angrily on and call the Office of the TTC Chair. Put your frustration to good use, instead of just being the prick who ruined somebody's day for no good reason.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Oh, I know, let's just make bikes illegal. Problem solved! How the Toronto Star is making a tabloid out of a tragedy.

Yesterday, like I do most days, I was riding west on the Harbord bike lane. I usually enjoy the Harbord bike lane because it's a pretty wide street in general, it doesn't have too many potholes, and the lane is actually separated from the parking lane. That, and the fact that I live off of Harbord means I traverse this stretch frequently-- I'm a regular.
The other nice thing about Harbord is there are a lot of traffic lights. I LOVE lights. Stop signs are alright, but there is no guarantee a car won't roll through a stop sign or that they'll recognize your right of way in a four way stop sign situation. A light is a light and that shit means STOP.Being a rather tiny individual, and having been struck by a very large car that rolled through a stop sign once, I'm nervous about intersections and always err on the side of extreme caution.
Yesterday it was like all hell had broken loose on Harbord street. Cars were making fast, dangerous turns in front of cyclists or pulling through the bike lanes to park in front of us -- the cyclist behind me even started screaming "oh my god!! it's every driver!" like we were in a very bad horror movie or something.

So I'm riding west and I come up to the Manning intersection. Cars are usually pretty decent here because 1) it's a light and 2) there's a school at this intersection. On this particular day, however, the black Jeep Cherokee(plate number: AXSP 325) waiting at the red light wasn't havin' it. School, pedestrians, and bikes be damned! I make a habit of annoyingly ringing my bell at pretty much every intersection and when I ride by parked cars, and this lady's window was rolled down. The light is green for me, I'm ringing my bell like a crazy person, she's looking straight at me, and she decides to turn right on the red when it is completely unsafe to do so -- nearly hitting me, had I not hit my brakes so hard that I'm pretty sure one of them is now loose.
I really don't get drivers that do this. If you hit me, you will be late for whatever appointment you're rushing to. You may also kill me or maim me. She SAW me there, she saw the line up cyclists behind me, she saw the busy traffic, and she still chose to almost hit me so she could turn right on a red light. It makes absolutely no sense. It makes no sense that this happens ALL OF THE TIME when you're riding a bike (or walking).
A few weeks ago I was riding behind someone who got dinged with a cab door on College street-- a cab door that was opened into a bike lane without consideration of the shitload of bikes in that lane. The door knocked him off his bike and onto the pavement. Here's the thing about cyclists who get hit by cars -- because( if we aren't killed) we have a lot of adrenaline rushing through our bodies, we often don't realize how badly we've been hurt. It's also sometimes embarrassing so we say "it's alright, it's alright, I'm not hurt, it's fine" and ride away. But it's not alright and at the best least the incident should be reported in some way or another. I can't even imagine what the numbers would look like if every single car on bike accident was reported to the police.
These are just some of the reasons that it bothers me when newspapers decide to make us cyclists seem like monsters who get away with murder. Sure, some of us are monsters, but that's just because we're humans and more than half the population of humans are actually monsters.
In the Star today the article "Cyclist fractures pedestrian's skull, gets $400 fine" discusses an accident that occurred yesterday at Huron and Dundas where a cyclist hit a pedestrian, leading to very serious injuries. The article uses the accident to "question...the strength of the province's traffic laws" because the man who hit the pedestrian was charged with careless driving but faces no criminal charges or jail time.
With a charge of careless driving the fact that serious injury or death is a result is not usually relevant, so whether or not the pedestrian actually dies doesn't affect the charge. The charge is affected by the degree to which the cyclist strayed from normal or reasonable driving. If the pedestrian does pass away, which would be incredibly sad, then that can be dealt with in Civil courts.
The Star is using this case to ask whether or not the Highway Traffic Act sufficiently punishes Careless drivers, especially in cases which result in death.
The annoying thing about this article is that it seems to be suggesting that there aren't steep enough penalties for cyclists as "drivers" and also it seems to be putting accidents with cyclists in the same league as accidents involving drivers. They cite cases of drivers killing people and getting away with fines, or lesser charges, as being part of a larger problem and as running in the same vein as the accident yesterday.
To talk about serious motor vehicle accidents that resulted in death and got away with a slap on the wrist, then toss in an accident involving a bike, is to suggest that 1) The frequency of such accidents is relatively similar in cases of bikes and cases of cars and 2) That the risk or severity of such collisions is comparable.
I'm sorry, but neither of those are true. I'm sure that if we looked at the stats, reported incidences of bikes hitting pedestrians would be much less than cars hitting bikes and pedestrians(or, other cars). And a cyclist hitting a pedestrian compared to a car hitting a pedestrian is just not the same. I've hit a pedestrian on my bike. When I lived in Saskatoon I was riding my bike and a drunk guy walked out in front of me, I hit him, I got knocked off my bike and he didn't even fall down. Had I been driving a car, going the same speed, HE would have been the one who was knocked down and maybe even killed. Obviously, every accident is different but in every single case a car does more damage than a bike.
Let's use my own accident as an example. I was hit by a Hummer. Not even a huge one, I think it was an H3--so the littler version. This guy rolled through a stop sign and hit me at a low speed but it still knocked me onto the ground, broke my bike, broke his own license plate in half on me, and scared the shit out of me.
The curb weight of a standard H3 is 4,700-4,900lbs (2,100 - 2,200kg). The width of the H3 is 74.7 inches which is about 6 feet. I weight 115 lbs soaking wet, and 5'3 at best, and had a small bike. I didn't call the police. I didn't report the accident because I didn't think I was hurt. It was my very first accident and I had no clue how to deal with it. Turns out I was hurt and I probably should have had myself checked out that night, but I didn't feel it until the next day and bruiseswere still blooming a few days later. The dude ended up paying for the damage to my bike (after failing to return any of my calls for a week, and me threatening to call the police).
The point here is that if I rolled through the stop sign on my bike and hit a pedestrian in the same way the Hummer hit me, the result would have been completely different. Also, I almost get hit by a car pretty much every day I get on my bike.

The Star seems to be suggesting that because cyclists can't be charged with Dangerous driving that they can get away with murder, but this just isn't the case. Cyclists can still be charged under the Criminal code so it seems to me that there is certainly recourse for dangerous cycling or unfortunate accidents... so what is the Toronto Star talking about?

The content of their article actually mainly focuses on Careless driving charges in cases with vehicles that resulted in death, so why toss the bike in there at all? It doesn't make sense and it's bad evidence based writing. Why not actually research how many cyclist on pedestrian accidents there are in Toronto per year? Why not interview some of those people? Why not write about the cyclist/bike without talking about it in relation to cars? What about the fact that sometimes it feels safer to cycle the wrong way on a one way street because there is less traffic and because we are a city with shitty cycling infrastructure?

And also, how about DON'T use a tragedy like this accident just to get readers, you know? That's exactly why this story is in the paper today, because there was ONE bad cyclist on pedestrian accident so far this year so they have to jump on it. It's sad enough when accidents like this happen without putting this unnecessary spin on it. Newspapers have an obligation to not be complete and total sensationalist garbage, because then they become SunTV.

The fact is the Toronto Star just didn't do its job on this story and that's just plain ridiculous. At the end of their "article" they put statistics on how many tickets are given to cyclists each year, with a note that tickets also include equipment infractions. That is NOT relevant here, at all. Why does it matter if 2'000 bikes get ticketed in a year if you don't have a breakdown of what those tickets are for? 1'500 of them could be for not riding with lights at night for all we know. you can get a ticket for not having a bell, riding on the sidewalk (even briefly), if you don't stop your bike when an emergency vehicle goes by, and for not riding in the bike lane. I've seen bikes ticketed for parking too long somewhere, or somewhere that has a no parking sign. Stats on bike ticketing in an article about a cyclists seriously injuring someone is a scare tactic, plain and simple.

If every cyclist who is dinged, knocked over, or actually hit reported it to the police and if we had accurate statistics on that I think people would be shocked. I'm shocked every time I venture out and some moron in their car decides that my life isn't worth the two second wait for the green light.

The Toronto Star could have had a real story here, but they chose to just jerk off to the war on cyclists yet again instead of doing any real research or writing anything that might affect positive change in this city.
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