04 October, 2009

I Will Die on Upper Middle Road...

... and please, just don't say He went doing something he loved.

There are two principles behind the following rant:
1) There must be a grand design behind all of this.
2) I must not know it.

In Oakville, Ontario, over the span of many kilometres, a road exists that links up various Points A to countless other Points B. It stands, or more correctly, lays, as a testament to audacious civil engineering. In fact, it transcends audacious, bypasses courageous and inventive, settling somewhere between cheeky and downright cynical.

Four lanes of blacktop are squeezed tightly within immeasurable tracts of suburban greenspace; a grassy No-Man's Land far larger than what has been fought over and died for in any number of wars. The end result demands a high level of skills, vigilance, and good fortune - on the part of both cyclists and drivers - to avoid contact.

How it could be...

... and how it is, alas, on Upper Middle.
But it could be I just don't yet get it, perhaps more research is needed. I might learn, for instance, that the municipality reserved these enormous regions of unused terra firma to bolster a future Pan Am Games bid. The Games selection committee would behold the vast rolling oceans of boulevard (18' to the just the sidewalk in places, whereas the traffic lanes are only 12' wide) and have no trouble imagining hosting all of the track and field events between the sidewalk and townhouses that run from Sixth Line and Oxford Street.

It's conceivable the Department of National Defense appropriated the gulf between neighbourhoods for a makeshift airstrip in the event of World War Three. As luck would have it though, the Western world of today appears to be mired in a period of relative peacefulness, and the prospect of C5s taxiing through town is as remote as Toronto's likelihood of meeting its bike lane targets.

Fall fairs, plowing matches, tractor pulls, tennis tournaments, monster truck races, steeplechases, cricket games and jousting festivals have been variously proposed for these stretches of sod, and although the city fathers have smugly denied them all, the fact remains the entire wad of these could be held simultaneously and there'd still be room for a dedicated bike lane and a bocce pitch.

But, you counter, there is a bike path! Well, yes. And no. A partial one exists. It hopscotches Upper Middle, schizophrenically skipping between north and south sides. This no doubt serves that small, mythic demographic of cyclists (who, in their entirety, form a small demographic) who never emerge from the block they live on, choosing instead to ride around and around until either their dogs are too bored or it's time to drive somewhere again. The meandering course of these bike pathlets is conducive only to "toodling" - a derogatory term civil engineers coined to disparage that pie slice of unwashed masses that chooses to be aimless out-of-doors. It certainly doesn't support cross-town commuting - the reason why Upper Middle itself is as straight as can be for drivers.

Some wag suggested that the current paths may be fragments of some larger, alien geoglyphs - huge chalk drawings scrawled out by intelligent beings from outer space. The paradox here is if they couldn't see the grief these routes would give to serious cyclists then these beings may have been a few bricks short of a load, hardly capable of holding down even a junior civil engineering position. The only other feasible explanation that comes to mind is perhaps these are remnants of a failed marketing crop circle brainstorm. Heads likely rolled when advertisers realized that no matter how clever their message may be, it was doomed if only zeppelin passengers could see it.

Born as they are of the best intentions, it's a pity to say it but bike paths' very separation from roadways has given rise to a new, unforeseen hazard: the high-speed pedestular right-hook. Cyclists wishing to cross an intersection from an inset bike path are all but invisible to a motorist's peripheral vision. When said motorist makes a right turn, unless the cyclist is as slow as a pedestrian, a collision is hard to avoid. This inadvertent ambush of drivers is then legislatively solved by municipalities declaring that cyclists must dismount when they cross intersections, in order to give the hapless motorists a fighting chance. Fair enough - if you're a motorist. Discriminatory if you ride a bicycle. This thinking thrusts cyclists into a netherworld between motorist and pedestrian. For that period of time and space where a cyclist is obliged to dismount and walk, their status as motorist is effectively revoked, a slight no less vexing than demanding pedestrians remove their shoes before crossing or motorists check their oil before turning right on a green. Clearly, to paraphrase Jeff Bridges' character from The Big Lebowski, The Dude does not abide.

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