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Rediscovering The Bicycle 17 Years Later 13

Toronto Island bicycling - Robert Lawson

Rediscovering the freedom of the bicycle. Photo by Robert Lawson for The Urban Country

31-year-old Robert Lawson hadn’t owned a bicycle since he was a 14-year-old teenager growing up in Vancouver, Canada. Three months ago – four years after he first moved to Toronto – Robert, a Senior Policy Advisor for the provincial government, decided to buy a bicycle. Little did he know at the time how much freedom and enjoyment he would get from purchasing something as simple as a bicycle.

I wanted to learn more about Robert’s journey from being a car owner and public transit commuter to ditching his car, his public transit pass, and using a bicycle as his primary mode of transportation. So I asked him a few questions.

Robert lives in an area of the city where the streetcars do not have priority over automobiles, so long lines of cars would bring the streetcar to a halt when Robert previously used public transportation to commute:

“I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) as my primary mode of transport for commuting to work and social activities. I find streetcars, in particular, to be inefficient, unreliable, uncomfortable, and often overcrowded. I get particularly annoyed about the amount of time it takes to get places I want to go and often not being able to get to those places on time due to street traffic, erratic streetcar frequencies, unforeseen delays, etc.”

This frustration with public transit was one of the reasons Robert decided to rid himself of his car and buy a Linus Roadster bicycle this June (although he admits he doesn’t mind the extra $4,000 a year that it puts in his pocket).

Being stuck inside a streetcar also left Robert with a void and he yearned for the outdoors:

“I also missed the enjoyment of being outside. I lived in Kingston for five years prior to living in Toronto and I walked everywhere. Walking allowed me to enjoy the fresh air, have some measure of solitude on my travels, help me stay fit, and ensure I could accurately regulate the amount of time it took me to get to where I wanted/needed to be.

For these reasons, purchasing a bicycle made a lot of sense. I figured it would allow me to set my own schedule, escape the discomfort and overwhelming crowds on streetcars, get more exercise, and provide an opportunity to spend more time outdoors again.”

When asked why he chose that particular bicycle, Robert answered:

“The Linus appealed to me for practical and aesthetic reasons. It wasn’t too expensive for my budget ($649 new for the model I chose), it has a comfortable seating position for commuting, it’s versatile enough to get me around the city (I chose the three speed Roadster), it is easy to maintain (the internal gear hub was particularly appealing for this reason), it came with fenders and a rack, it’s lightweight, and I think it looks cool. “

Toronto Bicycling - Robert Lawson

Rediscovering the freedom of the bicycle. Photo by Robert Lawson for The Urban Country

Toronto Bicycling - Robert Lawson

Rediscovering the freedom of the bicycle. Photo by Robert Lawson for The Urban Country

For others who are considering making a similar move, Robert offers this advice:

“I would say, most emphatically and enthusiastically, to do it. Riding a bicycle has dramatically improved my life as a commuter and has made getting around in my free time considerably more enjoyable, too.

I would also say that it’s important to consider carefully what kind of bike you’re going to ride. I think that in order to get the most out of your experience cycling you need to find a bike that fits you properly, suits your own particular needs, style and tastes, stands up to the demands you’ll place on it, and, most of all, seems like fun to ride.”

Robert points out that learning to ride again after many years comes fairly quickly:

“I’ll admit that the first few minutes on my new bike were a bit awkward, mostly in terms of keeping my balance when pushing off from a stop. Although I try to avoid indulging clichés it is true that riding a bike is a skill you never forget. I found that I was comfortable again after less than fifteen minutes.

I would say that reaching a satisfactory level of awareness on the road does take some time. Getting used to how much space you have/need, how much space cars, in particular, are willing to give you, and being aware of the actions and tendencies of cars/cyclists/pedestrians around you requires time and experience. I’m still learning.”

When it comes to motorist/cyclists relations, Robert soon discovered the animosity that we see on Toronto’s streets and hopes that we can overcome these challenges to make bicycling in Toronto more comfortable in order to attract more people:

“Generally speaking, I think my daily riding would be much more comfortable if motorists were better educated about the rules of the road pertaining to cycling and, in particular, safely sharing space with cyclists. Too many drivers convince themselves that cyclists have no right to be on city streets and, therefore, have no qualms about abusing them (verbally or physically) when they feel inconvenienced by or annoyed with cyclists.”

In closing, Robert offers the following advice:

“More than anything else, I would like motorists to consider and appreciate the fact that human beings with families are riding bicycles. We shouldn’t have to fear for our lives simply because we’ve made a decision to get to work, school, or social activities by means other than a motor vehicle.”

Welcome to the world of urban utility bicycling Robert! I hope you bring others along with you. Hopefully our ‘i share the road’ campaign will help in some small way to improve relations between motorists and bicyclists, too.

i share the road

Related Articles:

  • http://www.facebook.com/John.S.Rawlins John Rawlins

    I suspect that making the move to commuting by bicycle was much easier for Robert because he was previously a user of public transportation. The hardest converts will be those many millions of commuters who have never used a bus, tram or train.

    Readers might be interested to see a video on how to ride the city streets that was recently produced by my local cycling group in Valencia, Spain. The voice-over is in Spanish with English subtitles:

    http://youtu.be/JTDlpprqin4

    Warning: the video contains explicit scenes of above-shoulder nudity that may offend some viewers.

    • kfg

      “. . .explicit scenes of above-shoulder nudity . . .”

      OK, you gave me a giggle with that one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/John.S.Rawlins John Rawlins

    I suspect that making the move to commuting by bicycle was much easier for Robert because he was previously a user of public transportation. The hardest converts will be those many millions of commuters who have never used a bus, tram or train.

    Readers might be interested to see a video on how to ride the city streets that was recently produced by my local cycling group in Valencia, Spain. The voice-over is in Spanish with English subtitles:

    http://youtu.be/JTDlpprqin4

    Warning: the video contains explicit scenes of above-shoulder nudity that may offend some viewers.

  • Gclarke

    IBM is now in the business of selling technology solutions for all of the worlds problems – traffic management included. They publichsed their 2011 IBM Global Commuter Pain Survey which is interesting reading.

    As I was reading about Roberts motivations for switching to a bike, I remembered a statement from the IBM survey -

    “In many cities, the survey recorded significant increases, when compared with last year, in the number of respondents who said that roadway traffic has increased their levels of personal stress and anger and negatively affected their performance at work or school.

    “Commuting doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” said Naveen Lamba, IBM’s global intelligent transportation expert. “A person’s emotional response to the daily commute is colored by many factors – pertaining both to traffic congestion as well as to other, unrelated, issues. This year’s Global Commuter Pain survey indicates that drivers in cities around the world are much more unsettled and anxious compared with 2010.”

    The IBM survey points out that commuting stress has a direct effect on worker productivity.

    From the survey note that Toronto is becoming a more stressful city -

    Despite improving traffic conditions, 12 of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reported year-over-year increases in respondents who said that roadway traffic has increased their stress levels, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (45% in 2011 vs. 13% in 2010), Los Angeles (44% in 2011 vs. 21% in 2010), Toronto (40% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), London (33% in 2011 vs. 19% in 2010), Milan (61% in 2011 vs. 38% in 2010), and Johannesburg (52% in 2011 vs. 30% in 2010).

    Eleven of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reporter year-over-year increases in respondents who said that roadway traffic has made them angry, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (35% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), Los Angeles, (29% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), and Toronto (29% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010).

    Eleven of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reported year-over-year increases in respondents who said that traffic has negatively affected their performance at work or school, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (28% in 2011 vs. 8% in 2010), Toronto (29% in 2011 vs. 17% in 2010), Madrid (30% in 2011 vs. 21% in 2010), Paris (35% in 2011 vs. 26% in 2010), Milan (40% in 2011 vs. 21% in 2010), Stockholm (25% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), and Moscow (34% in 2011 vs. 25% in 2010).

    http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/35359.wss

  • John__Henry

    Robert, if you want some tips on how people behave on the road to cyclists, I can go for a ride with you.

  • John__Henry

    Robert, if you want some tips on how people behave on the road to cyclists, I can go for a ride with you.

  • kfg

    “. . .explicit scenes of above-shoulder nudity . . .”

    OK, you gave me a giggle with that one.

  • LukeSiragusa

    The last paragraph reflects my sentiments. Robert welcome to the world of cycling. You’ll be healthier, wealthier and happier for having found it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Luke-Siragusa/896795231 Luke Siragusa

    The last paragraph reflects my sentiments. Robert welcome to the world of cycling. You’ll be healthier, wealthier and happier for having found it.

  • selkiem

    I did something similar several years ago – but with FAR more years in between! I had last been on a bike when I was 16; at 48 I bought a hybrid bike and told my husband I was going to bike to work when i could – apprxoimately 23 km each way- he laughed. But I desperately needed a reason to keep NOT smoking (had quit more than a year before and still had cravings). The first couple of months were BRUTAL – but even from that first difficult day I found I LOVED it. I loved being out. I loved seeing things I had never noticed before. I found it almost zen-like, those early morning bike rides (I start work at 5:30 so would head out the door around 4:15 a.m.). Going to work was not so bad (downhill) coming home more challenging. Hot, humid days, busy, busy traffic and all uphill. But I LOVE it – I have not biked since June 2010 due to a bad accident, but for 5 years I was commuting 2 of my 4 days between end of March until the snow fell (not a winter biker – frankly, without the infrastructure for bikes, Toronto roads are brutal enough regularly -in winter, I admire those brave bikers through snow, slush, narrowed roads and horrrendous Toronto drivers, but I can’t do it). I have been building up my strength again (6 months in a wheelchair) – and am now biking regularly around streets near my home; by next Spring hope to be BACK on my bike and riding again as I miss it desperately… It really is an amazing experience to touch the world again….to get out of the steel trap of our cars and experience the world around us.

  • selkiem

    I did something similar several years ago – but with FAR more years in between! I had last been on a bike when I was 16; at 48 I bought a hybrid bike and told my husband I was going to bike to work when i could – apprxoimately 23 km each way- he laughed. But I desperately needed a reason to keep NOT smoking (had quit more than a year before and still had cravings). The first couple of months were BRUTAL – but even from that first difficult day I found I LOVED it. I loved being out. I loved seeing things I had never noticed before. I found it almost zen-like, those early morning bike rides (I start work at 5:30 so would head out the door around 4:15 a.m.). Going to work was not so bad (downhill) coming home more challenging. Hot, humid days, busy, busy traffic and all uphill. But I LOVE it – I have not biked since June 2010 due to a bad accident, but for 5 years I was commuting 2 of my 4 days between end of March until the snow fell (not a winter biker – frankly, without the infrastructure for bikes, Toronto roads are brutal enough regularly -in winter, I admire those brave bikers through snow, slush, narrowed roads and horrrendous Toronto drivers, but I can’t do it). I have been building up my strength again (6 months in a wheelchair) – and am now biking regularly around streets near my home; by next Spring hope to be BACK on my bike and riding again as I miss it desperately… It really is an amazing experience to touch the world again….to get out of the steel trap of our cars and experience the world around us.

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