Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Of McGill-only interest: Bicycles

Over the summer, bicycling was forbidden on McGill's central campus. I wrote a letter of objection, mainly reproduced below, and was assured that ongoing discussions about possible revisions were possible in the fall.

The decision to begin the school year with a lengthy article in the official McGill Reporter quoting at length from an administration official dismissing all objections annoys me and seems not to signal an interest in ongoing conversation. Significantly, there's no mention of the fact that McGill is built on the southern face of a mountain which has a real effect on how useful it is to tell people to bike around campus in an east-west direction rather than through it. So I hereby make my letter an open one.


I am writing to urge that bicycle-riding be allowed on parts of the lower downtown campus. I recommend that one bicycle lane be opened between the University Ave. gate and tghe bicycle racks at Leacock; one between the University Ave. gate and the McTavish gate; and one up McTavish Ave.

The shift to a bike-free lower campus on May 28th unnecessarily discourages bicycling, and so is in direct tension with the aims of the Greening project. The east-west distance across campus (say, University to Peel) is considerably longer than the usual distance between bike parking and destination, and long enough to provide a real deterrent to biking to and from campus. Sherbrooke is an unsafe alternative for the east-west route; Dr. Penfield is one-way; and Dr. Penfield and Pine both involve such steep ascents at least one direction to also discourage biking.

There's an aesthetic problem that's already becoming apparent, too. Just as McGill has finished the renovations beautifying the University Ave. entrance to campus, it's become a bicycle parking lot. It's overcrowded even now, outside the school year. I understand that there are plans in the works for double-stacking racks that might alleviate the overcrowding (though probably not enough to solve the problem once the school year begins). But that will only make the aesthetic problem worse. What should be a signature view of campus is going to be significantly diminished, because the vast majority of bicycle parking for campus is being concentrated unnecessarily in that one spot.

The stated objective of the policy is pedestrian safety. I don't know how many bicyclist-pedestrian collisions there have been on lower campus in past years. But in past years, lower campus was also crowded with cars. Roads that are wide enough for a lane of traffic and two lanes of parking, with sidewalks alongside them, are now mainly empty of cars. It seems, at the very least, premature to assume that with all that space freed up, pedestrians and cyclists could not coexist-- at any time of day, at any time of year. I suspect that one bicycle lane could always be open, safely, on those roads. A bicycle lane could obviously be open, safely, during non-peak times: outside the academic year; weekends; outside business and class hours on weekdays.

There is a lingering worry about biking on lower campus that dates from non-McGill people using campus to fill in a gap on the city bike paths, as a shortcut between University Ave. and downtown. That worry might be now out-of-date, since the University Ave. bike path has been extended south. But in case not, I think it would be reasonable to require dismounting at the Sherbrooke entrance, and not allow biking on the road that extends McGill College Ave. into campus (the trunk of the Y, as it were).

There are many possible permutations of where and when. But that is part of my point; we proceeded immediately to the most draconian possibility at the same time that auto traffic was removed from lower campus and McTavish. It seems to me absurd not to at least experiment with safe coexistence on all this newly-auto-free real estate.


One final update comment: there is an inconsistent account being given about changes to pedestrian behavior. "As the campus becomes more pedestrian friendly, incluyding the conversion of most of McTavish Street to a pedestrian zone, more and more people will feel increasingly free to walk all over the roadways, [Associate Vice-Principal Jim Nicell] said." So pedestrians are assumed to be highly responsive to one change: no cars. But it's assumed that their walking all over the roadways would be completely unresponsive to the existence of bicycles or a painted bicycle lane on those roadways-- and, of course, that bicyclists would also be unresponsive to lanes and rules less draconian than a ban. The following:

"Perhaps once people are accustomed to the new situation, it may be possible to explore some flexibility with specific hours when people might be permitted to cycle through the campus. It's too early to say when or even if that could happen."

is especially bizarre. To the degree that people get accustomed to the new situation, it will become harder to reintroduce bicycles, because new habits and norms will have developed around the status quo. The way that you let habits and norms of coexistence develop is by allowing coexistince, at least sometimes.

The official FAQ says:
McGill has had a number of pedestrian injuries reported in recent years due to collisions with cyclists. Once pedestrians become accustomed to the reduced amount of vehicular traffic on campus, we believe the risk of such injuries would increase, should cyclists be permitted to circulate as in the past.

This suggests a) that the "ongoing discussion" claim is a stall, and that in a matter of weeks or months we'll hear that the new status quo is irreversible because pedestrian behavior has changed so much, but b) that pedestrian behavior can change only once.

Oh, and one final annoyance: "the fairly minor inconvenience to cyclists of having to walk a few metres." The distance from, say, the Milton gates to Bronfman or the various centres on Peel is more than half a kilometer. That's not an epic forced march or anything. But the rhetorical dismissal of bikers' concerns with "a few metres" is false and rude.

Update: Open forum this Thursday, Shatner building, 3:30-5.

Call for applications: The Groupe de recherche interuniversitaire en philosophie politique de Montréal (GRIPP), spanning the departments of political science and philosophy at McGill University, l'Université de Montréal, Concordia University, and l'Université du Québec à Montréal, invites applications for its 2011 manuscript workshop award. The recipient of the award will be invited to Montreal for a day-long workshop in April 2011 dedicated to his or her book manuscript. This "author meets critics" workshop will comprise four to five sessions dedicated to critical discussion of the manuscript; each session will begin with a critical commentary on a section of the manuscript by a political theorist or philosopher who is part of Montreal's GRIPP community. The format is designed to maximize feedback for a book-in-progress. The award covers the costs of travel, accommodation, and meals.


A. Topic: The manuscript topic is open within political theory and political philosophy, but we are especially interested in manuscripts related to at least one of these GRIPP research themes: 1) the history of liberal and democratic thought, especially early modern thought; 2) moral psychology and political agency, or politics and affect or emotions or rhetoric; 3) democracy, diversity, and pluralism. 4) democracy, justice, and transnational institutions.

B. Manuscript: Book manuscripts in English or French, not yet in a version accepted for publication, by applicants with PhD in hand by 1 August 2010, are eligible. Applicants must have a complete or nearly complete draft (at least 4/5 of final draft) ready to present at the workshop. In the case of co-authored manuscripts, only one of the co-authors is eligible to apply. (Only works in progress by the workshop date are eligible; authors with a preliminary book contract are eligible only if no version has been already accepted for publication).

C. Application: Please submit the following materials electronically, compiled as a single PDF file: 1) a curriculum vitae; 2) a table of contents; 3) a short abstract of the book project, up to 200 words; 4) a longer book abstract up to 2500 words; and, in the case of applicants with previous book publication(s), (5) three reviews, from established journals in the field, of the applicant's most recently published monograph. Candidates are not required to, but may if they wish, submit two letters of recommendation speaking to the merits of the book project. Please do not send writing samples. Send materials by email, with the subject heading “2011 GRIPP Manuscript Workshop Award” to Arash Abizadeh . Review of applications begins 10 January 2011. Contact Arash Abizadeh with questions.

Previous GRIPP Manuscript Workshops:
April 2010: Hélène Landemore (Yale), Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many
April 2009: Alan Patten (Princeton), Equal Recognition: The Moral Foundations of Minority Cultural Rights
March 2009: Kinch Hoekstra (UC Berkeley), Thomas Hobbes and the Creation of Order



Appel à candidature: Le groupe de recherche interuniversitaire en philosophie politique de Montréal (GRIPP), qui réunit des chercheurs des départements de science politique et de philosophie de l’Université McGill, de l’Université de Montréal, de l’Université Concordia et de l’Université du Québec à Montréal, fait un appel à candidature pour son prix 2011 de l’atelier de manuscrit. Le lauréat sera invité à Montréal en avril 2011 pour un atelier d’une journée complète consacré au manuscrit de son livre. Cet atelier du type « l’auteur rencontre ses critiques » comprendra quatre ou cinq séances de discussions critiques sur le manuscrit ; pour chacune d’entre elles, un spécialiste de théorie politique ou un philosophe membre de la communauté montréalaise du GRIPP lancera la discussion par un commentaire critique d’une des sections du manuscrit. Ceci a pour but de faciliter les échanges sur un livre en chantier. Le prix couvre les dépenses de voyage, d’hébergement et de repas.

Éligibilité :

A- Sujet : De façon générale, le manuscrit doit traiter de théorie politique ou de philosophie politique, mais nous sommes tout particulièrement intéressés aux manuscrits qui correspondent à l’une des thématiques de recherche du GRIPP : 1) l’histoire de la pensée libérale et démocratique, et notamment du début de la pensée moderne; 2) la psychologie morale du sujet (ou encore de l’agent) politique, ainsi que la politique et les affects, les émotions ou la rhétorique; 3) la démocratie, la diversité et le pluralisme; 4) la démocratie, la justice et les institutions transnationales.

B- Manuscrit : Sont éligibles tous les manuscrits de livres en français ou en anglais, non encore publiés et non en version acceptée par une maison de presses, et dont l’auteur a reçu un doctorat avant le 1er août 2010. Les candidats devront avoir une version complète, ou presque (au moins 4/5e de la version finale), à présenter à l’atelier. Pour ce qui concerne les manuscrits coécrits, seul l’un des coauteurs est éligible.

C- Soumission : Vous voudrez bien fournir les documents suivants, en format électronique, dans un seul fichier PDF : 1) un curriculum vitae; 2) une table des matières; 3) un court résumé du projet du livre de moins de 200 mots; 4) un résumé plus long, de moins de 2 500 mots; et, dans le cas de candidats ayant déjà publié, 5) trois recensions parues dans des revues spécialisées et reconnues dans le domaine de la plus récente monographie publiée. Les candidats peuvent, s’ils le souhaitent, joindre deux lettres de recommandation présentant l’intérêt de leur projet de livre. Nous vous prions de ne pas envoyer d’extraits de manuscrit. Envoyez ces documents par courriel, avec le sujet « 2011 GRIPP Manuscript Workshop Award » à Arash Abizadeh . L’examen des candidatures commencera le 10 janvier 2011. Pour toute information supplémentaire, veuillez contacter Dominique Leydet

Derniers lauréats du prix :
Avril 2010: Hélène Landemore (Yale), Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many
Avril 2009: Alan Patten (Princeton), Equal Recognition: The Moral Foundations of Minority Cultural Rights
Mars 2009: Kinch Hoekstra (UC Berkeley), Thomas Hobbes and the Creation of Order