How Much Carbon is Created by One Space Shuttle Being Launched

by Mark Zaugg 30. November 2015 19:32

Today while watching CBC's Power and Politics I saw a question flash by while Elizabeth May was being interviewed.  Sadly, I'm not watching in high resolution, so I can only guess at the name of the questioner.  I believe her name was Phyllis Brown Rouble - please correct me if you can.

She asked:  “can anyone tell me how much carbon is created by one space shuttle being launched into space and what damage is done to the ozone layer”

I’m a space aficionado and I thought I’d make a quick attempt to estimate it.

First, we need a little information on the Space Shuttle.  When it launched, the Space Shuttle consisted of four main visible parts:  The Orbiter Vehicle itself, the External Tank, and the two Solid Rocket Boosters on each side of the External Tank.

The Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) are simple, cheap and reliable boosters used to get the shuttle off the ground.  SRBs don’t perform as well as liquid hydrogen engines, but their job was only to get the vehicle moving.  They burned ammonium perchlorate composite propellant (APCP).  The actual source of fuel was aluminum because it has good energy properties and is hard to light accidentally.  The fuel was held together with rubber binder.  This is the carbon contained in the fuel and totalled 12.04% of the total mass of the fuel.

The Orbiter had three main engines and drew it’s fuel from the external tank.  That fuel was liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, when the hydrogen was burned it created plain water which is considered a zero-emission fuel.  No carbon whatsoever was put in the atmosphere from the liquid fuels.

Each SRB contained about 500,000 kg of fuel.  Of that mass about 60,200 kg (12.04%) consisted of carbon-bearing binder.  As exciting as polymer chemistry is to me, this gets crazy in a hurry.  In a nutshell, we have long chains of carbon and hydrogen with some molecules of oxygen and nitrogen strategically aligned in the mix.

Very roughly, I’m going to equate 1 kg of APCP to 1 kg of gasoline.  Let me stress, they are not the same, and APCP is really nasty stuff, but this is at least ballpark equivalence of carbon.

And here is where my mind gets blown.

According to Stats Can, in 2014 only in my home province of Alberta, we had gross sales totalling 6,566,200,000 litres of gasoline sold.  That equates to 17,989,589 litres per day.  Depending on the blend, I’m going to estimate 1 litre of gasoline is approximately 0.75 kg.

My assumption that 1 kg APCP is equivalent to 1 kg of gasoline is unrealistic and a good organic chemist will clarify far beyond what I have done here.  But by the back of my envelope, Alberta sold 13,472,403 kg of gasoline per day in 2014, which is about 224 times more than the carbon produced during each Space Shuttle launch. (Please note: I chose Alberta because I live here.  Quebec sells 9,212,889,000 litres per year, Ontario 16,178,215,000! Total for Canada is 43,522,454,000.

Compared with gasoline output from vehicles alone, each Space Shuttle was negligible.  There were 135 Shuttle launches.  We burn 200 times that much fuel each and every day in just one province of our country.  I'll leave the ozone calculations to the reader unless I come back to it later in the week.  Suffice it to say, I doubt it will amount to much.

Of course, the value for shuttle launches needs to be included in the calculation.  Without shuttle launches we wouldn't have Earth Observation Satellites performing remote monitoring which gives us the very detail on climate change.  And I'm a strong believer in all that NASA Spinoffs have given to humanity, from better materials to health and medicine to entertainment.  That's a much higher rate of return on our atmospheric carbon than my teenage cruising trying to look cool.

Yes, I find the numbers mind boggling, but it's an important reminder that every attempt I make at conservation and energy reduction will have important effect on climate change.  There will be no surprise to my friends -- I'll be riding my bike to work tomorrow.


Commuting along 9 Avenue SE

by Mark Zaugg 11. July 2012 00:34

I travel back and forth on 9th Avenue SE through Inglewood at least five days a week.  Four of those five days I usually cycle, Fridays I typically drive.  I tend to have pretty firm views on what works with the bus / bike lanes that were put in this past year.

In the winter when the lanes were first put in, I was one of the few riding a bike along 9 Ave.  With spring more riders joined me and as we've reached summer the number of cyclists is noticeably higher.  I'm quite confident in my bicycle and my cycling gear (such as my mirror and lights) that I feel comfortable commuting along the road.  I feel happier that the bus / bike lane has been set up which enables me to travel at higher speeds while cycling and I feel a higher confidence with bus drivers in my lane than the general public.

On Fridays while I drive, it is an annoyance that I have to stick to the left hand lane only.  Traffic does clog up when line-ups form behind drivers turning left.  I'll explain more very soon.  When I drive I stay strictly in the left lane and wait behind turning traffic.

I'm going to display my trip into the Beltline through photos and my trip out of the downtown in video.  Today traffic was lighter than average, and as it was taken during Stampede I'm feeling a little more forgiving with out of town traffic, particularly around the Stampede Grounds.  I wish to add, my general feeling is that my ride into work is usually safer and less conflict driven than my ride home, although today that was certainly reversed.

I should also mention that this post was instigated by what I consider deplorable driving behaviour on Monday during my ride home.  So much that I actually created an account and reported the offending vehicle on  While I am mounted on my bike I am considered a vehicle and I'm entitled to "take the lane" - and even encouraged to do so to discourage cars from passing when it is unsafe.  With the bus / bike lane set up on 9 Avenue SE, only buses and bicycles are entitled to be in the right lane westbound from 7:00 am to 8:30 am and eastbound from 3:30 pm until 6:00 pm.  The only exception is made for vehicles turning right immediately at the next intersection.  There is no excuse whatsoever for a motorist to follow me along the length of 9 Avenue SE.

I generally consider 9 Ave a pretty safe, quick and effective route for me to commute to work and home.  It's direct and reasonably efficient whether I'm cycling or driving.  There are a couple of dangerous areas where I try to be extra vigilant, but for the most part I feel I can ride quite safely.  Let me guide you riding into downtown, westbound along 9 Avenue starting at 7:59 in the morning.

Let's start at the funky corner where 17 Ave SE and 15 St SE meet at 9 Ave SE.

All the vehicles in the right lane on 17 Ave must merge to the left lane once they turn onto 9 Ave.  Usually drivers will swing to the right lane to avoid potentially queuing behind vehicles turning left, but being in the right lane is probably not a problem at this point.  Early in the spring I think there was a temporary sign placed at this location.  Drivers probably ought to know better by now, but advance warning is never a bad idea.

The van behind the bus ahead turned right at the next intersection.  Otherwise an uneventful ride to 12 Street.

The vehicles shown here had all turned from northbound 12 Street to westbound 9 Avenue.  Three vehicles are clearly visible having changed lanes into the bus / bike lane ahead while I was waiting to cross at the red light.

These are vehicles number 5 and 6 driving in the bus / bike lane, I was still waiting at the red light at this point.

Vehicles #7 (the black truck, ahead of the sedan) and #8 the white sedan itself.  At this point I realized I did not demonstrate the left turn onto 11 Street so I circled around the block, dismounted and took pictures from a good vantage point.

The Mustang is about to turn left, you can see two more vehicles in the wrong lane ahead bringing the new count to 10.

The truck is #11.

The white truck was blocked from turning left by oncoming traffic.  You can observe three vehicles passing on the right, total is 14.

The queued cars begin to peel around the blocked truck.  The black coupe is vehicle 15.

The two black SUV's are #16 and #17.

The sedan is #18.

The truck clears the intersection, the Volvo is #19.

Vehicles #20 and #21.  I always get extra annoyed when cabbies and other professional drivers drive in the improper lane.  I expect them to be professional and particularly courteous with their driving.

Vehicle 22 was also a taxi.

Vehicles #23 and #24.  I will give them credit for stopping for a pedestrian crossing signal.

Vehicles 25, 26 and 27.  This photo was taken at 8:09, so exactly 10 minutes after I began riding along 9 Ave.  I'm very disappointed with the high numbers of drivers violating the bus / bike lane.

Rather than subject you to continuous photos, I want to demonstrate why swinging into the bus / bike lane is truly a dangerous problem along 9 Avenue.

This is a bicycle courier riding safely in his lane.  As traffic swings around left-turning vehicles they come directly into his lane, sometimes courteously, sometimes with no thought to bicycles possibly being in that lane.  I personally would feel comfortable with the space that SUV gave the cyclist, but clearly not all cyclists are.  Subsequent vehicles passing the courier did not give him as much room, a problem on a regular road but this is a literal crime when the vehicles have no right to be in that lane whatsoever.

I wish to address enforcement as well.  When I posted the photo of the horrible driver on several other cyclists mentioned a lack of enforcement by the police along 9 Avenue.  I do not criticize the Calgary Police Service here.  I see them pulling over drivers on a regular basis.  I give a tap on my helmet to them whenever I ride past.  It's not perfect enforcement and I don't see them daily, but I've seen boneheaded drivers lined up along a side road waiting for their turn to discuss their infraction with an officer.  Drivers' attitudes have to change, I'd like to think they slowly are.  I'd hope that mine have.

When I drive, I don't stay in the left lane because I'm a saint.  I stay there because 80 percent of the time I feel vulnerable, particularly to drivers swinging into my lane to go around other vehicles.

In all honesty, I had no idea it would be so bad this morning.  I don't feel this was a typical day, but the photos don't lie.  The real point I set out to make this morning is in the following photos.  It displays what I consider to be the riskiest part of 9 Avenue for bicycles and cars to coexist and quite possibly the most difficult section to solve.  The actual bus / bike lane ends at 9 Avenue and 9 Street SE.  I've been stopped by another cyclist who asked where it ended, the only real indication is the subtle "ENDS 08:30" on the sign.

Traffic past 9 Street turns left onto 8 Street and into Ramsay.  Traffic was too light today, but when a train is crossing or traffic loads are heavy, the traffic will back up in both lanes well past 9 Street forcing drivers who wish to continue straight into the right lane or risk getting trapped in the left turn lane when discourteous drivers refuse to let them safely merge right.

This poor guy did everything right up to 9 Street, then had six drivers pass him on the right before anyone would let him in.  This is where things get tricky because 9 Avenue may not be wide enough to adapt.  We're forcing drivers to merge right within the length of one block while traffic regularly backs up for two blocks at that point.  Vehicles need space to manouver safely, cyclists need safe passage with vehicles moving over on them.

A lesser problem is that the pavement gets pretty chewed up at this intersection, right where cyclists are expected to ride.  My suggestion is this is a good section to take the lane outright.  I understand that takes some guts and a lot of visibility to do and it isn't for everyone, but the average commuter cyclist can travel at roughly the same speed as the traffic along this block until the pathway opens up in front of the Deane House.

My ideal scenario would be to actually end the bus / bike lane one block earlier.  That would give drivers more time to respond and safely merge to the right to cross the 9 Avenue Bridge.  To keep cyclists safer I'd try to extend the marked bike lane that's west of the bridge to the east side as well, giving cyclists a clear and safe path of their own along the road.  I don't know if there's space, but it would make that section of the road so much less aggravating to me as a driver and so much more safe as a cyclist.

To end off, I'll take you along with me on a ride home.

Where are you looking?

by Mark Zaugg 7. December 2011 20:33

When you are driving safely, you are looking to where you want to go.

You should not look just in front of your vehicle.  Surely you want to go farther than the 20 or 30 feet ahead of you.  The faster you travel, the further you have to look ahead.  You need more time to accumulate data and you require time to process that data into good decision making.

Nor should you be fixating on your final destination.  It may not even be in sight.  You can't even focus entirely on a spot a full kilometre down the road - that's foolhardy when a hazard could be just ahead of you.

You cannot be locked into tunnel vision, staring solely ahead.  Hazards may exist in the ditches or coming out of alleys at the side of the road.  Nor can you neglect your mirrors for hazards racing up behind you.

"Look where you want to go" still holds as the primary rule of safe driving.  But it's not an absolute rule.  You need to take in data such as your speed, your direction, road signs, other drivers, pedestrians, cyclists -- the sum of your environment.

"Look where you want to go" as a life's lesson is much the same.  Recently I got all hell bent for leather on a course of action, however lunch with a friend suddenly snapped into place that I haven't finished driving my current road yet and there is much for me to do before I'm ready to switch life's highways.

When you're driving, it should be somewhat obvious where you are heading.  More or less in front of you, far enough ahead to spot obstacles and hazards, not so far ahead that you are oblivious to things that are near you.  Setting your goals and choosing one's path through life is less clear cut.  There are many directions you can choose and many goals you can set for yourself.

The choice made should, in my mind, still be somewhat obvious.  Your destination as a person needs to begin from your values.  Everyone's core values are serious, personal and valuable beyond counting.  You need to consider what your values are and how they impact you as a person.  Although I have a good standing on what my personal cornerstones are, it's clear that I can lose my focus and forget the things I most want to accomplish.  Lose that focus and it becomes much harder to achieve your goals.

Let me tie my thoughts into a circle.  If you truly value all life on earth, you must do what you can to care for life and ensure life is not taken without good cause.  Unless you are a plant or a bacterium, we must continue our existence by sacrificing life for our own sustenance, but life is not to be taken carelessly.  When that's your primary value, you ought to be driving carefully, applying what you know about safe driving each and every time you get behind the wheel.  Look where you want to go.  Travel with confidence.  Stay calm when things don't smoothly go your way.  Tenaciously practice and improve your skills and abilities.  Never stop learning.

I wouldn't consider telling you what your core values ought to be, but I highly encourage you to think about your core values and your goals and how you intend to achieve your goals while staying true to your values.

I can't help someone else until I've prepared myself.  My drive right now has to be to improve myself, but also value a bigger role which awaits me and need to simultaneously prepare myself.  I have to remain true to my cornerstones or risk losing my values.  I have to care for my health, my teeth and my jaw -- the choices over how I get there are fast becoming interesting and compelling.

In the end, you need to ultimately decide for yourself which route you shall take.  We all face the choice of Robert Frost, and regardless of the road taken our choice shall make all the difference.

Look Where You Want to Go

by Mark Zaugg 6. December 2011 21:00

Here's the blog I'm dedicating to Sly.

I loathe "Reality T.V."  From it's tenuous grasp on reality to the puffed up ego monsters that tend to be attracted as stars for their hideous 15 minutes of fame, to the ridiculous assumptions that I have to watch and I have to have an opinion about people and events I couldn't care less over.

I do, however, love Canada's Worst Driver and Canada's Worst Handyman.  The latter because I'm likely a prospective wretched renovator, and the former because I see nothing but relevance in the show for each and every driver on our roads.

I consider myself an above average driver, which is not surprising because we ALL would call ourselves above average in our driving skills.  The difference is I am comfortable driving in vehicles ranging from subcompacts to three ton grain trucks, automatic or standard transmission vehicles, with or without trailers - the trailer empty or filled with dirt, grain, furniture or a small combine.

There are skills featured on CWD that I would desperately love to try.  I could really learn something from the Eye of the Needle and I have never attempted a Reverse Flick but I think I could gain much from that level of intuitive knowledge of weight transfer between your wheels.  Until I get proper instruction at a track where it's completely safe, I'll probably never attempt it.

There are skills you can try every single time you get behind a wheel.  For instance, can you drive in a straight line?  In a real straight line?  Can you drive in a straight line with a curve in the middle?  Can you perform an S-turn?  Can you do one intuitively, without thinking?

These are skills that are essential for good driving.  They don't require special equipment.  They don't require a tunnel made from styrofoam cutouts.  You only need to turn your brain on, then pay attention to the road and your driving.

The number one rule of driving - at least according to CWD - is look where you want to go.  They can't say it enough, they can't teach it enough, it can't be emphasized and shared too much.  Look where you want to go.

You drive towards where you look, you react towards where you're looking, you are only observing the hazards where you are looking.  When you drive, you must look where you want to go.  It doesn't mean tunnel vision - you have to be aware of your entire environment.  However your eyes need to be primarily upon your target and you will head towards where you're focused.

So last week, one of CWD7's drivers, Sly, noticed a great insight.  "You know, I think that's an analogy for life.  'Look where you want to go.  Look where you want to go.'  My gosh.  One of those things that the Dalai Lama would probably say."

He's right.  It's more than just driving.  "Look where you want to go."  "Keep your eyes on the ball."  "Keep your target in sight."  "Keep your goals in front of you."  We say the same thing constantly in so many ways.

We, as human beings, need a direction.  We are best when we're striving, we are most accomplished while achieving specific goals.

You can't be a good driver if you're not looking where you want to go.  Can you be a good person when you wander through life without focus?

However, life isn't just one success after another.  We have failures, we take tangents, we go down wrong roads and sometimes travel in the wrong direction.  We have to recognize the whole of the environment around ourselves.  Success comes down to focusing those experiences into lessons that eventually guide us toward our goals.

I'm trying harder to apply it every day.

Look where you want to go.  Travel with confidence.  Stay calm when things don't smoothly go your way.  Tenaciously practice and improve your skills and abilities.  Never stop learning. 

Now that's reality.

Bicycle vs. Car - an Argument With Myself

by Mark Zaugg 30. June 2011 20:52

I've been becoming more vocal lately about pretty much everything.  I'll go right back to what I told you last year - I'm a smart guy, but I'm wrong about half the time.  We count on it - that's the basic fundamental principle of democracy:  The majority of us will probably have the right answer most of the time.  It's not foolproof, but it's as good of a starting point as we've found.


So I've made a big shift from being a fair weather, pathway cyclist to year-round, "confident" cyclist who chooses a bicycle as my primary choice for a daily commute.  I've always been good on a bike and I've always enjoyed riding, but I grew up in Small Town, Alberta where traffic wasn't anywhere near the big deal it is in Calgary.  In the city, it's a whole different deal.  The pathways aren't bad when they aren't busy, but they can get extremely congested downtown.  Roads in the city are just scary to ride on.


Where the conflict develops is that I'm not just a cyclist -- I'm a driver too.  I'd like to think I'm above average in both categories - I secretly fear I'm not much different than anybody else out there.  It's not a fair argument.  We already know who's going to win.


Driver Mark:  All this crap about making Calgary bicycle friendly is starting to make me sick.  We have more than enough problems with traffic in Calgary.  We have too much sprawl and not enough roads and interchanges.  It takes far too long to get in from the suburbs to downtown.  Most of the people in this city drive cars.  We need better roads, we need more parking, we need better ways to move people back and forth.


Cyclist Mark:  We have a better way.  We've sunk untold millions into automobile infrastructure.  We can't continue this.  We don't have the space for more roads, we don't have capacity to move more cars through the inner city, we can't afford to keep building more neighbourhoods further and further from city centre and still move people back and forth every day the way we have.  The better way is alternative transportation.  Transit, bicycles, and walking can all relieve our biggest obstacles.


Driver Mark:  Yeah, yeah, more of this cycling crap.  One percent of Calgarians are going to ride bikes for three months in the summer and we're talking about sinking $28 million for a handful of people.  It's a joke, we need to put the money where people are really using it now.


Cyclist Mark: Hold up, let's be genuine here a moment.  We're talking about $28 million in capital costs, but there's a little over $12 million that's unfunded right now.  One mile of urban freeway costs about $60 million.  The numbers are kinda simple - that's one fifth of a mile of highway to find for all of Calgary's start up for bicycles over the next three years.  That's really cheap compared with vehicles.  We're talking tens of thousands of cyclists out there now, and we want to increase those numbers in the near future.


Driver:  That's ridiculous.  The roads are already built!  You're going to take away driving lanes and parking and call it a bargain.


Cyclist: We're not going to reduce McLeod Trail to two lanes all the way up and back.  Changes have to be strategic.  Bicycle lanes need to be put where cyclists can use them.  We're asking for a full transportation network, just like vehicles have.  No one would be happy driving from Deerfoot Trail, getting on a five mile long dirt lane, and then carrying on Highway 2 up to Edmonton.  We want the same planning to go into our bicycle infrastructure.


Driver:  But we already have this world class bike path system we brag about.


Cyclist:  We call them bike paths, but they're really not just for bikes.  They're Multi-Use Pathways (or MUPs) and there are bicycles and pedestrians and dog walkers and wheelchairs and all manner of users out there.  They're great for recreation, they're okay for commuters when they happen to align with your route, but they're not helpful when you have to go out of your way.


Driver:  So we spend a whole pile of cash to revamp our roads and nothing is going to change.  We don't know that anyone is actually going to ride a bike anyways.


Cyclist:  No, we don't know for sure that habits will change.  We do know one thing for sure:  Without better infrastructure Calgarians will not change.  Most people don't feel comfortable riding on the roads.  We have to make things easier if we want to convince more people to pull their bikes out of their garage. We've proven it over the last 40 years.  It's time to fix it.  It's a cheap way to leverage what we've already built.


Driver: And the end result of this is that we're going to get more idiots on bikes driving dangerously.  Have you seen those guys weaving through traffic back and forth?  They're insane, they're dangerous, and they're never held responsible for their absurd behaviour.  Why don't they ever get tickets the way I get ticketed as a driver?


Cyclist:  You know what?  You're exactly right.  It's dangerous, it's stupid, and it's setting back the cause of cycling twenty years.  Cyclists should not be riding like that.  Let's not forget there are plenty of drivers out there driving dangerously, too.  The dangerous drivers are a much bigger problem for you than the dangerous cyclists because you have to deal with a lot more bad drivers than bad cyclists.  I am still going to through out a proviso, however.  Sometimes it's safer for a bike to not strictly follow the rules.


Driver:  Hold it.  As a driver, I'm expected to follow all the rules, all the time.  You are not going to get away with some creative excuses because you're on a bike.


Cyclist:  People on bikes should follow the rules all the time.  But not all the rules are particularly bike friendly.  Not all the rules have been designed with bikes in mind.  We need to get them addressed fairly.


Driver:  Tough, tell it to the judge.


Cyclist:  It might come down to that, eventually.  Until then can we agree that we need fair and reasonable enforcement for everyone on the roads?  We're going to have issues, but everyone's driving out there needs improvement.


Driver:  Fine.  But what about all those cyclists slowing me down when I'm trying to get somewhere?


Cyclist:  Bicycles are slowing you down?  Can't you pass safely?


Driver:  No.  Those cyclists think they own the whole lane.


Cyclist:  They deserve the whole lane.  It's done to keep us safe.


Driver:  Safe?  You're going 30 km/h blocking me the whole way!  Move over and let me by.  You're supposed to ride to the right.


Cyclist:  Most people I know generally do move over when it's safe.  But even if you're held up for a block, it's hardly the problem with slowing you down much.  Honestly, the problem is there are more cars than the roads can handle.  Look at this video, it's Crowchild Trail during rush hour.  The bikes are faster than the cars.  And they're not even trying to go quickly.  More bikes on the road mean less cars on the road.  You'll travel faster as a driver.  It's good for you!


Driver: It will only get worse when you're taking away driving lanes and parking.


Cyclist:  Experience from cities like Montreal have been the opposite.  Bike lanes are getting congested because they're so well used.  That's easing congestion on the streets, at least a little.  Besides, haven't you noticed all the "traffic calming" measures the city is slapping in through the inner city neighbourhoods?  You're losing your driving lanes anyways.


Driver:  All those blockages really piss me off.


Cyclist:  We can use some of that for bike lanes.  It'll keep traffic flowing, take cars off the streets, and we'll all be better off.  As for parking, if someone goes to the store by bike, that's one more person you don't have to fight for a parking stall.  You can park a lot more bikes out of the way with a bike rack than you can with a single parking stall out front.


Driver:  Okay, but Calgary has this thing called winter.  Why are we spending this much money for times of the year when no one can ride?


Cyclist:  Actually, I ride year round now.


Driver:  Are you crazy?  That's ridiculously dangerous.  You're going to slide right underneath my car going around a corner.


Cyclist:  Look, during the winter what tires do you put on your car?


Driver:  Well, I just use my All Season tires.


Cyclist:  The same tires you hate in the rain because they're so slippery?  Are they better on ice?


Driver:  Well, no.  It can be kinda scary in the winter.  But I have AWD so it's not all that bad.


Cyclist:  Okay, when I ride in the winter, I put studded tires on my bike.  They give incredible traction out there - I feel very comfortable on ice or snow.  Besides, Calgary is famous for it's chinooks.  It's not so bad all winter long.  You just prepare for the conditions.  Why don't you put winter tires on your car?


Driver:  They're pretty expensive.  Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have better tires year put on.


Cyclist:  I got fantastic tires for $80 each.  I feel much safer out there and they'll last me for years.  My entire bike is set up and maintained for winter.  Honestly, it's kind of nice to not get to work sweaty in the winter.  It would be a lot better if they cleared snow regularly out of the lanes where I need to ride instead of moving snow onto it.


Driver:  It was tough enough getting the city to plow more of the city streets regularly.


Cyclist:  We're sharing the pain.  Don't you agree it's a real problem when the lines are faded?


Driver:  I can't tell where the bicycles are supposed to be and where I'm supposed to drive.


Cyclist:  A huge portion of the bicycle strategy is dedicated towards maintenance.  That's going to help drivers and bikes know where each other are supposed to be and keep us all safer.  It's as much about cars as it is about bikes.


Driver:  Well why aren't bikes carrying their share of the costs?


Cyclist:  I drive, too.  I pay taxes just the same as you.  We're paying right now.  It's just that there's been very little put towards cycling infrastructure up to now.  We don't need as much as vehicles, but we do need more than we've had up to now if we're going to encourage more people to ride.  Cycling is getting me fit, it's going to save a whole lot of health care costs.  Cycling can save us a whole lot of money in the long haul.


Driver: Well why aren't we leaving space for the cars and just putting cyclists and pedestrians together on a oversized sidewalk?


Cyclist:  There are two major problems.  The first is the problem that a traditional intersection isn't really well designed for pedestrians, and it's atrocious for cyclists.  The other problem is between cyclists and pedestrians.  Relative speeds between bikes and pedestrians are too great to be safe.  I walk at a quick pace and I'm only travelling at 5 km/h.  On a flat road on my bike with no wind I can sustain 35 to 40 km/h now.  That's the same as talking the difference between a car and a bike.  Really, the best case scenario is to separate vehicles from bicycles and separate bicycles from pedestrians.  It will take an investment, but it's ultimately geared towards making us all safer, more active, and hopefully healthier.  We call it our bicycle strategy, but it's really about transportation for all Calgarians.  We have literally sat on this since the early 1970's.  The sooner we act, the sooner we can make it better for all of us.


Driver:  Well, I've got one more beef.  I don't see why we have to hire three people to organize this whole bicycle strategy.  What are those jobs supposed to be doing?


Cyclist:  You know I've been complaining about the signs on the pathways.  They're horribly designed for a cyclist moving at 20 km/h - let alone someone moving at that 35 km/h I can sustain now.  We need someone to design better signs, to plan detours and maintenance, we need someone to plan routes that will least interfere with drivers and give maximum usefulness to bicycles.  We need someone who is taking a serious look at bike boxes, crossing signals, coloured lanes and other safety features other cities are having success with.  This isn't a three year job, this is going to be a ten year project until we show significant results.  At the end of it, we're going to have a healthier city, cleaner air, safer traffic and faster commutes.  It only makes sense.  We absolutely have to work on this.


Driver:  I'm not sure you've convinced me, but you make some good points.


Cyclist:  I am you.  You're out riding on a regular basis.  You're happier when you get into work.  You're not scowling at the other drivers when they do something stupid.  You haven't lost a pound of weight, but you've dropped an inch from your waistline and your lungs feel better than they have in years.  You know this is right for you.  You know this is best for your children.  It's a chance to correct 40 years of mistakes and finally get a cycling network built in Calgary for them!  Don't blow the opportunity.


Driver:  At the public hearings when one of the presenters said cycling was fun, Andre Chabot said that driving was fun, too.  He's right, I like to drive!


Cyclist:  That's never going away.  You're going to have to do a little of both well into the future.  Having more choices is best for everyone.  We need to fund this.  We need to seriously act on it.  Right now.

We're learning.

by Mark Zaugg 8. June 2011 18:16

So after going back to Pipestone Travel Store today I ended up riding north along McLeod Trail trying to get downtown as quickly as I could so I would make the 20 Minute Makeover.  I just crossed over the C-Train overpass and was going downhill when I felt an odd wobble from my back wheel.  That was strange, I didn't spot anything, but the bike didn't feel right.  A bit further on I came to a gas station, flipped my bike over and pulled the rear wheel looking for a leak.  I never found one, so I figured the tire must have a slow leak and be slightly under-inflated.  Turn on the air pump, get some pressure into the tire and


"Uh-oh."  I didn't find the leak, but I most certainly had one now.

Knowing that some of the buses in Calgary have bike racks, I tweeted Calgary Transit hoping to get lucky.  In short, fat chance, no bike racks at all on those buses.

I don't take transit all that often anymore - I'm usually on my bike.  Today when I was reliant on a bike rack, there wasn't one to be had.  I had to lock my bike up to a fence at the side of the road, hoping it would be intact by the time I got back, and spend the next 45 minutes or so riding a bus down to the bike shop, getting replacement parts, hopping on the next bus north and then repairing my bike.  It would have been so much simpler (and cheaper!) if I could have just brought my bike with me.  I would have been certain I got the right parts and I would not have had to purchase my own tools to take with me.

Ubermoogle (how I love that name!) sent me this article about the headaches of bike racks on buses.  "Man," I thought, "I had a major headache today without one!"  And McKendrick's argument that the use is sporadic is a spurious argument.  I needed one today.  Probably the first time in my life, but today was the day - where was the rack?

I understand Calgary Transit is trying to accommodate bikes and I understand that it's not without consequence.  We're not on opposite sides of the argument here, we have to find ways to cooperate and make the situation better for everyone.

Just as I'm crawling into the tub to soak I open up Mia Birk's book Joyride, turn the page and read the following:

Once you build it, people will come.  This, we know.  But if we build it, and then encourage people to use it, in ways that are meaningful to their lives, they will come in flocks, droves, maybe even stampedes.
This, we learn.

Thanks again, Mia.

Construction Ahead. Somewhere. Maybe.

by Mark Zaugg 7. June 2011 16:52

Okay, let's pretend you're driving along a pretty quiet road at 10:00 at night and you see an orange "Construction Ahead" sign at the side of the road.  It's late at night, you don't see any lights on, you don't see any equipment moving, you don't see any people about and the entire area appears entirely absent of any signs of work happening. 

Ask yourself honestly, do you slow down? 

I'd like to think that, being Canadian, we're all really nice, fine folks who always do the right thing.  I know better.  Some of us will slow down for fear of a cop waiting on the other side of the road, some of us will slow down because there's a sign asking us to, others will blow right on through with nary a care in the world. 

Me, I would slow down a little, but more out of fear of getting a ticket.  That is until one of the traffic reporters on one of the local radio stations put forward an actual sane argument.  It's a construction zone.  There could be pipe lying around.  There could be pavement breaking up.  Some idiot may have dropped his hammer and left it in the middle of a lane all day.  You don't know what's out there.  Slow down so you can be ready for surprises.  It makes sense!  It's a deal.  Always, always, always slow in construction zones.  No exceptions.

This doesn't even count trying to protect the people out there working for us.  I'm immeasurably saddened when I drive past the Calf Robe Bridge - someone was killed there a few years back by some idiot who didn't slow down.  There's a reason fines are doubled when workers are out there.  If the drivers would smarten the hell up and make it safer for the people doing the work, things would go faster and be less of a headache for the drivers in the first place.  Short sightedness that costs us all.

In return there's a bit of a code that comes with it.  When workers are out there, the first thing they do is put the signs up.  When they're away, those signs should be down and we should at least have a fighting chance to know that the site is vacant of activity.  It's safer for everyone.

I've been riding my bike all week for the joy of riding.  This is my holiday and it's doing wonders for my soul.  The shine went off a little today.

One of my major routes that I end up taking is alongside the Bow River down Inglewood past the Alyth rail yards and then typically off at Heritage and then along Deerfoot Trail to Southland Drive. 

I took it Saturday when I attended the Calgary Ukrainian Festival - so that was for fun.  Sunday night I looped the Weaselhead and returned using that route.  Monday I ended up taking it so I could go get my handlebar replaced.  Otherwise it would have been out of my way.  Today, tomorrow and Thursday I have business in the south and I'll have to find alternative routes each day.  It's particularly annoying to me because it is now unavailable to me when I actually most need to take it.

I don't want to appear ungrateful.  It needed work.  But part of the reason it needed work was because it's a popular route that goes where there are few alternatives.  Yes, that means the detour is going to be cumbersome.  At least we sorta knew in advance, right?

I'm going to argue we didn't have adequate notice, the signs are confusing and meaningless and while I understand there's very limited opportunity to provide better detours we've done a pitiful job at guiding people towards where the detour route lies.


This details a whole pile of unacceptable mistakes regarding the pathway closure.  I'm going to have a very hard time believing the city is going to be serious about becoming a friendlier city towards alternative transportation when we show great difficulty managing the system we've got today.

The first problem is this sign announcing that the pathway is closed.  (I'm sorry, I tried to figure out how to put images inline, you'll have to click and come back.)  Wonderful sign, very clear.  Unfortunately it's been up every day I've been riding recently and it was up the last time I took that route which was probably two or maybe three weeks ago.

Aesop has a fable on this topic.  Even if I go back to last Saturday when I'm absolutely positive the sign was posted, how am I ever going to possibly know that today we're actually serious and we're closing the pathway.  Ignore the dates posted on the other sign (I'll get to that one!), it's not really May 24th we're starting but June 7th.  Before when we said the pathway was closed and it really wasn't, just forget it ever happened.

Signs have to be timely.  If the project is delayed because of weather, signs should be taken down or covered up.  No more signs that say the pathway is closed when it's open and passable.

So today I rode up past the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and just as I reached the intersection I spotted an SUV and hit my brakes to stop.  So did the SUV.  The guy behind me did not stop and zipped right across the road.  Some guy in a fluorescent vest jumps out of a silver car and pulls the other bicyclist over.  "Hoo boy," I'm thinking, "Bylaw?"  Happy to have not got his attention I proceed along my path.  I come to this pile of rubble and I'm thinking that's a pretty unusual sight.  Not too much further down the path I'm greeted with a bobcat hauling an 8' slab of asphalt.  He takes out his earplugs and starts exiting to talk to me when I yell out, "It's not passable?" and he shakes his head no.  I flip a U-turn and pass the other cyclist that got pulled over.  I try to warn him off, but he goes by, later to return as I had.

He passes me when I'm taking a picture of this sign.  Laid face down on the ground, I certainly didn't notice it while riding on the other side of the pathway.  I pick it up and look at the other side to see it's a "Men At Work" sign.  What the hell do I do?  Do I put it up?  Do I leave it?  It should be erected but I don't particularly feel like I have the authority to put it up in case it was down for a reason. 

So I head back up to the Bird Sanctuary and I find that the guy in the silver car has actually pulled forward onto the path, blocking it properly.  Aha.  This was supposed to be my clue they were actually starting to work.

Someone needs more training.  If you're performing traffic control, you have to stand out there and be authoritative.  I might be miffed if you stop me from going where I want to go, but I'm going to be seriously pissed off if you let me go past you and I have to come back to where I should have been stopped in the first place.

"I'm really upset about this," I say to him.

"Yeah, I know," as he walks away from me to talk to two women who have turned out of the Bird Sanctuary onto the pathway going south.  I'm trying really hard to not complain for the sake of complaining, I'm trying hard that when I have a complaint I make sure I do something positive to make it better.  I'm not sure the words, "I'm really upset about this" constitute strong enough language that you need to walk away from me and avoid having a conversation.  I didn't even get to ask him about whether the Men At Work sign should be up or down.

This is ultimately about me getting a better pathway!  Stand up there, take a little bit of heat if you have to, direct people to the best alternative and provide good information.  I'm definitely not the person to be avoiding, I'm specifically the person who needs to be addressed over stuff like this.  I apologize if being really upset came across as too intimidating.

The other side of this is that we need to take the amount of complaints the poor guy heard today as a indication that work on the pathway has not been communicated well and that we absolutely have to do a better job.  That communication needs to come in a notice of what's going on, but also with an indication of what's happening now.

The signs we passed just at the entrance of the Bird Sanctuary are seen here.  I like to think of it as the, "No really, we mean it today sign" and the "Public Notice spew of illegibility" sign.  To me, "Public Notice" means the neighbour has a building permit to put another bathroom in his house.  This needs say something much more meaningful.  "Notice of Construction" or "Planned Closure of Pathway" are both better choices.

In fact, I'd love a half hour meeting with whoever designed the entire sign in the first place.  No joke, I'm completely serious.  I'll completely make myself available if someone from the city can schedule that.  Email me with my first name at my vanity domain.

I'll promise the meeting will start off rough.  The first words out of my mouth are going to be, "What, are you STUPID?"  This is a ridiculous amount of pointless information packed into a sign.  Motorists would never accept such a thing.

Signs need to be simple and clear.  "DANGER - Construction ahead.  No admittance."  Put on a simple map of the detour, not that abomination that labels every neighbourhood in proximity.  Unless, of course, you need to know the names of every neighbourhood that you'll be riding by instead of passing through.  A good sign is going to be inviting to read.  It doesn't need to be wordy - I only want to get to where I have to go as quickly and safely as possible.  Tell me why I can't go that way, show me my best alternative.  If anyone wants more information than that, send them to 3-1-1 or the city's website.  We've got that part right.

Think, for a moment, about who your audience is supposed to be.  We have pedestrians, dog walkers, cyclists, skateboards, wheelchairs - everyone who gets out and uses the pathways.  A pedestrian may stop to look at the sign.  The dog is probably pulling at the leash so the owner won't have a lot of time to read it.  The cyclists are supposedly moving at 20 km/h.  How are we possibly going to absorb what's on that sign?


Closing that section of pathway is a huge inconvenience.  I fully understand that there's not a lot of great options.  It's like closing Deerfoot trail at Southland Drive and directing people onto Blackfoot Trail -- only we don't actually tell drivers until you get to Glenmore Trail!

We have a huge problem with signs leading up to the detour!  Hey, everyone!  We're on a detour!  But we don't really know where the pathway is closed unless you're willing to read the "Spew of Illegibility" in great detail.

Equally a problem is all the "Spew of Illegibility" signs are identical.  There are no "You Are Here" markers on any of them letting you know which direction you need to go to find the best route.  I'm going to try to remember to bring a Sharpie tomorrow and I'll happily deface the signs I come across to at least try to help someone else.  I know the paths and I was getting confused trying to figure out which way to go!

Worse, the sign that I took a picture of is located on Ogden Road just coming out of Old Refinery Park.  It's got the detour pointing in both directions!  Helpful hint, going north on Ogden Road leads you straight to Alyth Bridge and is most definitely not the direction you want to be going.  Unless you need a few extra kilometers on your exercise routine and have the time to double back.  I made the mistake and was shaking my head all the way back because I knew it was the wrong direction but I followed the sign and took it anyways.  Clarity is necessary.

This photo is a bit sarcastic, I generally don't ride on stairs and I know very well that there is a ramp just a little past the stairs for wheeled vehicles.  If you don't know that and you're following the sign, you're hauling your bike up the stairs until you get to the top and look at the lovely pathway down and to your left.  It may be the detour if you're walking, but there ought to be a detour sign for wheeled traffic as well.

Signs are up there to communicate!  Signs are supposed to let us know what to do.  Signs need to be clear on when a change in rules is in effect.  Signs need to be simple and clear.  Traffic control that actually controls traffic. 

Timely.  Better.  Meaningful.  Legible.

We've really flubbed this.  There's lots of time to make it better and put some dedication towards alternative transportation.

Save Calgary Racing

by Mark Zaugg 17. October 2010 09:56

And you scraped my email from precisely where?

Strange that this is the first I have received an email from the Motorsport Council of Calgary.  I am certain that I have not given any consent whatsoever when my email address was collected that it would be used in this fashion.

Regardless of my support for Race City, my choice for mayor must certainly go beyond a single issue.  My choice for mayor will consider what is best for Race City as well as what's best for the rest of Calgary at large. 

I feel the future of Race City should be secure when negotiated openly - using the land as a race site is much preferable to me than using it as landfill.  Race City itself is a facility that is valued and respected in Calgary for it's longstanding history of driver education and a safe facility for high performance driving.  I fully think that should be able to stand on it's own merit.  Keeping Race City profitable is a matter of it's owners and supporters, not the citizens of Calgary at large.

I don't think Naheed Nenshi is going to hand Race City a gold plated guaranteed future, but neither will he shut it down compliments of a "...bullying city administration that doesn't work with private business [Race City] to solve the problems and find a new facility and keep motorsports going in this city."  (CivicCamp 2010 Mayoral Forum.)  The solution with Race City is to give it the opportunity to survive.  We don't need Ric McIver for that, we need a public discussion about the benefits of having a safe venue for high performance driving.  I remain anxious to be part of that conversation, I'm certain we can hold our own.

Let's save motorsport in Calgary.  Let's do it by attending a race, going to a concert, or taking a winter driving course.  Let's talk about the great advantages available to us in a city with a track.

Remove me from your mailing list, this is an inappropriate use of my email address.  You may, however, contact me on a personal level to continue a person-to-person conversation on this matter.

  - Mark

----- Original Message -----
From: Rick Francescone <>
Date: Sunday, October 17, 2010 12:37 am
Subject: Save Calgary Racing

> Dear Motorsport Enthusiasts
> Over the past 3 years, the Calgary motorsport community has been
> threatenedwith the loss of Race City Motorsport Park. 
> Somewhere along the way, city
> administration lost sight of the fact that Race City is an
> important venue
> to maintain for Calgarians, and they made other plans for the
> city-owned
> land that Race City occupies.  By the time that these plans were
> communicated to Race City owner Art Mackenzie, the public, and
> city council,
> administration had progressed so far down this path that it
> seemed Race City
> was doomed.
> The motorsports community has banded together through the Motorsports
> Council of Calgary to oppose the termination of the Race City
> lease with the
> City of Calgary.  We have so far received support from
> about half of the
> aldermen, led by alderman and now candidate for mayor, Ric McIvor.
> Council did not support a lease extension in Feb 2009, but Ric
> McIver tried
> again and on Sept 28 2009 city council directed city
> administration to work
> out a deal to extend the lease with Race City to 2015, which
> resulted in
> another two year deal (2010 - 2011).
> It is important that we continue to support aldermanic
> candidates and a
> mayor that support Race City and/or motorsports in the City of
> Calgary.
> This Monday October 18, we collectively have the opportunity to reach
> another milestone in the battle to maintain a motorsports venue
> in Calgary.
> Our research shows that we have the opportunity to elect a motorsport
> friendly City Council.  While we held a slim majority in
> the past, we were
> missing the most important part, a motorsports friendly mayor.
> We urge you, and your family and friends to get out and Vote for
> Ric McIver
> for Mayor, and vote for the motorsport friendly Alderman that
> represents the
> ward you live in. Visit for
> further info.
> The Aldermanic picks are as follows:
> Ward 1: Dale Hodges
> Ward 2: Joe Magliocca
> Ward 3: Jim Stevenson
> Ward 4: Brad Northcott
> Ward 5: Ray Jones
> Ward 6: Brent Mielke
> Ward 7: Kevin Taylor
> Ward 8: John Mar
> Ward 9: Mike Pal
> Ward 10: Andre Chabot
> Ward 11: James Maxim
> Ward 12: Roger Crowe
> Ward 13: Diane Colley-Urquhart
> Ward 14: Richard Dur
> Your vote is important, and the future of motorsports in Calgary
> depends on
> it.
> Sincerely,
> Motorsport Council of Calgary

Christmas in July

by Mark Zaugg 2. July 2008 23:07

Ohmighod ohmighod ohmighod ohmighod ohmighod!

I collected on my Christmas gift today.  Waitasec...  I don't have it all out of my system yet.

Ohmighod ohmighod ohmighod ohmighod ohmighod!

11:00 PM last night:  At least the nights have cooled off.  I ought be be able to get to sleep.
 > toss toss <
 > turn turn <

6:00 AM:  Wide awake.  Feeling fidgety and nervous.  Check the weather.  Scan my standard set of morning websites.  Check the weather.  Listen to the radio.  Check the weather.

6:30 AM:  Feeling nervous and fidgety.  Shave.  Cut hair.  Shave again.  Check the weather.

6:45 AM:  Shower.  Cut hair.  Check the weather.

7:00 AM:  Out the door.  Turn on the radio.  Listen to the weather.

7:30 AM:  Down the Deerfoot, arrive at Race City Speedway.

7:35 AM:  Park.  Look out the window.  Check the weather.

7:40 AM:  Get out of the car.  Chat with the guy getting out of the car beside me.  Walk over and take a look at one of these beauties

7:41 AM:  Allen Berg walks over and introduces himself. 





Sure, the interest lies in the details.  Allen Berg put together his racing school a little more than a year ago, and he decided to build it from the ground up and to do it right from the start.  Allen is one of three Canadians ever to drive in Formula 1.  (The other two are named Villeneuve.) 

Allen's cars are Formula Renault open wheel racers.  Formula Renault is considered an entry-level formula series for up and coming drivers.  These are serious racing cars and are raced by serious drivers - do not make the mistake of taking them lightly.  The cars are carbon fibre chassis - not the older tube frame chassis run by other schools.  Allen's cars are modern, safe and exciting.  The chance to drive technologically modern cars is worth the price of admission alone.

The cars themselves are worthless without a good team, and Allen has put a solid team around him.  When I think of a Formula 1 racer, I think of a cocky, arrogant, difficult to work with and difficult to be around jerk and adjust from there.  Allen is warm, generous with his time, enthusiastic and interested in making sure every student gets a top notch experience from their time at his racing school.  His name isn't just on the side pods, he's active in making certain his students become better racers.  Come prepared to be treated like a professional race driver;  you may not be, but that is precisely how you'll feel for your day.  On the other hand, Allen sat beside me during lunch and was gracious answering questions and talking about his time driving.

Dave is the other instructor who makes a good compliment to Allen.  He's also open to sharing his knowledge and teaching you, and after you've had your whirl at it he'll take you around the track and show you how it should have been done.  Sam is one of Allen's mechanics from his time in Mexico and it was very comforting knowing the cars were maintained by professionals.  I have to apologize (or be corrected) by the others who's names I've forgotten.  Edouard was our course marshall, we had a fellow from MoTeC (Chris?) taking care of our telemetry, and Kyle made sure we came back with data.  I appreciate the other guys who cared for us out there, making sure we had good track time and a good experience.  Every moment was professional and serious.

I should mention the split between class time and track time.  I consider myself very fortunate to have gotten Allen to talk about theory and then to get out on track and execute (or at least try to approximate executing) what we spoke about.  The time in the classroom was also very important to me to return feeling into my chassis-brain interface.

Talking about racing theory and actually doing time on track in a modern car are very different things.  Check everything you think you know about driving race cars - unless you have experience doing it you've got everything to learn.  I learned both on track and off.  With the telemetry on Allen's cars, professional drivers have a huge opportunity to get better and improve their times by being critiqued by one of the best.  I'll be shocked if Allen doesn't start filling his times with aspiring drivers looking to improve their skills - it's an honour to be driving with that group.

Approaching the programme seriously will significantly magnify what you get out of it.  Sure, it's great for tubby white guys like me, but if you want to get the most out of it, try to show up fit and clear minded.  Racing is hard and it takes a great deal of effort from you.  I was breathing heavily after getting out of the car after the final run.  It was work, a lot of hard work, and the thrill of a lifetime.

Was it worth it?  Absolutely, completely, it was a life's dream fulfilled and I'll do it again in a heartbeat.  I'm planning a return down the road for a shot at the two day programme with more laps and more analysis of my telemetry.  I recommend this programme for every single driver on the roads today.  Every one will improve their vision on the roads and improve their car handling and management.  You will be better and safer on a day to day basis out there on the roads if you listen and learn and follow the basic driver skills you will be taught.  You will learn why tailgating is such a bad habit (it leads to tunnel vision) and learn how to drive predictably and stay well within the limits of your tires for safety.

The cars themselves are worth the trip.  The staff get you away safely.  The telemetry and the basic technology is eye-opening and should be considered essential for modern racing schools.  A modern racing school like this should be considered essential to any driver today.  I want my kids to be involved with Allen's carting programme before they feel they have to get out on the roads and push their road car so they learn this early and get a lifetime's worth of advantage.

Thanks Allen.  Thanks Dave.  Thanks to all.  What a fantastic day!  I'll get rid of this smile in a week or two.

Anti-Locking Brake Systems - bad, bad, (generally) bad.

by Mark Zaugg 14. November 2006 01:00

ABS is one of my favourite rants ever.  I'm not a fan.  I don't believe they alone make a car one bit safer than a car not equipped with them.  Trever called me on it, I'm sharing the rant.  Please note, I am not an automotive engineer and I am strongly biased in my opinion.  It's also my blog - I don't have to be tactful, you can argue in the comments.  Do not cite me as authoritative, evaluate the arguments for yourself. 

A primer:  Anti-lock Brake Systems (hereafter "ABS") is a system put on vehicles which prevent the wheels from locking up or skidding.  It does this through a number of sensors which detect whether the wheels are moving relative to the other wheels of the car.  The precise way of doing it can vary from system to system.   Be wary - some vehicles with ABS (usually they are trucks) only function on the rear wheels, not all four wheels.  These vehicles will not react the same as ABS on passenger cars.

The reason ABS works is because of friction.  Maximum braking will happen when the friction on your brake pads is just a tiny bit less than the friction between your tires and the road.  Friction between your tires and the road changes frequently depending upon the conditions and it's hard to know that when you're driving - especially in an emergency.  When your brakes have too much friction, it releases your wheels until they find that perfect balance.


I'm going to cite from a number of sources for your review.  The first is Transport Canada's Road Safety web page.  I consider it authoritative, balanced and fairly describing road conditions and hazards in Canada.  The second is from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration so I can't be accused of being Canadi-centric, although I will primarily be discussing conditions I experience.  Canadian Driver has a brilliant article well worth reading.  I'll throw in a few others when a point needs to be raised.


1.  When ABS first came out as standard equipment on passenger vehicles, it was marketed as a system that would assist you stop in much shorter distances to the point of being almost instantaneous.  That was misleading, deceptive advertising and it created much of the myth that ABS makes you safer all to itself.

Reality:  ABS will not reduce stopping distances at all unless you’re a piteously bad driver. ABS works by releasing your wheels briefly to prevent you from locking them up. The only scenario it will reduce your stopping distance is when you have your tires locked and you’re skidding along the pavement.  Sadly, I categorize the average driver as piteously bad.

The reason the claim is made that ABS will stop you more quickly MOST of the time is based on the assumption that the driver is using (or wants to use) all of the available braking power all of the time.  Good drivers think ahead of time and are looking ahead for hazards which may force them to brake.  Emergencies do happen, but they happen more often to drivers who drive at the edge of their vehicles capacity all the time.  Most of the time you are braking, you should not have your ABS engage at all.

A driver trained in threshold braking can match or improve stopping distances over a driver using ABS.  Remember that ABS will release the pressure on an individual tire's brakes momentarily.  It is counter-intuitive to think that turning your brakes off momentarily will slow you down faster.  It won't.  ABS equipped cars will always require more stopping distance until the circumstances are less than ideal.

The myth that ABS can only be outperformed in extraordinarily conditions persists.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states "It is even possible on some surfaces to stop sooner without antilocks than with them, although such instances are rare."  Conventional braking systems can outperform ABS in many circumstances.

2.  ABS is a liability while driving in certain road conditions.

Fortunately, both governmental websites get this correct.  From the NHTSA, "On very soft surfaces, such as gravel or unpacked snow, ABS may actually lengthen stopping distances."  Transport Canada's webpage explains why.  Basically, when your tires are allowed to lock up, they will push the snow or gravel ahead of them, forming a burm.  Your tires often will get more traction in this condition.  This is less important for people who drive on plowed city streets, but can be critical for unplowed or gravel roads.

One point that was not mentioned is that the use of ABS encourages drivers to press the brake pedal to the floor all the time.  You are causing your tires to lock and you are counting on the technology in ABS to unlock them for you.  Let me state that again, you are told to "micro-skid" every time you hit your brakes.  This helps to polish our intersections in front of our stop signs to a glossy finish.  You're safer the first time, but after a hundred cars have went by they have made the circumstances more dangerous and more hazardous than they were before - at least until the next time the sanding truck comes through.

3.  ABS is not prescient.  Your brakes do not have any foresight into what you're about to experience while driving.

  My first experience with ABS was in a relative's brand new SUV.  My cousin was driving at the time, he came up to an icy intersection and wanted to test how the ABS would perform.  There were no other cars around us and he approached the intersection at an average speed and began braking with plenty of time to stop fully.  The wheels locked and we slid three quarters of the way through the intersection.  I was, of course, dismayed with the response which was repeated at the next intersection.  The SUV subsequently went into the shop at least three times to have the brakes examined.

The interview in Canadian Driver is the first time I've seen support for my anecdotal story.  Cpl. Eric Brewer is an RCMP officer that reconstructs collisions.  "Brewer tells the story of an ABS-equipped vehicle that slid through a stop sign and across a busy highway, barely missing the high-speed cross traffic. 'The driver was braking on pebbly, rolling gravel and then hit black ice on the pavement. The conditions fooled the ABS computer. You've got to be aware that, in those kinds of conditions, the ABS will not be able to stop the vehicle quickly.'ABS cannot think ahead for you, and the system will not necessarily respond as it is supposed to.  Drive with a margin of error to ensure your safety.

From Transport Canada, "Road hazards that will cause the ABS to function unexpectedly are gravel, sand, ice, snow, mud, railway tracks, potholes, manhole covers, and even road markings when it is raining."

4.  ABS will abstract the road feel from the driver.  This is a terrible thing for a drivers who have been taught Threshold braking and eliminates the ability to perform Cadence braking (or 'pumping the brakes').

Almost every driver in Canada was taught to pump the brakes on ice or slippery surfaces to stop quicker.  This is ingrained so hard that we still are generally tempted to pump the brakes on cars equipped with ABS.  With ABS you should not pump the brakes, ever.  Press firmly on the pedal and don't let up.  ABS does the cadence braking for you, more quickly than you ever can.  If you pump the brakes, you are turning off your ABS.

Unfortunately, when you press the pedal on an ABS-equipped vehicle, you can have any of a number of strange effects.

Far and away, the most common is a “grinding” sound and / or a pulsation of the brake pedal.

Most people think that something’s wrong when they first experience it. Many, many drivers do not like the pulsation and will actively release the brake pedal to prevent the sensation.  The grinding noise is perfectly normal, and the pulsation on the pedal is part of the brake system doing what it is designed to do.  From NHTSA:  "More specifically, ABS automatically changes the brake fluid pressure at each wheel to maintain optimum brake performance—just short of locking up the wheels. There is an electronic control unit that regulates the brake fluid pressure in response to changing road conditions or impending wheel lockup."

An attentive driver can feel the wheels lock through the feedback from the brake pedal.  The pulsation from ABS will mask that feedback entirely and you lose a critical clue as to your present driving environment.  Exceptional drivers can tell precisely which wheel has locked (locked front wheels have different characteristic feel than locked rear wheels - right and left is determined by which direction the car slides.)

If you can’t feel it, you can’t correct for it.

5.  Durability and long-term reliability

This is not going to be an issue if you get a new vehicle every three or four years. I drive a 26 year old car. A lot can go wrong with a car after 5 years, let alone 26.

The sensors for ABS are critical.  They can sometimes collect metallic dust or other impurities and stop working properly.  Moreso, you must have a well-functioning suspension system - including shocks, struts, and springs - to ensure your wheels stay on the road and don't bounce into the air throwing off the ability for ABS to function.

The extra maintenance involved will make your mechanic very happy.  ABS is one more system that needs to be checked and maintained regularly. You do not want a system that you’re dependent upon to stop you to fail unexpectedly.

Never forget that it is possible for a broken ABS system to become TOO sensitive. You may release the braking pressure from your wheels when your tires are not skidding and you have no need to engage your ABS system. This increases your stopping distance at all times and is a severe braking hazard.


Nothing is all white or all black - unless you’re the New Zealand rugby team.

ABS gives two tremendous advantages:

1.  You can apply your brakes and steer at the same time.

In conventional brake systems, it’s not realistic to brake and steer together. Your wheels have a finite amount of traction to work with. This traction must be divided between the energy expended on braking and the energy expended on changing direction.

Finding the balance is difficult. If you run out of available traction, your front wheels will lock up. Remember this happens in a turn, so suddenly you’re skidding forward with your front wheels askew. It should go without saying, this is an extremely dangerous scenario to be in. Should you suddenly find traction (hitting a bare patch or slowing down enough that your front wheels suddenly “bite”) you will careen off in the direction your wheels were pointed in. Or suddenly roll the car if you’re driving horribly out of control.

An ABS system means you never have to try to find that balance - if your front tire locks, the ABS system will release it and continue to make maximum traction available to you for steering. With conventional brakes, you have to stay well within the limits of your traction. ABS gives you the ability to drive closer to the maximum limits of your traction.

I think this is what people refer to when they talk about ABS preventing loss of stability.  ABS prevents a vehicle from swinging side to side by balancing the braking on the left and right sides of the car.  If you're using Threshold braking or cadence braking (conventional brakes only, please!) you're only solution is in steering corrections which aren't a good option under braking.

2.  ABS prevents rear wheels from locking.

This is a marvelous thing, particularly in a vehicle such as a bus or a pickup truck.

It’s safer for the front wheels of a car to lock than the rear wheels. Most of the braking happens at the front brakes. When the front wheels lock up, the vehicle tends to “snowplow” - the nose dives, but the car slides more or less straight without veering left or right.

When the rear wheels lock, the vehicle tends to wildly swing to the left or the right - it wants to “swap ends.”

Think of your days on a bicycle.  Lock up the front wheel and you probably went over the handlebars.  Lock up the rear wheel and you skidded wildly in a fishtail.  Well, a car doesn't flip over very often, but it will fishtail when the rear brakes lock.

Buses and trucks are designed to carry varying weights in the back of the vehicle. Brake settings need to be firmer when they carry a full load, and softer when they are empty.  But we don't realistically want people changing their brake settings (you can do this on race cars, but you're probably not a race car driver) and ABS can mitigate the problem.  You can keep the brakes set to be more sensitive and let the ABS prevent them from locking and sending the truck into a fishtail.


The bottom line?  Snow tires and better driver education will do much more than a technowizical gadget.

Get your vehicles out there and practice.  Don't believe that having ABS on your car makes you safer - you still have to be a safe, attentive driver.

Thank you for making it this far down the rant.  The line up to call me a moron starts...  Here:


Change is the only constant.

Welcome to the semi-exciting new look, same crappy blogger.

All comments are still moderated, I'll approve everything that isn't spam or offensive.  Agreement with His Dorkasaurus is not necessary.

What has changed is that I don't have 1000 junk accounts clogging up the system that I have to go through one by one.  Yes, you too can set up an account and no longer need to wait for me to notice you posted.  Completely optional.

As always:  Have fun, be respectful.


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