Biking The Rossi Way

Last night I was thinking of Rocco Rossi.

Biking enthusiast, bike lane antagonist, earlier this year on the campaign hustings the mayoral candidate vowed to put an end to any further intrusions onto arterial roads by bike lanes. In fact, he suggested he might even tear up existing ones while he was at.

Now, don’t get Mr. Rossi wrong. It’s not that he hates bicycles or cyclists. He is an avid one himself, he assures us. They just shouldn’t be taking up space on our busy roads, making it difficult for the suburban drivers that Rossi’s desperately courting to zip into work in the morning and back home again at night. What he would take away with one hand, however, Rossi would give back with the other, vowing “to expedite building more bike lanes, but on quieter streets.”

Which is why he was on my mind in the early hours of this morning.

Hours after World Cup 2010 came to a merciful conclusion with a predictably dreary final game, I found myself zipping down an off road bike lane in a south south-east direction along the Bloor Go line, heading to Little Italy from Silverthorne. I’d only previously got a glimpse of the path a couple times when crossing over the tracks on Dundas Street West as it takes a northerly turn. Now I was on it, and loving it and thinking that, hey, if Rocco Rossi can build us a bunch of these, I will happily forgo street travel with all its inherent dangers and annoyances.

The bike lane is a particular slice of urban heaven. A smooth ride along an unpotholed path, it takes you past quiet little neighbourhood streets, converted factories, a couple derelict – or rather, transitional – sites, all wrapped up in wild, city appropriate landscaping (I know nothing of flora) and metal artwork placed throughout. It is well lit and as I rode, taking in the surroundings, I could just imagine doing this as the new electrified trains shoot past me on their way to destinations throughout the GTA. Oh wait, right. They’re not doing that.

That bummer thought aside, there’s little question that from a biking standpoint, this would be the way to get around town. I’m told the city’s ultimately going to take the lane along the tracks all the way down to Strachan Ave. not far from the lakefront trail. Again, you go, girl. I am right there with you. The more you can keep my interaction with cars to an absolute minimum, the more I’m on board.

This is exactly what I’m thinking as I pull up and off the trail and back onto the road for a left turn onto College Street. So how’s this all going to work under Rocco Rossi’s War on Arterial Bike Lanes®™© scheme? Clearly we can’t have off road bike lanes everywhere in the city. That would necessitate questions of expropriation and people apparently get a little touchy over that kind of talk. Does that mean if, for example, my quickest route home was along College Street, Mr. Rossi would have me detour off onto side streets and in all likelihood adding to the time it would take me to get home? If so, why me on a bicycle and not those in their cars? Because this is his biggest argument against bike lanes on arterial roads, isn’t it? The inconvenience it causes to those driving cars.

It certainly can’t be a safety issue as there would be no evidence to back such an argument up. In fact, while Rossi competes with Rob Ford, George Smitherman and Sarah Thomson to see who can be the biggest urban planning Luddite, much of the rest of the civilized world is going in the completely opposite direction. Many places are experimenting with seriously mixed use roadways, de-curbed level surfaces devoid of much signage where motorized vehicles, bikes and pedestrians share streets equally. The onus is on the biggest, fastest, most lethal mode of transport to adjust its behaviour accordingly, operating under the premise of expecting the unexpected. From this, emerge more livable streetscapes.

Instead, candidate Rossi wants to relegate bikes to the periphery, making any necessary foray onto the main roads that much more dangerous. Drivers get used to not having to deal with bikes. Drivers become inattentive. Cyclists are in greater danger.

But the lack of Big Idea, forward thinking is simply a matter of fact during this election race. And the candidates wonder why they can’t light a fire under the electorate. Rather than attempt to bridge the car-bike (suburban-urban) divide, they endeavour to exploit it for political gain. So that we are offered only a fleeting look at how things could be (riding the briefest of stretches down a well designed bike lane) while having to make due with a steady diet of the grimmest, dullest, perfunctory realities.

submitted by Urban Sophisticat

6 Responses to Biking The Rossi Way

  1. Esn says:

    “Does that mean if, for example, my quickest route home was along College Street, Mr. Rossi would have me detour off onto side streets and in all likelihood adding to the time it would take me to get home?”

    Most Toronto streets are in a grid formation, so I imagine that it usually wouldn’t make a difference to use a smaller street. The only reason cars use the main roads is that they need a lot of space.

    Although as you go further north into, i.e. North York, you often find that sometimes there is no good road connection between two places except by using the main roads. There are some bottlenecks in our road system. The official Toronto bike roads map even acknowledges this, as it often simply gives up in the north of the city, showing no bike routes at all.

    “If so, why me on a bicycle and not those in their cars?”

    Because there aren’t many cyclists. Surely this isn’t a hard conclusion to come to?

    • cityslikr says:

      Dear Esn,

      We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke aren’t sure we agree with your line of reasoning on this.

      While there is certainly some grid pattern layout in the downtown core, we wouldn’t call it true. Take for instance a route from where College Street and Dundas Street West converge to College and Bathurst. That is hardly a grid. And while you could make it to College and Bathurst on the side streets, there would be much doubling up back and forth, past school yards etc., adding a whole boat load of time to the trip.

      Cars use the space they’re allowed to use. It’s not written anywhere that we have to allow them that space. And if we made it more and more inconvenient and expensive to drive, there might be less cars and more people cycling. Sidelining bike traffic as Mr. Rossi (and Smitherman and Ford and Ms. Thomson) proposes merely maintains the unhealthy status quo.

      • Esn says:

        I think if you want more people to cycle instead of drive, you should NOT try to propose plans that would make the alternative (driving) unattractive – that leads to conflict and people like Rob Ford gaining support, because drivers own the demographics.

        Goal #1, rather, should be making cycling a more attractive option, and this can be done by making it safer. I think a lot of people currently may not cycle because they perceive it as a dangerous activity to share fast-moving roads with big cars, on par with rock climbing – for people who like to show that they live “on edge”. And unlike rock climbing, you don’t get to breathe in fresh air while you do it.

        If there are no good road connections between two places other than the main road, the solution should not necessarily be to make bicycle lanes on the main road – how about instead using some of those sidewalks that go between houses? Clearly mark some stretches of sidewalk as acceptable bike routes, if smaller car roads will not do. Make a few sidewalk-specific rules (some speed limits, must ring when approaching pedestrians) to mollify the people who object to bikes on sidewalks in principle. Where a grid of parallel smaller roads exists, that should always be given preference.

        This vision of cars and bikes equally sharing the road together can only happen if there are a lot more bikers, as there are in Europe. On this side of the Atlantic, cars have so completely taken over, that it would be foolhardy to take them on in their home turf – they control it too well. Build a good base in a more friendly environment, first…

    • jb says:

      oh but it can make a difference to use a smaller street. For an excellent analysis of what happens if forced onto smaller streets see:
      http://www.ibiketo.ca/blog/2010/03/06/bike-lanes-imagined-rocco-rossi

  2. EB says:

    That’s it. Please keep on bashing Rocco Rossi. If you really do a good job of it, you may just help divert enough downtown votes away from him to allow Rob Ford to become sheriff of this town.

    Now that would be poetic justice for the *left*. And I mean that without any sense of irony.

    • cityslikr says:

      Dear EB,

      We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke didn’t realize it was a sheriff this town needed. But I guess it makes sense if you see the world in such a simplistic, black and white, old cowboy movie way. Makes for a good campaign slogan too. Rob Ford For Mayor. Yippee Ki-Yay!

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