Blessed Be The Bicyclists

I know you think this post is about me, don’t you, don’t you..

carlysimon

But it’s not. At least, not directly. My relationship to biking is in another place. A certain fatalism where I am now convinced I will end my days, knocked from my bike and crushed under the wheels of a passing streetcar. A bloodied, broken pulpy mess of irony. And I’m almost certain I’m using the term correctly. I love bikes. I love streetcars. Yet both conspired to kill me.

This scenario isn’t as morose as it might seem to some if you compare it to how I previously thought I was going to die, aneurysming out while doing my business on the toilet. There’s no glory in that, no becoming a martyr to a greater cause. bikeintraffice1Only… only… me and Elvis.

No, this one’s about the two cyclists I encountered a couple days ago, waiting to turn right onto Queen Street at the t-junction of McCaul Street. I pulled up in a row behind them. Queen Street was jammed full of slow moving cars. Clearly there must be some serious stoppage beyond my view. So I waited too.

Until I saw a guy on a bike blow past us going westbound without so much as slowing down.

So I slipped slowly around the two in front of me for a closer look. To my eyes, my already dead biking eyes, there was a clear path for cycling ahead. Between a long row of parked cars on the right and a line of gridlocked ones with increasingly jittery and impatient drivers behind the wheel to my left. Par for the course, I thought as I headed into the traffic, leaving the other two cyclists to figure out the path they’d eventually decide to take.bikeintraffic

As I made my way through the traffic, it occurred to me that these two noble spirits were probably just intimidated or scared. Who, in the right mind, wouldn’t be? This kind of cycling was something of a death defying stunt where one mistake, one moment of distraction or simple misjudgement could you send you off your bike, flying into the path of an oncoming car. Granted, at this particular moment, the end result of that would be some cuts and bruises. Nothing was moving fast enough to inflict a fatal injury.

Still, here were these two cyclists, arriving in a spot where pressing on seemed like they might be taking their lives into their hands (but our hearts would bleed for them). The only other alternative would be to turn around, retrace their route, searching for a safer passage. That isn’t a viable mode of urban transit. It’s 16th-century style exploration.

Build it (and maintain it throughout the year) and they will come.

If people aren’t convinced that there’s a safe, easy way to get around the city by bike, they simply won’t try. For them, biking will remain a recreational pursuit, left for the times they can get off-road. bikeintraffic2The number of cyclists doesn’t justify the money we put into biking infrastructure! No. No, the biking infrastructure doesn’t justify the number of cyclists. Frankly, Toronto has more people getting around the city on bike than it’s earned. Supply is lagging behind demand.

In most places governed by reasoned arguments and rationality, this argument’s over. Biking can be a strong pillar of a functioning transportation system. It’s a low cost way to get people out of their cars and off public transit, providing relief to both modes of transit.

But in order for that to happen, a city must invest in building a real bike network. A connected system of bike lanes that offer the opportunity to get around quickly and safely. Really induce demand, in traffic planning parlance, to accommodate the numbers that will inevitably appear to happily take up the space offered.

Build it (and maintain it throughout the year) and they will come.

Until such time here in Toronto, I salute you, you intrepid two-wheeled sojourners who’ve yet come to terms with your inevitable cycling deaths but still venture out there, creating a culture of cycling for others to follow. jacquescartierYou are trailblazers and map makers, my friends. History will look upon you approvingly.

I would be remiss not to throw out props to that driver in some sort of white SUV who, further west along Queen Street, where the construction began, gave me ample room in front of him to take the left lane for a few blocks as the street narrowed. He understood. I waved in appreciation as he eventually drove past me. We’re all in this together, equally.

applaudingly submitted by Cityslikr

2 Responses to Blessed Be The Bicyclists

  1. David DePoe says:

    If you take the city-offered Can-Bike 2 course, it will help you become a knowledgeable and safe cyclist all
    over town.

  2. […] All Fired Up In The Big Smoke has a post on bicycling in urban areas, and why it is important to include them in an urban transportation infrastructure. Living in Alabama, where there is no real biking culture to speak of, I can attest to the importance of this: “If people aren’t convinced that there’s a safe, easy way to get around the city by bike, they simply won’t try.” […]

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