I’m not going to bore any of us with the sad, ridiculous, anger-making madness that was yesterday’s city council debate over Toronto’s 10 year bike plan. Rehashing tired arguments, already overwhelmingly dispelled and dust-binned pretty much everywhere else in the civilized world. Airing grievances from those who see Toronto as a special, unique snowflake, a delicate, hothouse, exotic flower, deathly susceptible to any sort of winds of change.
Bike lanes will decimate business. No, they won’t. They haven’t anywhere else where a biking network has been properly installed and maintained. But Toronto’s a winter city. Nobody rides a bicycle in the winter. Tell that to New York, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Montreal, Copenhagen, Amsterdam. But we’re not Copenhagen or Amsterdam. Did you not hear me mention New York, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Montreal? But it’s too expensive. We don’t have the money. Except for $400 million for the Gardiner East rebuild. And how many billions on a one-stop subway?
Thursday’s performance provided proof positive once again that too many of our elected local officials cannot imagine a future that isn’t just like the past. Or, in Councillor Norm Kelly’s case, one old man believing the future, the real future, is right around the corner. Why bother building terrestrial based transportation infrastructure when in 20 years we’ll all be hovering back and forth between destinations?! The former deputy mayor of this city has obviously been talking to certain Russian scientists again.
That said, reason, albeit a battered and bruised version of reason, emerged from its mauling victorious. The staff recommended 10 year bike plan, slightly amended worse for wear, would go ahead. Huzzah! It’s a start, supporters claimed. A start from way back, almost so far back you couldn’t even see the pole position. Still, a start. Toronto would be spending — if my math is right here but it is in the neighbourhood – about 70% less in a decade than Oslo, Norway is spending on bike infrastructure in a year. A year, folks! Oslo, Norway! A city that once hosted the winter Olympics.
(Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. It won! Toronto now has a 10 year bike plan with some money to actually back it up. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.)
There are two thoughts I would like to further explore here, lines of attack trotted out by the most vehement of status quo supporters. Licensing and “psycho cyclists”. Yeah, I think Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti thought he was the first one ever to come up with that variation of a play on words.
Licensing of bikes and/or cyclists has never worked where it’s been tried either as some sort of safety measure or as a way of paying for cycling infrastructure. It costs too much to implement and operate, becoming the kind of red tape politicians like Councillor Mammoliti deplore in other situations. Besides, cyclists pay for the infrastructure they use, and use in a much less onerous manner than drivers do with roads, through the property taxes they pay, and every cyclist, renting or owning a residence in Toronto pays property taxes. Many cyclists also drive on occasion, and will further contribute to transportation infrastructure costs when they pay gas taxes.
Licensing cyclists makes no sense.
As for the scourge of the “psycho cyclist”? Yeah, well. Given the daily, hourly carnage on our roads done by those behind the wheel of motorized vehicles, and the pathological disregard for the rules designed exclusively for their mobility, railing about wayward cyclists is… there’s not even a word in English robust enough to describe that kind of hypocrisy. The Germans, I’m sure have a word for it, and I imagine it isn’t very pretty. The kill-rate and injuries inflicted on others by those on bicycle is so infinitesimally small as to be barely worth mentioning. Anecdotes, really. Remember that time when that person on the sidewalk…
From a 2012 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey, the 6 Most Frequent Sources of Pedestrian Injury were: “Tripped on uneven/cracked sidewalk” 24%, “Tripped/fell” 17%, “Hit by a car” 12%, “Wildlife/pets involved” 6%, “Tripped on stone” 5%, “Stepped in a Hole” 5%.
Aside from the obvious need to repair pedestrian infrastructure and the general clumsiness and inability to safely walk their dogs of the pedestrian population, what jumps out at me from that list is the absence of cyclists. Apparently, they’re not quite the menace anti-cycling activists try to make them out to be. Oh, there was that time I was walking across the parking lot and that guy on the bike nearly clipped me. I saw that cyclist riding the wrong way down the street. He could’ve killed someone. (Are you sure it wasn’t a counter-flow lane?)
This is not to say there aren’t asshole people riding bikes in this city. They just ruffle feathers, get under peoples’ skin and, no doubt, at times inconvenience other street users. That’s a long way from the killing and injuring inflicted by asshole car drivers.
Here’s where I diverge from some of my cycling allies. While not condoning bad cycling behaviour, I most certainly understand it. Hell, I even engage in it from time to time. Because I’m a rebel and scofflaw? No. Because most of the streets I use have been built, designed and are operated almost exclusively for the movement of motorized vehicles, motorized private vehicles, no less. Pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders are all after-thoughts.
Here’s a personal example.
I’m out for a run yesterday, heading west, nearing the intersection of Ossington and Argyle, just that side of Trinity Bellwoods Park. You know it. It’s got that pho place on the south-east corner.
I see that the soutbound pedestrian signal on Ossington is counting down to zero, meaning the light will change in my favour and I can continue running without stopping. Sometimes runs just break like that. There’s, I don’t know, 5 or 6 pedestrian waiting to also cross the street, and that many people on bikes too.
Except that there are no cars on Argyle waiting to cross Ossington. So that southbound pedestrian signal hits zero and turns back white, meaning the north-south traffic signal didn’t change. Apparently none of the pedestrians or cyclists pushed the button to announce their presence at the intersection, so by all traffic control measures, none of them exist. Even when I do stop to press the button, I’m not immediately acknowledged. We’ll all have to wait until the full cycle is complete.
This, on a street that HAS A FUCKING PAINTED BIKE LANE ON IT! This, when there’s no north-south car traffic in sight along Ossington. So a bunch of pedestrians and cyclists wait for non-existent cars before they are expected to cross a road with the light.
I don’t wait. I continue my run through a red light. Other pedestrians and cyclist make their way across too.
Until we start to design and rebuild our streets and roads more equitably, stop forcing non-drivers to play only by driving rules, there’s going to be law-breaking, tension, and continued lethal competition between the various modes of mobility, with drivers almost always coming out on top and fending off any attempts to level the playing field. Yesterday’s approval of the 10 year bike plan is a start in the right direction. A grudging, tiny, tiny start. But it’s Friday. I will force myself to be content with that.
— impatiently submitted by Cityslikr