Archive for July, 2011

Change the Conversation

July 9, 2011

With more cyclists (by my unofficial count) than any other N American city, Toronto continues to manage to have about the worst cycling infrastructure, and also the least love for cyclists, amongst those same cities.  After watching the conversation around Jarvis and illegal riding maneuvers over the last week, I think I’m starting to understand why.

We need unity and larger thinking from the cycling community.

For a brief moment earlier this year, when #bikeTO was rallying around the proposed separated bike lane plan, I thought we might just make it.  For the first time, we had a chance at a small piece of the many cycling-related improvements this city needs.  For a short moment in the sun, it seemed that most cyclists were supportive of this plan, flaws and all, much like they had been of BIXI’s launch in Toronto.  Remember BIXI?  It’s only here because cyclists were willing to unify behind the idea and even throw $100 of their own cash into the mix.  Before I circle back to the point, let me take you on a quick look back.

2010.  The biggest, most important issue on #bikeTO radar was getting separated, centre lanes installed on University Ave.  (Toronto Star – 21 April 2010)  I haven’t ever thought of University Ave as a place where there are many cyclists, but there are quite a few who cut through the park as there is no safe place to ride on road.  I never really found this to be the best use of our collective voice…one bike lane…on a little used bike road?  for a few blocks?  Nonetheless, University Ave became the rallying call for many TO cyclists.  How’d that work out?  Under a more friendly political climate, and only asking for a 3 month pilot of the lanes, cyclists got nada.  Nothing.  Not even some sort of “other plan” to move the lane east or west came out of it.  Cyclists were shut down and shut out, having spent their entire summer rallying for a now dead cause.

Need a little more from 2010?  Remember Darcy Allen Shepperd?  Did you catch the news story where all charges were dropped against Michael Bryant? (The Star – 25 May 2010).  Seems that the well-heeled lawyer was panicked by the incident, causing him to drive the cyslist from street lamp to streetlamp in order to detach him from the car.  Panicking is apparently a good legal defense for killing someone…and somehow the driver was able to claim some sort of self defense as the always-dangerous bicycle was threatening him.  At this point, it should be becoming clear that cyclists are considered second class citizens in this city.  Especially when silver spoon drivers are involved.

Let’s jump ahead to more recent history.  The movement to save Jarvis:

  • Lanes were installed at a cost of around $60,000 (although our benevolent mayor, in all his wisdom, did mention something about a $6M cost during his campaign).
  • Traffic patterns along Jarvis have not changed a bit, save for a 5 minute delay when heading northbound at rush hour during an eclipse (I made the last part up – the rest is from the city’s own traffic data)
  • The city is now voting this week on spending $600,000 to remove the bike lanes and replace the changeable centre lane.

Obviously, this is stupid.  There’s a fiscal responsibility issue, a safety issue, and a larger issue that is our new administration looking for ways to thumb its nose at the last administration, no matter how foolish or wasteful.  But there’s something else wrong with this picture as well. Why is it that we are repeating the same mistake of last year and focusing all of our political voice (as small and pedal powered as it may be) onto this single space….used by so few of the city’s cyclists everyday?  With the University Ave proposal, at least we would have gotten something new.  Now, we’re spending tons of time and energy just to save something we already have.  Worse still, the financial and traffic implications of this decision are so amazingly stupid and out of whack, that it shouldn’t even be cyclists rallying against this, but the same voters who put Ford in office to stop the gravy train.

I was able to travel to Chicago this week and did a ton of riding there, as I always do.  I saw them putting bike lanes down in new places, saw the city’s first separated lane, and saw cargo bikes with kids in them, tall bikes, trikes, and even small bikes.  That city, like New York and Montreal, Vancouver and now Ottawa did not waste its political capital on small, isolated battles like a Jarvis or University bike lane.  Over many years, advocates insisted that they be able to traverse the city by bike…anywhere…safely.  Similarly, that is the only answer for Toronto.  In order to move cycling ahead in this city, we need to support new cycling infrastructure wholeheartedly and use it…just like we’re doing with BIXI.  The separated bike lanes network proposed by PWIC may not be perfect.  As a cyclist, it might not even make sense…but it does start to shift the paradigm towards paying more attention to the 1000’s of us who bike here everyday and who are going to continue to squeeze into the 5-7 inches next to the curb on King St, or deal with construction on Dundas for months with nowhere to ride, and even those of us who only bike on the lakefront because the city is too scary and our spandex too clean.  All of those groups need to come together and support pushing this narrative forward rather than clinging to small, unimportant and un-impactful puzzle pieces.  As cyclists, we know the myriad of great reasons to bike.  But to our car-encased counterparts across the city, the following joys are still a mystery:

  • getting a workout DURING a commute
  • not spewing earth-killing emissions into our city
  • paying less in maintenance in a year than the average driver pays for gas in a month
  • not having to search for parking
  • being able to feel a part of the city, say hi to people, look them in the eye, and find new great places while we get lost on new backroads

These are the points that we should be making more readily.  We, the cyclists, need to do more to invite more and more drivers outside of their cars and onto two wheels.  We are in a city that sprawls as far as any on this continent and certainly the furthest of any sprawling city that also has winter to contend with.  There are huge challenges to making cycling the predominant form of travel here, but precisely for this reason we need to think and aim big.  Full networks of safe cycling are the only answer.  We may or may not end up Saving Jarvis, but it really won’t matter as we’re spending another year targeting small victories.