Angry Robot

Car-think, Ford, and Cycle Tracks

Three years ago, I eagerly hopped on my bike for the first ride of the spring and rode up my alley to Dundas East, where I needed to turn left. It was rush hour, so cars were backed up waiting for the light. All I needed to do was make my way through these stationary cars and get to the bike lane just beyond. I saw a gap between a car and a pickup truck, so I went for it. The truck pulled forward and blocked my way.

The driver yelled at me, saying I should walk my bike to the lights at Greenwood and cross there. Said lights were currently changing, so now I was stuck as oncoming traffic headed toward me. The truck pulled away. I yelled “thanks” – I intended it to be dripping with sarcasm but really it was soaked in futility. Someone must have let me in, but the damage was done.

Hopefully I don’t have to point out that the truck driver was wrong about bikes and intersections (bikes are considered legally “road vehicles”, the same as cars, with few exceptions1). Or that he was an asshole. But it goes to show how bad it can be biking in this city, much like in many North American cities, I’d guess. My first ride of the year was not even a minute old before someone was needlessly endangering me. More frequently it’s carelessness rather than spite, but the latter does happen. I could feel things getting worse as Rob Ford’s mayoralty sunk in. He campaigned on ending “the war on the car”, on banning streetcars and condemning bikes to trails. Most drivers are decent people, but Rob Ford’s road rager transportation philosophy made the assholes feel empowered.

There is definitely a correlation between geography and belief. The relative car-dependence of downtown Toronto vs. its suburbs goes a long way toward explaining the political divide between the regions. As density increases, the traffic gets worse, and the only way to alleviate it is to encourage walking, bikes and transit, which often takes road space away from the operators of private motor vehicles, which makes them feel beset upon, despite their continued position of privilege in perhaps every regard of urban transportation other than cost. Even that is debatable.

It doesn’t have to be this bad, and hopefully now that Ford is just a councillor again it can start to get better. The results of the Richmond/Adelaide Cycle Track pilot project are in. These physically separated bike lanes took away a car lane but tripled the number of cyclists using the route, despite their stumpy length. Perhaps more interesting is the survey feedback. Of the 1424 survey respondents who self-identified as non-bikers, 54% strongly agreed the lanes should be made permanent. Only 25% strongly disagreed. Even more interesting, data indicates that car travel time has actually improved since the lanes went in. One more bike is one less car, quite often, and that should encourage both cyclists and drivers.

1 Bikes are not allowed on highways, and are expected to keep to the side of the road where safety permits.