Going the wrong way on bike lanes

Once again we’ve had a serious collision involving a bicycle rider doing something they shouldn’t, with tragic consequences. Since it’s a vogue issue in Toronto lately, it’s getting a lot of media attention, and of course cyclists are again bearing the brunt of negativity. And once again it’s bringing out the argument that cyclists should be licensed.

The licensing argument has been dragged out at least once a year in Toronto, it seems, and each time it’s soundly dismissed, as it should be. I wrote about it a few times last year, and Ryan Day just last week published an excellent rebuttal, just to name two (there are many more). We already have dedicated bicycle police handing out tickets to cyclists who shun the rules. It’s clear that for a variety of reasons, some cyclists choose to ignore the law (as do some pedestrians, drivers and transit users). Adding a layer of costly licensing bureaucracy on top of the existing laws won’t improve the behaviour of those who already choose to disobey the law. It’s just a slap in the face to those of us who do follow the rules.

I listened to a podcast today of last Thursday’s Metro Morning, in which host Matt Galloway asked cycling advocate Yvonne Bambrick why someone would choose to ride on Huron Street when the Beverley/St. George bike lane is just one block to the east. This is a question that often comes up in cycling discussions in Toronto, and I find it infuriating. It reflects the idea that seems unique to Toronto that cyclists don’t have anywhere to be, and have time to take the scenic route through the city’s ravines or go well out of our way to one of the city’s few and woefully inadequate bike lanes.

Tomorrow (or maybe the next day) Toronto City Council meets to discuss removing the one-year-old bike lanes on Jarvis Street, and the same argument has been used to support their deletion. There is a bike lane on parallel Sherbourne Street, and it only makes sense to have one, right? Never mind the fact that Sherbourne is one of the worst streets in the city for potholes and disrepair. I’m hard pressed to find an example of any city anywhere in the world that is actually spending money to dismantle cycling infrastructure, and the way that the motion was introduced at the last minute and without any public consultation shows that many of Toronto’s councillors are openly hostile towards cyclists for purely ideological reasons. Installing the bicycle lanes did nothing to increase vehicle traffic congestion on the street, and removing them will do nothing to alleviate it. It will just make the street much less safe for the hundreds of cyclists who have come to depend on Jarvis as a cycle route.

The message City Council is sending to Toronto’s cycling community is “we don’t want you here, we don’t care about your safety, you’re a menace and we want you to go away.” Mayor Rob Ford even said as much, more or less, as a city councillor. Believe me, that negativity from City Hall is felt by cyclists on the road, and the hostility is causing people to get hurt.

While all of us recognize that there are some cyclists who refuse to play by the rules, talking about how to punish them is the wrong place to start, and taking away options for safe riding is certainly not going to help either. Better enforcement is a route to explore, but we just don’t have the resources to police everywhere at all times. People have to want to follow the law for the law to be effective, and that can only start with education and promotion of cycling as a viable commuting alternative, along with meaningful expansion of the cycling network to support people choosing to bike. None of this will happen while some members of council continue to act with so much spite and hatred towards cyclists. Changing their attitudes is the first step to moving on.

About Greg Burrell

Greg is an accountant, cyclist and political observer living in Toronto, Canada with too many cats.
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