We are not at war

I’ve been working on a blog post for a few days relating my experiences cycling in Toronto.  Back in the spring, I brought my bike to the city from my parents’ basement (where it had been since I was about 16) and I’ve been out & about with it quite a bit, mostly around my area, but also along the Waterfront and even downtown on a few occasions.  Likely owing to my lack of exposure and the time of the week that I ride, I have not experienced what many drivers and cyclists have referred to as a war on cars/drivers/bicycles/cyclists.  The target of the supposed “war” changes depending on who is talking, but the reference is to the perceived general hostility between drivers and bicyclists in the city.  In my opinion, the characterization of an ongoing “war” is likely the result of a few bad examples leading to broad stereotypes of drivers’ and cyclists’ behaviour, and is largely political.

The truth is that my experience both riding and driving in the city has been overwhelmingly pleasant.  I have not witnessed this hostility, neither in my car nor on my bike.  I was about to present my own opinion to the blogosphere, that the characterization of an ongoing “war” on our streets was going to lead to unnecessary emotion and violence on our roads.

On Monday night, this happened.  Witnesses suggest an apparently minor altercation at a downtown stoplight between a cyclist and a driver escalated to violence, leading to the driver speeding away with the cyclist hanging on and being dragged for several blocks, and ending in a young man’s tragic and senseless death.  Not even 24 hours later, the internets are full of rhetoric and conjecture, people supposing what happened and who should be blamed, and groups on both “sides” of the “conflict” politicizing the tragedy to support their causes, which aren’t limited to greater regulation of bicycle couriers, installation of bike lanes on Bloor Street, and more strict laws and stiff penalties for drivers and cyclists, for example.

Let’s be very clear here.  This was no accident.  This is not a situation that a bike lane would have prevented.  Although it may have been sparked by a collision, this was a brutal fight between two grown men.  Regardless of the fact that they were on a bicycle and in a car, both men could have reacted differently, and both men didn’t.  My fear is that characterizing this incident as driver vs. cyclist violence will result in more of that sort of violence, and we certainly don’t need any more of it.  I believe that this incident, while certainly tragic, is random and isolated, and not part of a greater systemic failure.

My sincere condolences go out to the family of the young man killed in Monday’s bizarre incident.

About Greg Burrell

Greg is an accountant, cyclist and political observer living in Toronto, Canada with too many cats.
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  • Notwithstanding the fact that it was, in fact, a fight with two sides I still say that it is completely inappropriate to use a car as a weapon.This is essentially what happened.

  • Of course it's inappropriate to use a car as a weapon. It's also inappropriate to use a bicycle or a steel u-lock as a weapon. It doesn't matter that this weapon was used against a cyclist, a pedestrian, another driver, a sea captain or a ninja turtle, and bike lanes offer neither protection nor security from this sort of nonsense.

  • I don't pretend to say that bike lanes would have prevented this issue beyond the whole "butterfly effect" aspect.That said, I *do* think that bicycle infrastructure and driver/cyclist education can go a long ways towards reducing the likelihood of such conflicts. The reason is that at least in my experience, conflicts occur where there must be some sort of negotiation between driver and cyclist for the same space and quite often the driver feels that they have more right to that space above and beyond the fact that they're heavier and faster. 400 series highway crossings are the worst for this, IMO, and the inner suburbs are quite bad as well when it comes to the sense of driver entitlement that expects me to sacrifice my safety for their expedience.As a cyclist I find streets like Harbord with its bike lane much less stressful than say, Bloor or Queen. And this past weekend as I started to move my things across town, I drove those same streets with a car and found them also much less stressful from a driver/cyclist interaction POV.

  • While I'm trying not to comment any more on the incident on Bloor, I agree with you that conflicts tend to happen where vehicles (including cyclists) have to share space, like in shared lanes and intersections. This is why we have laws that spell out how we are to share the roadway, and I agree that better education would help.I also feel safer in a dedicated lane than sharing a lane with vehicle traffic, except I find Queen Street fairly stress-free. I find that the space between the parked cars and the streetcar tracks makes a sort of unofficial bike lane, since no car would try to go there. There's always the risk of being doored though.I haven't tried to cross a 400-series and I don't think I will any time soon.