The Tedium of the Never Ending Bike Lane Debate

The bike lane discussion is getting rather tedious, isn’t it?

It boggles my mind that the idea of keeping citizens safe is up for debate.  Maybe debate is the wrong word.  How about “Hate Campaign”? Because in this case, one side (cyclists) is fighting for the right to exist, while the other side (people who want the road to be exclusively for motorized vehicles) is fighting to rule the road with no regard for anyone who might get in their way.

And somehow, bike lanes appear to have become the election issue for Toronto in 2010.

Let’s not kid ourselves here: People who oppose bike lanes oppose cyclists on the road in general, not just in certain places.

Of the five major mayoral candidates, zero have taken the position that bike lanes need to exist even if it slows cars down.  Sure, Sarah Thompson says she wants bike lanes, but she doesn’t want them on Jarvis (despite it having already been decided).  And George Smitherman claims to be in favour of bike lanes, but wants to put construction of lanes “on hold” so that he can assess the situation.

On the more extreme side of things, Rocco Rossi thinks bikes should never be on arterial roads and Rob Ford hates cyclists. Oh, and the only thing Giorgio Mammoliti knows about cyclist in Toronto is that one time he saw someone kick a car (but I guess didn’t bother to find out any more of the story or watch any other cyclists).

While I understand that these candidates will have to face some angry Torontonians who cannot fathom giving up part of the road to others, I don’t understand why they have made pandering to car crusaders integral to their campaigns.  Don’t they think that all citizens of Toronto have a right to use this city and be protected?

Some opposed to bike lanes suggest that people should be using Toronto’s ravines or secondary roads for cycling.  Both ideas sound great for recreational cycling on a Saturday afternoon, but neither is going to get me where I need to go — at least not in a reasonable time.

The ravines only cover a very small part of the city and generally go in a straight line. That’s not particularly helpful when trying to get to work downtown.  And biking on side streets is often inefficient because many side streets are filled with stop signs at every corner, or they change direction to reduce traffic or simply end.

Bike lanes – although the safety of many in this city is questionable – exist to make cycling safer and to help the flow of traffic.  Cyclists are entitled to take up an entire lane – they’re a vehicle after all.  But we all know perfectly well how drivers would react to cyclists actually exercising that right on a regular basis (I can say, from experience, that it often involves honking or pushing cyclists to the fringes).  Bike lanes actually help cars by keeping bikes contained to one side and allowing cars to move freely.

I grew up in a car-culture town, got my license on my 16th birthday and my first car shortly after.  I couldn’t understand how anyone could exist without a car.  And then I moved to Toronto.

In Toronto, the streets are narrow, people are everywhere, and driving is nearly impossible in much of downtown.

But not once did I have the reaction that bikes were to blame for traffic congestion, or that bigger roads should be built to accommodate more cars.  Not once.

Instead I thought “Toronto is just not built for cars.  It is way too time-consuming and stressful to drive in Toronto every day.  I better look into alternatives”

Those alternatives weren’t just biking (it took me six years to get on a bike in Toronto) – they were transit and walking.

But I can spout out the benefits of cycling until I’m blue in the face.  Those who are opposed don’t seem to be budging on their ignorant opinion.

And those people are entitled to their opinions.  But opinions and policy are (or should be) different things.  Politicians are elected to do what is best for the population as a whole, not just for a few cranky drivers.  And while city councillors are elected by a portion of the city of Toronto, councillors are still responsible for the city as a whole, not just the desires of their loudest constituents.

I know lots of drivers are respectful on the road, and I know some cyclists are not.  It’s really not about that.  What it is about is that the law says that bikes are vehicles and therefore have the right to be on the road.  And if they have the right to be on the road, they have the right to be safe while using it.  There can’t be a debate.

I keep thinking that at some point people will give into rational thought and realize that transportation based exclusively on single-passenger cars is no longer feasible with the populations and environmental situation we’re in today.

But apparently nothing can be left to “reasonable” when the thing in question might force people to change.

Something is going to have to give.

Until a Mayoral candidate steps up and says that all citizens of Toronto – not just those with cars – matter, then I’m not interested in what any of them has to say.


3 thoughts on “The Tedium of the Never Ending Bike Lane Debate

  1. Great summary of the leading candidates’ positions! It’s truly sad that this election is so right-wing, and that even the most progressive candidates don’t consider the safety of cyclists a priority. We already use the main arterial streets and we’re not going to stop because you put a few feet of broken bike lane several blocks away. It’s too bad we don’t have a candidate with the courage to say we need bike lanes where the cyclists already are, and we need them right now, not after more pointless studies and reports.

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