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2011 Villain: Anti-Cycling Sentiment

Nominated for: perpetuating an attitude that, quite literally, kills.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past twelve months. From December 12–23, the candidates for Mightiest and Meanest—and new this year, a reader’s write-in option! From December 26–29 you’ll be able to vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year, and we’ll reveal the results December 30.

About a month after Jenna Morrison’s death at Dundas and Sterling, members of the Urban Repair Squad gathered at the controversial intersection with bikes and paint. For two hours, give or take, they worked, stenciling white DIY sharrows and a strip of bright, glaring teal down the right-hand side of the road. This is an intersection known among Toronto’s cyclists as one of the most dangerous in the city, a tight merge on to Dundas that, on the morning of November 7, proved too tight, claiming a young mother’s life. Teal may not be the most attractive colour in the spectrum, but to those who see the city over a pair of handlebars, the brighter the better—particularly when blind spots are more plentiful than side guards.

Of course, the experiment in direct action didn’t last long. By 11:30 that morning police swept into the intersection themselves, scattering the guerrilla artisans. “After all but a few police cars had left,” reported the Grid, “car after car pulled up to the stop sign to make a right turn on to Dundas, and more often than not, kept safely out of the bright teal and white lane.”

“It seemed to be working.”

It was telling. For much of the past year, in ways both implicit and explicit, the highest officials at City Hall have painted cycling as an afterthought at best, or at worst, the elitist preference of downtowners, a niche interest not shared by the more practically-minded suburbanites. In a city supposedly teetering on the brink, so this story goes, cycling is one of those fringe luxuries whose infrastructure we can’t dare waste money on. That a small group of people provided that infrastructure themselves, though, relatively quickly and easily, provides evidence for different, uglier truths. Rather than budget constraints, it suggests that the real problem is a systemic rejection of cycling as a viable part of our transportation network—the reason 2011 has seen our city’s first net loss of bike lanes. And that, to put it mildly, is quite beyond unacceptable by now.

It’s also how Olivia Chow’s renewed call for truck side guards can be so thoroughly waved off. Back in 2006, the Conservative government responded to an earlier request that we consider making side guards mandatory by saying that the competitiveness of the Canadian trucking industry would be affected, an evidently worst-case scenario, even when stacked up against tragedies like Jenna Morrison’s, or what happened outside the Gladstone in 2006, and the deaths ten years prior that had Jack Layton making a cause out of bike lanes to begin with.

These are fundamental issues of public safety, to say nothing of public health. Would basic changes to our transportation systems, like adding more bike lanes and requiring side guards, be so readily rejected if the safety of drivers was somehow on the line?

And would the removal of bike lanes, which council decided to do for Jarvis and Pharmacy, be so eagerly pursued were the act anything but, in part, a backhanded slap in the face of Toronto’s cyclists? Throughout his first turbulent year as mayor, Ford has repeatedly insisted that Ford Nation, wherever it is, continues its support, constantly urging him to “stay the course.” But in its supposed hotbed out in the suburbs, constituents are also telling councillors that they want what we have downtown.

This is what action like that of the Urban Repair Squad the other week illuminates mercilessly: in laying out a bike lane in less than two hours, water-soluble paint or not, they have show that cities and federal governments too can provide basic safety with negligible impact. But ours haven’t. Cycling remains on the margins, whether those of roadways or policy papers.

Respect, perhaps, needs to come first. Politicians, like some drivers we can think of, need to realize that cycling, and cyclists, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. And yes, their rightful place is in the lane alongside everyone else, not on the sidewalk.


  • Anonymous

    cyclists might have some credibility to stand on this issue if even the majority of them obeyed traffic laws and didnt have a superiority complex about their selected way of getting around.

    • Wh.Way

      As do some drivers. There are going to be people who break the rules of the road no matter what they’re driving. That doesn’t mean we should screw everything. Bad apples don’t spoil the bunch.

      Rules and boundaries need to be in place for them to be followed. Without proper lane markings for bikes they will remain free agents which is dangerous for everyone. Bike lanes would cut down on a lot of the willy nilly cycling that happens, the same way lanes for cars organizes (most) drivers.

      Change calls for patience and education for everyone on the road.

    • Michael Small

      this isn’t a “cyclists vs. drivers” issue.

      it’s a public safety issue.

      people who obey the law get into accidents too.

      also, as a driver, i’d rather have the cyclists in their own lane – it keeps them out of mine, which i’m sure you’d agree is better for both rides.

      • Anonymous

        absolutely, but when you see cyclists breezing through red lights or stop signs, refusing to yield when they should etc, you dont have to wonder why they arent getting a lot of sympathy from some people. (i walk and take ttc btw, i dont even own a car)

        • matthewfabb

          I would also say a very large number of pedestrians ignore traffic signals and street laws in downtown Toronto. Going through red lights and crossing roads where ever they feel the need, putting themselves, drivers and cyclists in danger. Yet this shouldn’t be an excuse to make any road safer for pedestrians. A large number of people in any group ignore the rules of the road, no matter what is done and drive, bike or walk, it’s just the way people are.

        • guest

          you’ve never seen a drive do the same?

    • _ladyday001

      There was a reply on a story, a while ago on the national post that sums up why this, for lack of a better word, whine, is becoming old: Not, all drivers and pedestrians obey the rules all the time…does this mean we should stop maintaining roads and building crosswalks? No. That would be silly. Cycling is the same, there are always going to be some that break the law…but that shouldn’t come into play when it comes to building better infrastructure for safer roads.

    • _ladyday001

      There was a reply on a story, a while ago on the national post that sums up why this, for lack of a better word, whine, is becoming old: Not, all drivers and pedestrians obey the rules all the time…does this mean we should stop maintaining roads and building crosswalks? No. That would be silly. Cycling is the same, there are always going to be some that break the law…but that shouldn’t come into play when it comes to building better infrastructure for safer roads.

      • Anonymous

        again, certainly there are asshole drivers and pedestrians (and certainly TTC riders), but it seems to be epidemic proportions with cyclists.

        • Mesonto

          Completely agree, I see more cyclists than pedestrians or auto drivers breaking the rules. And I don’t seem to be the only one amongst my friends and family who seem to to think the same. It is a huge problem.

    • Mike

      This argument will cease to be bullshit when a cyclist t-bones an SUV and kills a family of 5.

    • scunny

      Yo T-I-T,

      Many cyclists don’t obey the rules of the road, ’tis true. But, is this any reason to be removing cycling-safer infrastructure (bike lanes) from TORONTO’s streets?

      Most drivers don’t obey the rules of the road – have you ever seen how many exceed the posted speed limit on our freeways – either. One hasn’t heard any calls for removing lanes from our 400 series highways.

      And as far as the idea that cyclists have a superiority complex about the way they get around, from an urban congestion/pollution perspective there is no “complex” involved.

      The bicycle is simply superior, eh?

      HAPPY NEW YEAR to ALL: TORONTO 2012 – Year of the Bicycle!!! ( :-)

      • Anonymous

        obviously, all im saying is, if even half of them obeyed the rules of the road and didnt put themselves in a position to be run over, then their argument might be given more credence

        • Anonymous

          Now you’re blaming the victims.

          • Anonymous

            if you dont follow the rules of the road and get your ass knocked off by a car, then yeah, you deserve to take the blame.

          • Anonymous

            No, you’re saying anyone who gets hit by a car must be the guilty party. Do you really think motorists are incapable of causing the collision? Motorists are never at fault? Motorists always obey traffic rules?

            Take your post above, replace “run over” with “raped” and you get the start of SlutWalk.

          • Anonymous

            read my post again. the words “if you dont follow the rules of the road” are in there.

          • guest

            making the explicit assumption that “more than half” of cyclists don’t follow said rules resulting in deaths… Read your own argument again…

          • Anonymous

            thats based on observation, living and walking downtown.

          • Anonymous

            That’s based on the availability heuristic and confirmation bias.

    • guest

      all that also applies to drivers…

  • Junctionist

    The stance on cycling on the part of some conservatives is unacceptable. Why don’t these conservatives want the self-sufficiency and lower regulation and government expenditure that is associated with cycling versus driving? It’s because their stance is irrational and reactionary. Cyclists are legal road users that require safe infrastructure, but they don’t want any change from the status quo of marginalization, even if by discouraging the use of alternatives to driving they encourage congestion. That some cyclists disobey the rules of the road is irrelevant. Who would cyclists as a community try to impress by achieving perfect riding all the time? Motorists and pedestrians commonly break the rules. The rules revolve around drivers in any case because cars can do a lot more damage than bicycles. It’s a double standard of the nastiest kind, and nothing will change even no cyclist ever rode by a stop sign again.

    Also, I think that our city planners could do a lot more to make bike lanes palatable. Install them, but ensure that traffic lights are synchronized, have more roundabouts, and have traffic lights that change from yellow to green so that drivers always get moving right on green. By keeping cars moving at a normal pace rather than slower, they could ease away the kind of infrastructure shock that breeds resentment towards cycling infrastructure, and within a generation there would be a noticeable shift to bicycles anyway.

  • Nodders

    I have often wondered what would happen if all commuter cyclists were to abandon their bikes one day and drive cars to work. I like to think that this would generate more support for cycling infrastructure given the potential gridlock that would result! I hate to admit it but in my 8,000 kms of commuting by bike over the last 2 years that my biggest fear is other cyclists (that and cab drivers and people in black Esplanades with tinted windows). Cyclists need to realize that the Highway Traffic Act applies to them as well.

  • scunny

    Do we abandon safety-appropriate infrastructure for all drivers because many are doughy, distracted, poorly-skilled lunatics – operating dirty, dangerously designed machines – who often put all of us, including other motorists, at heightened risk?

    Do all drivers lose their right to reasonable safety conditions because of the behaviour of those scofflaws among them?

    No. And if we did, the media and our mayor would call it a “War on the Car”.

    So why do so many lump all cyclists together as a single entity based on the behaviour of a few idiots? Many of whom, I might add, seemingly act the way they do as a means of achieving some usually wrongly perceived safer passage on our urban thoroughfares after being encouraged by the City of TORONTO to use bicycles to help mitigate our urban congestion and pollution problems, only to be abandoned by successive municipal regimes.

    The answer is that much of our population has been so purposefully deluded by complicit industrial and political interests, they have come to view their “reality” through a windshield.

    The courts and other levels of government will be called upon to rectify this situation. And soon, eh?

  • Robert Ruffo

    Never discussed is how much money cyclists save taxpayers. An SUV wears out roads, and takes up a lot of lane-space. Cyclists mean far less demand on the car-road system and general infrastructure.

    Same goes for downtowners. Toronto is almost bankrupt because it is so sprawled – sprawl is extremely expensive to maintain compared to dense urbanism.

    Cars also contribute nothing to the quality of city life or the feeling of being in a place that is alive. Pedestrians, cyclists, yes.

    Toronto City Hall sound laughably backward in its approach, even compared to some American cities. You hear them talk about this and it sounds like it’s 1955.

  • Flip

    Very cogently put, Todd. You’ve pointed out how the resistance to acknowledging the emergence of cycling as a (growing) method of transportation results in the failure to provide appropriate infrastructure, even where the costs are negligible. The other side of that coin is that, to date, there are still no consequences for the cyclist who knocked down and killed a 74-year old man on a North York sidewalk. Decision-makers are stuck in a groove where cycling is a fringe activity that does not warrant either kind of attention.