Photos by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.
Late on Tuesday afternoon, cyclists took to the stretch of Bloor Street West between Avenue Road and Bay Street (above), an impromptu mourning of Darcy Allan Sheppard, the bike courier killed along the stretch the night before. A much larger pack is expected to descend on the area on Wednesday at 5 p.m. to do it again. For a community whose more enthusiastic members took over the Gardiner on a whim last year, that stretch of Bloor should be an easy temporary conquest; activists have long wanted bike lanes there, going so far as to create the lanes there themselves.
It’s tempting to see Sheppard’s death as a tragic end to another fight in the larger war between cyclists and drivers, one battle of the many that take place daily on city streets, though not frequently with this result. But doing so, or taking any side in that war, obscures the larger systemic problem responsible for creating an environment in which such fights are commonplace. Nothing inherent in cars or bikes, after all, save for the adrenaline each can produce, explain by themselves the behaviour of the people who use either mode. There are good and bad drivers just as there are good and bad cyclists and good and bad people, and no-one undergoes a transfiguration by hopping onto a bike or a descent into wickedness through their convertible.
The problem is instead the way that the city’s environment is built, and the way its people think about it is as a result. On a road there is a clear power dynamic: cars, because of size and weight and speed and maneuverability and protection for their occupants, win. Always. But most roads are not built with an acknowledgment of that: a road with lanes built for the use of cars forces cyclists to constantly compete with an opponent who is far from equal, all while forcing a level playing field that can’t actually exist.
That’s why Toronto’s infrastructure must accommodate bikes, and do so with the full acknowledgment that they are different, different from cars and different from pedestrians, and necessarily separate from both. Cyclists do not belong on sidewalks, but they also don’t belong on roads designed for cars and not them, like Bloor between Avenue and Bay as it exists now. There is no one possible solution; fully protected bike lanes would be amazing, but sharrows or regular old bike lines can all make a difference if widespread enough. (We’d need a lot more than are currently planned.) There just has to be something real and omnipresent that makes it clear to cyclists and drivers, over and over and over again, that roads can and must be shared by unevenly matched travellers. It’s been done before. The sidewalk is for the most part not some magical place where only pedestrians are physically capable of setting foot: it’s just differently-coloured cement, at a slightly different height, with an occasional plant or pole. Drivers all know that it’s not for them, and stay off of it.
Such changes, if implemented, wouldn’t constitute a “war on cars”: different types of transportation simply warrant different treatment on the roads, and when cars and cyclists are shoved together on packed roads built for cars only, real effects on both the mindset and actions of Torontonians inevitably follow. Short of true and justified fear for his or his passenger’s own lives, there is no excuse whatsoever for a driver doing to a cyclist what Bryant is alleged to have done to Sheppard—but that doesn’t mean such incidents are totally unavoidable in the future. And besides, if there really was a war on cars, how come all of the casualties are coming from the other side?