Are Toronto Bikers Finally Being Heard?

Safe Cycling vs. Pleasant Driving: Does it have to be an either or?

Digital Cycling art by Jon Diogenous  I am writing this blog article with more good and bad news for the bikers in Toronto. The good news is: we are not alone. More and more often I am seeing write-ups in the Globe & Mail and National Post speaking to the need for safer cycling in Toronto. Torontonians are really beginning to recognize that it is not just “hipsters” and super star athletes that want to commute via bicycle. However, with positive protest arising from pro-bike citizens and city councillors, many bike opponents are speaking out just as loudly.

I read an interesting article a while ago (http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/09/06/much-talk-but-little-action-on-improving-city-for-torontos-little-bike-people/) that addresses politicians’ dismissal of “Little Bike People.” The article compares the biking environments in New York, Philadelphia and Toronto. While biking and safe bike paths are flourishing in the former two cities, these alternative commuting solutions still seem to fall flat in Toronto. I strongly believe that this is because our city has positioned driving and biking as oppositional ends on a negative dichotomy. In arguments put forth by the public and reiterated in the news, it always seems as though you must choose between being a driver or a cyclist. I have a few ideas why this sentiment has developed, but I think it is far more important for all of us to work on a discourse that begins to change this oppositional conversation.

The urge toward biking opposition runs high in our streets and in our political environment. Just last October Mayor Rob Ford spent $300K to remove a bike lane from Jarvis (http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/10/03/mayor-ford-defends-spending-300k-on-bike-lane-removal-it-never-should-have-been-built-in-the-first-place/). While this bike lane offered cyclists a safer way to reach work and entertainment hubs, its costly removal shaves a measly two minutes off of drivers’ commutes. This aggressive anti-biking act demonstrates that, at Toronto’s core, there is a strong belief that progress for cyclists means doom for drivers of “proper forms of transportation.”

In an attempt to remedy this offense against Toronto cyclists, a few councillors proposed that drivers should be taxed to fuel the funds needed to build a safer biking environment in our city. Unfortunately, this motion was also swiftly rejected and it seemed that, once more, Toronto favoured motorized vehicles. Mayor Ford and his supporters argued that motorists are already being punished enough by our city’s congestion; adding additional monetary strife would only fuel the fire against cyclist.

It was interesting to note that the original article that I referred to presents the age-old argument in the way that, I believe, secures prevailing notions about the non-complimentary nature of biking and driving. Even though this particular author is a cyclist and a motorist, he could not help but present the two sides as oppositional He covers popular arguments for/against cycling and all of them sound the same: if we add bike lanes, then we take away from driveable lanes, leading to more traffic congestion and angrier motorists.

However, despite the somewhat dreary biking landscape, Toronto has brought on Philadelphia’s deputy commissioner of transportation. Considering that Philadelphia has booming biking paths and a steep decline in traffic crashes, we can hope that Buckley will bring this positive street-itude to Toronto. Therefore, I look forward to reporting more positive biking news in the near future!

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