There are bad ideas, and then there are really bad ideas. And then there is the idea mused about by Adriane Carr, a Green party candidate in Vancouver’s upcoming civic election, to create some bike-free streets to appease drivers who may be annoyed at the city’s downtown separated bike lanes. When I first saw the headline in Vancouver’s The Georgia Straight, I thought I had read it wrong. Surely, it didn’t read bike-free streets? This was a Green candidate, after all. Albeit one with a suspicious last name.
Carr told the Straight that she had spoken with several frustrated drivers who had mentioned that it would make it better for them to have some bike-free streets. This seems to me like a very bad way to come up with a very bad idea.
And this isn’t the only bad idea for bikes. There are many, but they all have one thing in common. None were created with the cyclist in mind.
Bad idea #1: Create bike-free streets
Let’s just get something straight: Rob Ford was right. The vast majority of roads are built for cars, trucks, and busses. These are already, for all intents and purposes, bike-free streets. Yes, it’s not illegal to ride a bike on any street, but it sure isn’t welcoming on many either. Cyclists who don’t feel comfortable on those streets are corralled, especially in Toronto, to a few different corridors that contain bike lanes. This isn’t to say that a street like Bloor Street, which has no cycling infrastructure, doesn’t have cyclists—it does, in large numbers. But these cyclists are basically left to appropriate road space on what is essentially designed as a car-only route.
I have a sneaking suspicion that if these bike-free streets were to be created, they would be just as congested if not more so than other streets. After all, it’s not cyclists that are causing congestion, but the cars.
Bad idea #2: Make cyclists pay for roads
This is something that always seems to rear its ugly, ignorant head in discussions about cycling. It goes something like this: “Those crazy pinko cyclists need to cough up their fair share for the roads they drive on, just like us drivers.”
First, many cyclists are also, gasp, drivers. Second, cyclists, if they rent or own property in Toronto, pay for roads through their property taxes, just like drivers. You want to talk about making people pay for the roads they use? Better start looking at all those drivers who come in from outside of Toronto. Their property taxes aren’t helping out Toronto’s roads, but their cars are sure helping out its congestion.
The times they may be a-changin’, though. According to a poll conducted for the Toronto Star, while road tolls were given the thumbs down, congestion charges may have some traction in the GTA.
Bad idea #3: Licensing cyclists
Toronto is, of course, no stranger to its fair share of terrible, no good, very bad ideas for cycling. The latest one an oldy, but a baddy floated by Councillor Frances Nunziata who raised the idea of licensing cyclists. Licensing cyclists is a bad idea for cyclists (it will discourage cycling), a bad idea for police (it’s not needed for enforcement), and a bad idea for taxpayers (a costly system will need to be maintained).
But, hey, don’t take my word for it, you can read the City’s own report from 2005 [PDF], which highlights all of the reasons this idea sucks. In fact, it sucks so bad that the City has looked at it three times in the past and rejected it every time.
There are also numerous questions like: Do you license children, and at what age? What about those coming from outside the city? What about trail riders and mountain bikers? And now that the city has Bixi, it presents another challenge for licensing cyclists: what about tourists coming in and riding Bixi bikes?
Bad idea #4: Make it illegal to park anywhere but official bike parking
Then there’s this vaguely-written gem passed by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee last week as part of the street harmonization by-law, which caused an immediate vein-throb in cyclists who interpreted its intention as making it illegal to park your bike anywhere but on a designated bike post. City staffer Christina Bouchard who runs the City of Toronto Cycling Facebook page, quickly corrected this, writing that, “the interpretation that the purpose of the bylaw harmonization is to remove locked bicycles which are in good working order from City streets is an incorrect interpretation of the harmonized bylaw.”
That’s good to hear, because there is a dearth of bicycle parking in many areas of the city, even with all those ring-and-posts, forcing cyclists to lock up to poles and wherever else they can. Businesses should be wary of this fact, as it makes it harder for them to be reached by cyclists.
Although this seems largely like a case of misunderstanding it reflects how sensitive the relationship between city hall and cyclists are in Toronto.
Good idea: Create cycling policies for cyclists
Ideas around cycling should not be created by knee-jerk reactions; they should be created with the cyclist in mind. What makes cycling safer, better, easier, for both cyclists and cars? What makes a transportation system that works for everyone? Demands for better cycling infrastructure are not just rantings that can be easily dismissed; the lack of cycling infrastructure in our city has real, devastating impacts on the safety of our streets. A fact which is now being studied by Ontario coroner Dan Cass.
Good cycling ideas don’t come just in the shape of on-street infrastructure, however. As Ben Spurr wrote yesterday in NOW Magazine, mandated side guards on trucks could go a long way in avoiding accidents that killed a Toronto cyclist yesterday in what Constable Hugh Smith called a “preventable collision.”
The City has made some progress by approving an environmental assessment for separated bike lanes and installing more bike boxes around town, but these gains are often hampered by the musings of politicians who come up with bad ideas based on “frustrated” drivers.
There are 5,365km of roads in Toronto and 116km of on-street bike lanes, give or take a cancelled bike lane or three. Remind me who should be frustrated here?
photo by psd