In fifteen years Toronto has gone from being dubbed the best cycling city in North America to the bike collision capital of Canada. Not helping matters is the current mayor, Rob Ford, who was elected after promising to end what he referred to as “the war on the car.” The level of animosity he has for cyclists is alarming. Here are a few sound bites from him expressing his disdain for bike commuters:
“And what I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks. Sooner or later you’re going to get bitten. And every year we have dozens of people that get hit by cars or trucks. Well, no wonder: roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks, not for people on bikes. My heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”
Mayor Ford has taken a bullying approach to dealing with cyclists. He sees them as a nuisance to the city when they’re in fact an asset. More cyclists on the road means fewer cars on the road, which means motorists won’t run into as much traffic. Also, it’s pretty obvious that cyclists cannot automatically be assigned blame for accidents–both a cyclist and the driver are responsible for being aware of their surroundings and respectful of each other. To dismiss every accident as being the cyclist’s fault is disrespectful and ignorant.
Last year the Toronto city council voted to have three bike lanes removed, which will only add fuel to the anti-cyclist fire because more cyclists will end up riding on the road and feeling increasing resentment for the mayor and for people who think cyclists don’t belong there. The city did make some improvements to a few existing bike lanes and created a barrier between the bike lane and the road, but it’s a pretty confusing mixed message to send to cyclists–“We’re both protecting you and alienating you!”
While Portland is embracing the cyclist culture and investing in bicycle commuting, Toronto is setting a very scary example for other cities. It should be pledging to serve and protect all of its residents, not just the ones who drive cars. These tensions can be alleviated but cyclists and motorists need to understand and respect each other instead of blaming one another for being a nuisance. Neither one is going away any time soon; Toronto needs to address the conflict and work to solve it instead of ignoring the situation and watching it get worse.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/caribb/231955974/