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Canadian cities conflicted on cycling

Anti-cycling Mayor ends Toronto's 'war on the car' while in Montreal they discuss urban cycling's downside...

The war on the car is dead. Long live the war on the bike!

Or so it seems to some observers of Toronto’s new mayor, Rob Ford, who we first came across as a mayoral candidate last year thanks to a video clip of his suggestion that all of the city’s cyclist fatalities effectively had it coming.

More recently as mayor he was behind the council decision  to remove a bike lane installed in place of a traffic lane  just last summer on Toronto’s Jarvis Street. The city says the facility will be replaced by a bike lane separated from the rest of the traffic. It’s a controversial move as it appears to be a reflection of Ford’s stated view that bikes don’t belong on roads.

“Roads are built for buses cars and trucks…not for people on bikes,” he said back in 2007. And he appears determined to implement policies that reflect these enlightened views.

Most cyclists of course take the view that they are traffic and have every right to be on the same streets as cars, trucks and buses. As one local cyclist observed:

“It cost $65k to install the bike lanes. A city report showed that the number of cyclists tripled and motor vehicles are slowed down a whopping two minutes on average between Bloor and Queen. And there are far fewer cyclists on the sidewalk. In short, the street is working for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. It makes no sense to remove the bike lanes.”

It will apparently cost $200,000 dollars to undo the bike lane transformation.

But it's not just bikes that Ford has a problem with in his unerring fight for the rights of people to be fat in cars. Public transport too should make way for the mighty automobile.

In his first few days in office Ford held a meeting with the head of Toronto's public transport commission and afterwards told reporters: “I wanted to make quite clear that he understood that Transit City [an overground light railway scheme] is over, the war on the car is over and all new subway expansion is going underground, and that’s pretty well it.”

Meanwhile Ontario’s doctors are calling on their provincial government to implement measures to make cycling a safer mode of transport. They want:

  • The provincial government to develop policy and programs, including funding, to facilitate safe cycling, and for municipal governments to redouble their efforts to build much-needed cycling infrastructure;
  • Connected networks of roads with paved shoulders in rural settings, to allow for the much needed separation between cyclists and fast-travelling vehicles on rural roads;
  • The Ontario Drivers' Manual to be revised to include a comprehensive section on vehicle-bicycle interaction, and furthermore that the Ontario's Drive Test include this in the examination of new drivers;
  • Ongoing delivery of bicycle safety education for young children through such programs as Can-Bike, and that such training be mandatory for all Ontario primary school students; and
  • Education material for both drivers and cyclists that emphasizes intersection-specific dangers.

Stewart Kennedy, MD, President of the Ontario Medical Association said: "The debate about bicycle infrastructure is so often politically driven, but should really be about the health of the population and safety of those who choose to cycle. Ontario's doctors are committed to working with the province and municipalities to create a safer Ontario for our cyclists,"

Annually in Ontario more than 2,000 cyclists are injured in vehicle-bicycle collisions alone while in the past five years cycling fatalities from these collisions have averaged 20 per year.

Over in the neighbouring province of Quebec there is also some debate about cycling fatalities, in particular in Montreal where five riders have died this year.

Sadly, an article in the Montreal Gazette prompted by the latest fatalities falls some way short of elevating the debate, but instead, under the headline "The downside of urban cycling" questions whether or not the “public sanctification of biking is warranted.”

Based on some flimsy evidence, the writer claims that cycling in Montreal is "inherently risky" while suggesting that riding there is "not as environmentally virtuous as it's cracked up to be."

Next he has a pop at cyclists on the grounds that  many riders "wear dark clothing at night, their bikes lack reflectors, they wear no helmets and they sail through red lights."

Things then get faintly ridiculous when the writer claims that "urban cycling is no friend of the taxpayer" before urging readers to consider all the "little things" that can add up.

Thoes little things include: "the cost of treating those 800 injuries a year, the [public transport company's] loss of fares from people who would otherwise travel on public transit, the loss of revenue caused by replacing hundreds of parking spots with the Bixi [bike-sharing scheme]."

So, shame on us then for getting injured, not using public transport and taking up valuable car-parking space, it seems.

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