A Muse on the Contentious Bike Lane
Posted on 21 May 2009
Editors note: while we're not sure about the "impending demise of the automobile" we do still today think its an important question to ask "who do roads belong to?" Are they arterial passageways for long distance commuters or do they belong to the neighbourhoods they cut through? And, even if the answer is both - then how to articulate safety while looking at large macro economic questions like the free flow of people (and goods)?
- February 2016
With the impending and rapid demise of the automobile, it appears that bikes are the big media item of the year. And, of course, the issue is extremely contentious. This week the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star both reported on the current proposal for a bike lane stretching across Bloor, an idea that we naturally support.
The problem is not the car as much as it a problem of perception. As Janet Sadik-Khan, the visionary responsible for the recent overhaul of NYC realized, most motorists using urban roads are using them as expressways and almost never stop to experience a neighbourhood. In fact, they endanger a neighbourhood. This dispels the myth that on-the-street parking actually increases sales to small business owners. In fact, as the Globe and Mail reported, a bike lane would actually increase sales to business owners. This is well known in Europe. In fact Mikael on his excellent blog Copenhagenize wrote an excellent post with some stats by the City of Berlin, Bern and others that show that non-motorists in urban centers are the dominant consumer group.
Of course this means that the parking lane might become a bike lane. And of course, motorists wouldn't like that very much. To some extent this is fair enough, but it is also resolvable. Yet, the fundamental question remains, who do roads belong to? Should roads like Bloor be treated as freeways that impassively cut through vital neighbourhoods or does a road like Bloor serve the transportation needs of the neighbourhoods it cuts through - needs that can be served by bicycle or walking?
As the Toronto Star article noted, the question concerns the definition of 'traffic.' Does the definition of traffic only include automobiles, or does it include the myriad ways an urbanite navigates his or her lifestyle radius, from rollerblades to moped scooter to, well, the humble bicycle. It's a good question. And, its a question that must remain answerable to businesses that are in fact destinations for motorists like restaurants and theaters. But should cars park on the street or should they park on off-street parking lots? Who owns the streets? And if its just motorists, have we respected the broad and very visible 'traffic' that is otherwise to the automobile? And more importantly, which definition will keep the citizens most safe?
Reading the comments to the Toronto Star article was equally interesting. Indeed, as many commented, if Toronto takes the usual half-arsed approach it almost always does, it will create lanes that aren't actually safer - therefore defeating the point. Even bike-hating councillor Case Ootes is aware of this. Bike lanes are not about public posturing and civic boosterism, they are there for the new and existing cyclists that are already overcrowding roads to their peril. The city is certainly prone to such boosterism and white elephants, the idea of a Paris Velib-style rental system that the city is exploring is a fine example of this. But bike lanes are no white elephant - unless they are poorly implemented and never used (the Lansdowne sharrow is a fine example of this). And this is likely to happen, putting Toronto's huge volume of cyclists in the exact same situation they are now; at risk.
Others commented on the lack of winter safety, commenting that only cultures with milder temperatures can justify bike lanes. Obviously very few of the commentators have been to Scandinavia in the winter, where bike lanes are plowed and salted like regular roads (above). Our friend Henry in Amsterdam posted a great bunch of stats lately on his blogsite. According to the Fietersbond (Dutch cyclist union) only 18% of the Dutch are deterred by foul weather, and it rains perpetually in Holland! Now flash to the chilly Danes, who recieve a fair amount of snow and ice, and only 25% of them will be deterred by lousy weather. Meanwhile, 40% of Germans will be detterred by bad weather, preferring the autobahn instead. We suspect that Canadians are even less hardy, despite being a Nordic nation. But lets face it, you are either shivering waiting for a streetcar (or freezing while warming up your car) or warming yourself riding your bike. This year the Martin Goodman trail was cleared and cyclists enjoyed the trail all year, safe from ice and snow. Anyone who rode this knew that cycling in the winter is a-ok, if not a whole lot of fun!
It's a worthy debate, but while Canadians are famous for debates, cities like Chicago and New York (above) are creating dedicated bike lanes for cyclists at a rapid rate - 420 miles in NYC alone this year. We're way behind folks, and it doesn't help that politicans like Case Ootes (who is certainly betraying his Dutch heritage) constantly roadblock the reasonability of bike lanes. They create business, they help create vibrant and vital tax bases, and most of all, they keep the citizens safe. And safety, dear citizens, is far more important than the poor 905'er who wants to get home on time.