The war with drivers will only end when bikes are as common as cars
Last month, while sitting on a porch overlooking one of Toronto’s busy north-south roads, I witnessed an increasingly common sight: A car and a bike going at it as if they were on the set of *Mad Max Fury Road*. There’s no bike lane on this street, more’s the pity. The cyclist was cut off by the driver and responded by screaming at the car, which he sped up to and passed.
Here’s the crazy part. Instead of sighing or shaking his head or going home to his partner and vowing to move to the country, the driver put pedal to the metal and chased the cyclist up the street at an alarming speed. He was going so fast I couldn’t get his licence, or I would have called the police. I asked on Twitter if anyone else had witnessed the incident; no one responded, perhaps because we’ve all become so blasé about street rage.
Never mind Pokemon Go, the primary game this summer is Death Race 2016. Around the corner from my house, another cyclist was chased by an enraged driver onto a sidewalk and hit, an act of aggression that was witnessed and reported to police. Two blocks away there is a ghost bike – one of the all-too-common *memento mori* of city streets – marking the death of a 71-year-old cyclist killed earlier this month when he hit a parked van. Initially, police blamed his death on cyclist error, then backtracked and admitted he’d had the right of way.
I’ve driven, walked and cycled in this city for more years than I care to admit, and this summer seems like a low moment in car-bike relations, the point where the Hatfields and the McCoys retreated to their houses and started counting ammunition. A toxic blend of heat, increased traffic and construction has taken a nasty situation and made it worse.
Perhaps I feel this way because my son was recently forced off the road by a speeding driver and crashed his bike, and I was nearly doored as I rode to work, saved only by my reflexes. (And I have the reflexes of someone who’s been dead for 10 years.)
Or perhaps I feel this way because 412 cyclists were hit by cars in Toronto in the first six months of the year, according http://globalnews.ca/news/2824632/41-people-have-been-seriously-hurt-or-killed-cycling-or-walking-in-toronto-so-far-this-year/ to Global News. Cyclists continued to be killed by cars across the country. Yet, somehow, we’re stuck in a ridiculous blame cycle that has not changed much since Rob Ford was mayor of this city, removing bike lines with a stroke of his pen and saying, “there’s this huge animosity between motorists and cyclists, and it’s never going to go away.” Rob Ford, seer. There’s a scary thought.
Yes, most cities and urban planners now acknowledge the need to make room for cyclists in order to build thriving communities (Toronto just voted to double its cycle routes over the next 10 years.) But this has done little to change the intransigent, bull-headed psychology of drivers, who so clearly view the roads as their property it might as well have been the 11th commandment on Moses’s tablet: “Thou shalt share the lane with none but the van and the SUV.”
The animosity that exists certainly cuts both ways: Talk to a driver (even one who’s also a cyclist) and you’ll hear that riders are sanctimonious jerks who disobey all the rules of the road; cyclists sometimes see every car with Terminator behind the wheel. Things will change only when sharing the road is not seen as a war, but simply as an efficient way to get things done, and a bicycle is as common a sight on a road as a car.
*But first, we have to get kids on their bikes.* In Canada, fewer than 2 per cent of children ride to school. They aren’t taught to ride as part of the curriculum, the way kids are in the Netherlands (where they have to take a safety exam at the age of 12). They don’t, for the most part, ride with their parents from the age of three or four, the way children do in Denmark. Imagine if children were taught road safety and good cycling habits as part of each province’s health curriculum – I know the school day is already crowded, but it could be slipped in there between the assembly about bullying and the assembly about bullying.
In Britain, public health officials have been advocating for cycling as part of the national curriculum for years, though it hasn’t happened yet. If we did it here, it would require an investment in infrastructure, like racks and crossing guards and bicycles for kids who don’t have them, but the long-term benefits (not least, peace on the road) would outweigh the costs.
*Bikes vs. Cars*, a 2015 documentary, features a wonderful scene with cycling teacher Liliana Godoy leading children through the streets of Bogota on their bikes, pointing out traffic rules and hazards as they ride. “I want to plant a seed in children, a sense that they are able to move freely in life,” she says. “Doing it in their childhood makes it a habit. As an adult, you never forget it. Children by nature are not afraid of anything. It’s adults that imprint fear in them.”
Those are words you can take to the bank – as long as you ride there, of course.