Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bill Carroll says No! to Bike Lanes. I say...

Bill Carroll was ranting today on CFRB about Toronto City Council's latest ideas. They want to get rid of Jarvis Street's fifth lane and put a bicycle lane along Danforth/Bloor from Victoria Park to Kipling, and he is looking for 100 e-mails to support his cause. He reminded us of Toronto Council's priority list for people, bikes, and cars and asserted that because of our climate, bikes are unpractical -- the city is either covered in snow or too hot. (I must say that if I could, I'd less want to ride in saunaville than in the cold.) It's also dangerous to ride them. Well, that's what bike lanes are for, to remove the menace of cars...that's the theory anyway. And because of few lanes in our city, nervous nelly bicyclists ride up on the concrete away from the cars and straight to that poor sod on the sidewalk.

However, I'm not totally for bicycle lanes either. My beef is that Mayor David Miller and Toronto Council think these lanes should be for manually powered bikes only. They talk about being green, getting people out of cars, being environmentally friendly, but their knowledge and understanding of new forms of transportation are stuck in the dark ages. Just as they think incinerators haven't progressed since the dirty '60s, so too they think cars are only belching gas-hogs, bikes are only powered by people, and strange new devices should be run off the road. They have raised taxes in new ways so that they can pretend to keep property taxes down, yet they won't support a home-grown industry, which would provide a rather rich source of tax revenue for our stretched coffers as well as helping Toronto be green. Imagine the excitement of a buy-Toronto marketing campaign for us beleaguered Torontonians: buy a Zenn car, and you'll clean our air, support our workers, and enrich our city. Guess it's too radically win-win. And it's a car.

Although the province has the final say on whether the Zenn car will ride Ontario's streets, Toronto could easily mount a campaign to get Ontario to support it as a true city car that will help reduce locally produced smog. But it's new, it's a car, and they can't wrap their heads around such a complex concept. The province is just as bad. You'd think with them chucking money at GM, a foreign company really, they'd be just as interested if not more in chucking money at a completely Canadian, Ontario company. But no.

And so this non-thinking approach will produce a half-assed solution to pollution. With the Jarvis Street change they'll increase idling in gridlock and thus pollutants in the air. And with putting in bike lanes along a busy, packed road and restricting who can use them, once again only the healthy and well off will benefit -- which means they'll never get as many people out of their cars as could be possible, including those who would like to but cannot pedal a bike. God forbid we ever return to old levels of inclusivity (good service helped everyone), never mind aspire to new heights and make it so everyone could participate.

4 comments:

Aerodoq said...

So, I'm what you might consider a die-hard bike commuter. I do 100 km a week, down from 200 km a week a few years ago when I moved closer to work.

Vancouver has a fair number of cyclists, and despite the rain, a much more bike-friendly climate.

Having set the stage, I have to say that I'm pretty ambivalent about taking lanes away from cars and giving them to cyclists on major thoroughfares. We're about to do a test-run here in Vancouver when one of the 6 lanes on the Burrard Street Bridge (heading from Kitslano into the downtown core) will be given over to one-way bike traffic. And, yes, I'm pretty sure it's just human-powered bicycles (more on this later).

This trial addresses a specific problem: namely that the bikes don't share the sidewalk as nicely as they should and as a result there are a high number of injuries on the bridge involving cyclists. But I'm not sure that there are sufficient cyclists to justify giving over a whole lane of the bridge. And, given the issues of getting your bike to either end of the bridge (ie still mixed in with traffic on busy streets) I don't think simply opening up one lane on the bridge will encourage more people to cycle.

Not to mention the fact that it's going to piss off quite a number of drivers for the first few weeks. And it remains to be seen if city council will have the stamina to wait until driving patterns change enough to reduce the pending gridlock.

So ... meh.

I've got a similar response about other sorts of vehicles sharing bike lanes. Here in Vancouver, I encounter gas scooters, electric scooters, gas or electric skateboards, one intrepid guy with a hand-cranked wheelchair, a tribe of people on unicycles, and in the summer months people on rollerblades. And bikes pulling all manner of trailers and carts. Haven't seen any Segways anywhere other than the Seawall (a heavy-use mixed pedestrian/bike path).

My opinion is that if you can maintain a certain speed and not take up too much space and not belch particles in my face, then I don't mind you being there. This rules out all manner of gas-powered vehicles, and the roller-bladers (who take up something like 4 ft as they stride back and forth and go slowly). I know some of my fellow cyclists object to the electric scooters too, but ... I don't quite get why. As long as they're not going too fast, then why not.

I think the biggest factor that will get people out of their cars is to create a network of pathways that are not mixed use. Ie, no pedestrians. No joggers (a personal irritant). No cars. Just bikes, and sure, electric scooters, segways, fast-moving wheelchairs, etc. But it has to be a separated system so that people don't feel (or actually aren't) threatened by 2 tonnes of steel and glass at every turn.

And that requires some foresight and boldness that is often absent from the character of politicians running our cities.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Great comment Anthony! I remember visiting Copenhagen when very young and being amazed at the separated bike lanes. They also had as much gridlock as the car lanes. Separated is definitely the best way but I have no idea how one does that in an existing infrastructure. Or when streets are narrow. As you said, it would require boldness, for it would markedly change how people move on our roadways. Also, as you pointed out, it takes awhile for people to switch to new modalities of moving.

I'd love for electric scooters to get off the sidewalks. I can't imagine why cyclists would object to them being in bike lanes as they go fast and wouldn't be as hazardous to bikers as are to walkers. I swear some of them have hash marks on their sides, denoting how many pedestrians they've run down that day.

Joggers are a PIA to everyone!

Saskboy said...

The Mayor of Winnipeg apparently was going anti-bike lane recently. My cousin from there got me to take photos of Regina's bike lanes to prove it can be done by a Canadian city.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

One big opposition is it's too cold for biking. Well, if you guys can do it in Regina, it should certainly be a piece-of-cake in warmer Toronto!