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Drive, She Said

Going beyond the numbers in the battle for bike lanes Add to ...

I live in a city that, when measured by studies that reveal such things, is filled with many haves. The have-nots are growing, but the haves are firmly rooted. I say this only because I think it has merit in discussions taking place here.

You can no longer say the “b” word in this municipality, and many others. It’s tantamount to throwing the first punch: anything that ensues will be your fault. Bike lanes. Two innocuous words that, when put together, pit neighbour against neighbour, driver against cyclist, old against young and sporty against non-sporty. At least to these ears.

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We have a lake shore, which means we have a Lakeshore Road. Any town or city that has a lake usually has one, as the obvious names go first. Lakeshore is usually connected to Main, which is usually bisected by First, Second, Third and so on. Our Lakeshore was originally a dirt path that was widened to accommodate buggy traffic as the original haves constructed their estates with a view.

While it’s officially a highway (2), it was always the Sunday afternoon drive route, an ancient canopy of trees arching gracefully over the road as it meandered, mimicking the shoreline. From Burlington to Bronte, onward to Oakville, all the way to Toronto, if you so desired. To avoid the hectic pace of the QEW, you could select this calmer artery. While much of the traffic is local, it is, however, a major artery.

The battles for bike lanes usually involve removing whole lanes devoted to vehicular traffic. There are many of those fights going on. Part of the problem is that posted official traffic counts always show a lopsided score: on Lakeshore, the city staff report shows a daily usage of 16,500 cars and 115 bicycles. To the get-off-my-lawn brigade, that’s a slam dunk. However, if a road isn’t bicycle friendly, how do we know how many cyclists would use it if they safely could?

For a section of the road (about a kilometre) near the downtown core, the city isn’t losing a lane of traffic each way, because there’s only two to begin with. It’s going to remove the narrow centre lane, the left-turn lane. This part of the road is needed to connect the Waterfront Trail; it makes sense – unless you use that left-turn lane, which many do.

It’s narrow. The existing turn lane is so small, you tuck your car into it and pray the people behind you are paying attention. It was an afterthought, and it looks like it. Incidence of collisions, according to the report, show “approximately 70 per cent occurred away from the signalized intersections, 50 per cent were ‘rear-end,’ 30 per cent were ‘angle or turning movement’ and 8 per cent were ‘sideswipe’ types. … This pattern suggests a high degree of driver inattentiveness and aggressive driving. In addition, the Transportation Services Department has received reports of aggressive motorists using the centre two-way left turn lane to pass slower vehicles.”

This is reflected in 48 crashes during a nearly three-year period. So, people are already driving like idiots, and we’re going to squeeze them more and add cyclists. It’s a lousy choice that council faces, actually, but this particular debate is about safety. This artery leads to the hospital, and major highway exits going to Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara. People using this road know that peak hours are a nightmare already, and that’s with the turn lane. Without it, I predict a jump in that aggressiveness.

If you live along this stretch, that turn lane is frequently your only way to get out of or into your driveway. The official report shows drawings of the current road view, and the proposed one. Whoever drafted it up helpfully put a drawing of two cars to delineate traffic positions. The drawings are of a Bentley and a Porsche. I think it’s someone taking a poke at the elephant at play here: they may be rich, but they don’t own the road.

We need to make our cities more bike and pedestrian friendly. My choice to drive a car shouldn’t trump someone’s choice not to. As Portland, Ore., (a world-leading walkable city) discovered in its renaissance, more bikes means fewer cars. Everybody wins.

As this section of road stands, it’s dangerous for cyclists. There isn’t enough room, and I don’t know anyone who will let their kids cycle on it, even though there is a primary school smack in the middle of the proposed section. I’ll quit using the route because I have to make a left-hand turn from it. It’ll be a huge hold-up during peak hours, which seem to be getting longer. People like me will take to side streets to circumvent it, which will simply mutate the problem. I’m sure the crash rate will increase. I guarantee the aggressiveness will. It’s still going to be dangerous for cyclists, and more dangerous for drivers.

I wonder how they can account for the psychological components that don’t make it into cut-and-dried reports: how angry do we make one group to accommodate another?

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