Cyclists. Drivers. Pedestrians. They have a strained relationship. Read any news story and you’ll hear how poorly they get along. It’s war. This is a strange phenomenon, given that all three fit in the category “people.”
But that’s what labels do. They split us. It’s not so much divide and conquer as it is “divide and falter.” When you start to carve up humanity into “us” and “them,” it never ends well.
Lately, these misguided labels have been applied to those using public parks, most notably Toronto’s High Park and, to a lesser degree, Vancouver’s iconic Stanley Park.
In High Park, pedestrians complained to the city about cyclists using the west-end park’s 1.85 kilometre loop as a velodrome. Similar to 2021, the police were called upon to enforce the park’s 20 kilometre per hour speed limit (it applies to both automobiles and bicycles). Cyclists received warnings; at least one received a fine for a rolling stop, and another was fined for going six kilometres over the speed limit. This blitz triggered outrage among cyclists, who objected to police resources being used against two-wheeled transit, when cars are by far the most lethal and dangerous vehicle on the road. A protest was held and, as if on cue, a Toronto cop hit a cyclist with his cruiser in “a minor collision.” No injuries were reported.
In Vancouver, the mere mention of a separated bike lane (now in its third infamous year) appears to have sent park users and civic officials into conniptions. A meeting of the Vancouver Park Board to discuss the bike lane and other aspects of the Stanley Park Mobility Study had to be adjourned because it got out of control.
Weighing in on the strife between pedestrians, cyclists and drivers is a forlorn hope. They are too blinded by what divides them to see what they share.
Each group has a valid concern.
Fearful pedestrians wonder why cyclists can’t simply obey the rules of the road. Cycle through the park, they argue, but don’t run the Tour de France.
Cycling advocates argue the use of police presence to stifle cycling is pointless. Cars are the killers. Why waste time on cyclists who reduce traffic, pollution and almost never hurt anyone? The car-infested roads around High Park are far more dangerous. Until the “minor incident” there has only been one reported collision in High Park and it involved a car striking a cyclist.
Drivers maintain that automobiles need access to the park because not everyone is mobile enough to get there on foot or by bicycle. Large families with young children appreciate being able to drive in (especially in February).
Each group has a logical flaw.
Arguing that cyclist/pedestrian collisions are astronomically rare misses the point. Cyclists who speed through the park and wonder why people hate them are like dog owners who let their dogs run free outside of the dog park. Speeding bicycles are physically intimidating in the same way that a loose canine can be to someone who is afraid of dogs. The fact that your dog is “unlikely to bite them,” or that you are “unlikely to hit them” doesn’t relieve the anxiety.
Let’s be honest, “unlikely” doesn’t mean “impossible.” In May, a Toronto pedestrian was hit by a cyclist and suffered life-altering injuries. In 2014, New York City had its own cyclists/pedestrian moment; a 75-year-old pedestrian was struck and killed by a cyclist and a month later a cyclist hit a fifty-eight-year-old mother in Central Park. She died three days later. The New Yorker summed up the predicament: “these tragedies lay bare two realities of what we might call bike culture in New York City. First, many bicyclists routinely ignore all traffic laws, signs and signals. Second, the city has made inadequate efforts in recent years to enforce those laws, and thus to protect the rest of us.”
The rest of us? There go the labels. I’m no expert, but my research shows cyclists often walk. Besides, how are cyclists supposed to know if they’re going over 20 kilometres an hour? Many don’t have speedometers. More importantly, both the New York City collisions happened because the cyclists in question were swerving to avoid another potential accident. Regardless of what city they are riding through, what are cyclists often swerving to avoid? Cars. Cars in the bike lane, cars carelessly almost running them over, cars trying to intimidate them. Cars. Trucks. Buses. For a start.
Why are these cyclists and pedestrians running up against each other?
Easy – both groups are trying to avoid cars, the de facto death machine rulers of the universe.
And why are there cars in High Park? So that those with limited mobility and other needs can have access.
Why not get rid of the private vehicles inside High Park and ensure access for all?
Is it necessary for private vehicles to be able to drive through a large public park whenever they please? Couldn’t the city create parking lots outside the park and use free (repeat – free) shuttle buses to bring those with mobility issues and other concerns inside? Couldn’t there be a shuttle from nearby Keele Station that could drive into High Park and make multiple stops?
Eliminating cars would liberate space. Cyclists and pedestrians would no longer be squeezed off the road.
Parents would no longer have to worry about their children being struck by automobiles. Cyclists would no longer have to worry about cars in the bike lane. Cyclists could ride the speed limit and they would also have more room to “swerve.”
Some drivers (like me) would not appreciate the move. I like being able to drive. I love cars. But who cares? Why does my love of automobiles trump everyone’s right to walk around High Park unmolested by the fear of getting run over?
With all this passion and energy flowing, you’d think there would be a little extra to sprinkle over other park-related issues. For instance, the fact that the City of Toronto created a dossier of “information on homeless people as it planned to clear a park where they lived last year.”
The Canadian Press reported that “the dossier kept notes on behaviours, health information and photographs of those who lived in the park, internal documents show.” Then they evicted them.
You’d think that those whose underwear is in a knot over High Park’s pedestrian/cyclist conundrum would be apoplectic that private information was collected and used to keep human beings from sleeping in the city’s less grandiose green spaces; that now the City of Toronto has granted these unfortunate homeless people the opportunity to live, sleep and die on the cold hard pavement.
There’s that “us” and “them” thing again.