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Facts & Arguments Essay

I'm afraid of cyclists Add to ...

My name is Scott, and I am afraid of bicycles. Well, not bicycles so much as bicyclists.

I am afraid of them and afraid for them as I watch them weave and dart through the city, betwixt and between moving cars, parked cars, pedestrians and myriad other obstacles on or near the roads.

In the great urban debate of car versus bike, I reluctantly side with cars. I am a driver, mostly out of necessity, as I live in the 416 but work in the 905. Being a driver, however, does not mean I am against bicycling, or against urban bicycling.

I am aware of the examples in various other cities of cycling being a safe, idyllic mode of transport to work and pleasure. To hear it described, it all seems happy and wonderful.

Growing up in Northern Ontario, bicycling was a necessary pursuit. It was an easy way to travel around town and to and from friends' homes. I never once felt unsafe or threatened by the other vehicles sharing the road. Of course, there was a lot more road to share up there.

My concern emerges when the idea of bicycling is transposed upon the reality of urban Toronto living. Our roads are clogged and congested. There is no space as it is, let alone for bicyclists who seem to move randomly amongst the chaos, without care for traffic lanes or traffic laws.

At any given time, cyclists can be found riding in the space between the curb and the curb lane, within the lane itself, on the dotted line between the lanes, on crosswalks and sometimes even on sidewalks. Simply put, cyclists are everywhere.

Safe driving involves knowing the patterns on the road - having an expectation of what other drivers will do at a particular time and in a particular scenario. But with cyclists, there appears to be no clear pattern to their movements and no obvious location to expect to find them when you're driving.

Cars are on the road, pedestrians are on the sidewalk, but cyclists seem to be everywhere at once. They are on the road (like cars), but often do not stop at lights or stop signs. I have heard this described as an "Idaho stop," because apparently in Idaho the law is bikes only need to yield at stop signs before moving through.

For my part, I would think traffic on a dusty road in Idaho is a little different than the intersection of Queen and Spadina. Undoubtedly, this is why "Idaho stops" are illegal in Ontario, or at least are supposed to be.

Cyclists are also occasionally on sidewalks, but moving faster and with sharper, pointier edges than your average pedestrian.

I am afraid of cyclists when I walk with my two-year-old daughter on the sidewalk and they speed past, narrowly missing her or us. I am afraid for them and cringe when I watch them weave recklessly through traffic.

I am afraid of them because I do not want to be the driver who collides with a cyclist who suddenly appears where he is least expected. I am afraid for them when I listen to the radio and hear an interview with a member of the Toronto Cyclists Union who questions the necessity for bike helmets.

I am sure at this point you have a strong opinion about what you're reading. Motorists may agree with me, while cyclists likely disagree, perhaps strongly. And, of course, I do not mean to malign all cyclists, for I am sure there are many who follow the rules of the road and are as bothered by their reckless brethren as I am.

But here's the rub: I am actually for bicycling in the city. I accept that it could be a simple, straightforward, environmentally friendly way to commute. It would be a boon to our collective cardiovascular health.

My problem isn't with cycling in Toronto per se, but with cycling in Toronto as it currently exists. The same goes for any major Canadian city. The reality is that, in 2010, our roads are bursting at the seams. It appears people on the road are out for themselves, trying to get wherever they are going as quickly as possible. In the inevitable collision between a bike and a car, the bike is always going to lose. There are already too many "ghost bicycles" - white bikes placed at accident sites - seen around town.

I would be for bicycling in dedicated bike lanes, or bicycling in any context that is safe and accessible and doesn't force cyclists to imperil themselves riding in heavy traffic. Bicyclists have the right to bike safely and properly, but motorists also have the right to drive without constantly worrying about when a cyclist might suddenly appear, speeding along without (shudder) a helmet.

The truth is that our current transportation model doesn't protect either of these rights, and both sides of the divide are the worse off for it. I don't profess to know how to fix things. I just know that from my vantage point, through my windshield, they certainly appear broken.

Scott Latimer lives in Toronto.

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