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Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is mid-way through a Master's in Education Foundations at the University of Saskatchewan. She is formerly the Editor-in-Chief of the Ryerson Free Press and the Communications and Government Relations Coordinator for the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. Nora's music can be heard here: https://soundcloud.com/nora-loreto and her blog is at www.noraloreto.ca.

Toronto's respect deficit for cyclists

| November 25, 2012

There’s something about the cyclist-driver debate that makes people go nuts.

From the cyclists’ side, I know what it is. When we see someone killed, we know it could have been us. We think of hundreds of “close calls” where, had we been riding a bit faster, a bit slower, a bit further right or in another lane, we would have died.

When we see someone killed, we think of all the times we haven’t heard from someone when we should have, and we’ve imagined our lovers or friends dead from their daily commute.

When we see the vile responses online, we see the (few) callous drivers who have intentionally tried to injure or kill us. Yes, that happens on Toronto’s roads. Yes, I’ve had drivers intentionally steer toward me.

Under these conditions, it’s sometimes hard to engage in a rational or productive debate.

From the drivers’ side though, I don’t know what it is. I have no idea why drivers get so defensive and angry in debates about sharing the road.

In a collision with another driver, your risk of death is pretty high. In a collision with a cyclist or a pedestrian, though, your risk of death (or even injury) is low. But rather than raging against each other, it’s more often the case that (some) drivers rage against cyclists.

When I’m driving and have a close call with another car, it’s usually corrected pretty quickly. I think, “good, denting this thing would have been annoying.”

But when I’m on my bike and I have a close call, my heart falls out of my chest. It scares the hell out of me. It’s also way more frequent to have a “close call” on my bike than in my car.

It’s clear to me that the biggest threat to drivers is other drivers. Not cyclists. Not pedestrians. When I’m driving, I take extra care when I can. I give cyclists a lot of space. I’m patient. I refuse to be gripped by anger.

Toronto needs better bike infrastructure. Encouraging more people to bike reduces traffic for cars and drivers with half a brain should be able to understand how this benefits them. But better bike infrastructure isn’t enough.

Torontonians have a serious respect deficit for cyclists.

Ignore the fact that we should be celebrated for choosing to risk our lives for the environment and that we represent one fewer car on the road, or that we’ll hopefully cost the health system less. No, celebration (while welcomed) is not what cyclists need. All we need is respect.

Anti-cyclist rhetoric is really dangerous. It devalues our lives. Add that to drivers who (due to a variety of factors like road conditions, congestion, long commutes, broken relationships, terrible jobs etc. etc) are really angry AND encased in a metal shield, the combination leads to cyclist deaths and hit-and-runs.

The last time I was hit by a car, it was along Davenport at George Brown College. I was hit by a social work instructor. He jumped out of his car and was extremely helpful and apologetic. He told me he was a cyclist too. This demonstrated an important level of respect, which went a long way for both of us.

Compare that to the woman who once aimed for me and floored her pedal as we sat at a red light, also along Davenport. I had to jump out of the way to avoid certain injury/possible death.

If you spend a lot of time cycling, it’s easy to go crazy. This means that it’s easy to look crazy to drivers when we respond to being us off, your erratic driving us or dangerous lane changes. But drivers need to know that most cyclists feel like they’re always a second away from death.

The same force that may dent your car could take my life.

That reality is at the heart of this debate.

I’m sure that nearly all drivers don’t want to hit cyclists and I know that no cyclist wants to be hit. So how do we make our streets more safe?

Here’s a list. While mostly obvious, obeying these points would go a long way to help keep roads safer.

  • Don’t drive like an asshole: Be aware of what’s around you and signal. Don’t change lanes dangerously. Don’t drive drunk.
  • Don’t drive and text. In Toronto I saw people do this daily. It’s so dangerous and stupid and there’s no situation where this is necessary.
  • Don’t drive up to a cyclist and yell something at them for fun. Or for sexism. Or for any reason.
  • Assume that a cyclist is relying on your good driving to make judgements about how to avoid being hit. Know that when you don’t signal, you make the road more dangerous for cyclists. Also know that while cyclists should always signal, sometimes it’s not safe to (like when you have to break and steer in an intersection while avoiding wet streetcar tracks…doing this with one hand is sometimes too dangerous).
  • Don’t honk at a cyclist who’s taking a lane or obeying a traffic signal. If you lay your horn on a cyclist hoping that this will convince them to change their minds, you are an asshole and you should look into anger management classes.
  • Don’t blame cyclists for being hit/injured/etc.
  • While there many terrible cyclists out there, nearly no mistake made by a cyclist equals the force of a mistake made by a car. There’s a reason why children can ride bikes and not drive cars. Acknowledge the power imbalance and act responsibly and accordingly.
  • Understand that while you may be the perfect driver, sometimes cyclists have just passed a scene where another driver has scared the hell out of them and they may project some of their sentiments upon you. Yes, most drivers aren’t total assholes, but the effect of the ones who are influences how we interact with cars.
  • If you feel that you are raging, pull over (safely) and chill out. There’s no simpler or softer way that I can say that. Road rage is really dangerous. Cyclists on the receiving end of road rage risk being killed. Cyclists get road rage too but their weapon, a bike, doesn’t produce the force possible when your car is your weapon.

Remember that there’s a world beyond your windshield and radio station. It’s filled with humans who are, in many ways, just like you. Imagine your interactions on the road as if you were together in that real world, without your cup holder, car seats or dashboard. Treat people on the road the way you treat people in real life. I’m sure that many of the dangers faced by cyclists would be avoided.

Unless, of course, you’re just an asshole. Then your license should be suspended until you can be deprogrammed.

**On Friday, Nov. 23, a 35-year-old elementary school teacher was killed in Toronto on Davenport at Lansdowne. No one should die as they commute to work. Miguel Oliveira, who hit him and fled the scene, has turned himself in.

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Comments

I am a cyclist, pedestrian and a motor vehicle driver. I am a strong advocate for cyclists, but I do find this article to be slightly one-sided as Agent942 has suggested. However, the forefront of the main problem lies in the title of the post, which is the lack of respect for cyclists and I am thrilled that this article was written.

Without the appropriate infrastructure, cyclists are forced to use busy roads lacking bike lanes. I hear complaints time and time again from motorists regarding the apparent haphazard nature of cyclists. I believe this to be completely false and a huge generalization. Agest549, you become one of these people as you say "routinely breeze through red lights, etc." I find it incredibly offensive.

My biggest problem, however, is with the people who think cyclists should not even be on the road in the first place, and that it's our own fault if we get hurt. This is the Rob Ford mentality, which completely ignores our rights to be on the road.

I believe in my right to commute to work for personal health reasons, environmentally friendly reasons, and cost-benefit reasons, and I will continue to stand up to bullies who have never experienced the road from a cyclists point of view.

 

Copenhagenize (Michael Colville-Andersen, who grew up in Alberta) has a post today with more background of the lack of planning for bicycle use and animosity to it in Toronto:

http://www.copenhagenize.com/2012/11/beyond-rob-ford-more-hurdles-for-to...

Vive la vélorution!

Agent 942, shouldn't you be writing stuff like that in the comment section of the Toronto Sun? 

You are drawing an equivalency between the flaunting of other road users lives by drivers of potentially-murderous and always polluting vehicles, and carelessness by (some) cyclists. 

In countries where safe cycling conditions have been provided, practically nobody wears a helmet - the very fact that such body armour should be seen as a "need" in slow urban cycling (I'm not talking about mountain or sport cycling) is evidence of a highly-unfriendly environment. 

About the only point I'd agree with you on is the fact that too many cyclists, including the lycra-types, neglect to use lights, which are mandatory in most jurisdictions, including the Netherlands and Denmark. 

Here is a very positive campaign to remind cyclists of the need to use lights, in the Netherlands: http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/i-want-to-see-you-use-your-lights/

(teenagers in particular had not been diligent about lights, and remember that this time of year in the Netherlands they are riding to and from school in darkness). A great campaign with no fear-mongering. 

Fear-mongering that discourages using an environmentally-friendly means of transport and seems to justify a so-called progressive not even apologizing for using an environmentally-destructive and potentially murderous means. 

I am one-sided. I am opposed to private motor vehicle use in urban areas. That means fighting for better public transport, but also for cyclists' and pedestrians rights, and discouraging the use of cars as much as possible. 

 

While I appreciate much of what you write here, you are missing a lot of the acutal, factual things that cyclists do.  I drive in excess of 30,000 Kms per year and spend a good deal of that in the city.

Now, I am also a pedestrian, who has seen the way other drivers operate vehicles, so I can appreciate much of what you have written, but you seem to have blinders on when it comes to how the majority of cyclists (from my own experiences) behave on the roads.

Cyclists routinely breeze through red lights, cut through moving traffic (as in lane splitting and moving between moving vehicles) as well as routinely narrowly-miss pedestrians that are crossing streets, all while the cyclists refuse to signal their intentions.

Further, cyclists refuse to have the minimum equipment on their bicycles; the number of night riders without the legally-required lights (or at a bare minuimum, working reflectors) as well as the minimum-intelligence need to wear a helmet for their own safety, absolutely amazes me.

As a driver who does give room, shares the road and is cautious to provide bicycles space and safety, I find your article completely one-sided and you believe that drivers are the only ones that are responsible for the safety of everyone on the road.  I completely disagree.

There are many drivers out there that are wrong and just as many cyclists that are equally wrong in the way they operate their chosen mode of transport.  This type of on-sided article just perpetrates the problems we all face; while I can not easily by injured by a cyclist, the possibility and probabilty remains.

Consider how your other cyclists act before taking to the soap-box next time.

Thanks for writing this.

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