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2007 09 27
To Serve And Protect - As Long As You Are Not A Cyclist
As citizens and tax payers in this great city we all assume that everyone is treated equally. It is always painful then to discover that we are, in fact, not all equal. I am not talking about our famed egalitarian culture (it really is special). Nor am I discussing the equal access to a range of exotic foods from world regions a Babylonian King would have envied. No. What I'm talking about is how poorly cyclists are treated in this city. For anyone who has seen the cycling cultures of Europe - or even that perenial, so-called third-world city of Bogota, Colombia - the backwardness of this city is frustrating.

What is more frustrating is that cyclist put up with it. If ever there was a situation where the analogy of the frog in a pot of boiling water could be fairly used it is this one. You know, if a frog is put in a pot of room temperature water on a stove and the heat is gradually increased, the frog will not jump out until, well, it is too late.

Cyclists in this city are like that. In spite of the number of people who own bikes and would like to commute if they felt safe, city officials continue to dismiss us as just a bunch of disenfranchised bike couriers (no offense to bike couriers here who know exactly what I mean because they have to deal with city streets all day long). Yet we do nothing even with the potentially significant political force we represent.

In spite of the number of preventable injuries and deaths caused by policy decisions made by city hall, cyclists just sit back and take it. In spite of cyclists who get ticketed for riding the wrong way down streets they live on because traffic planners designed them for cars, not cyclists, they take it. Why? Because over time we have come to think that it can be no other way. Cars and their drivers are king or so we've come to accept.

Is it time for a serious cycling union comprised of a broad swath of the cyclists in the city from couriers to lawyers, teachers to dentists?

I think so. Why am I so adamant about this today? I left the office on King West last night at about 6:30 and headed east towards Spadina. The roads were wet and heavy clouds made it dark enough that cars turned their lights on. There was a massive traffic jam nearing Spadina because of a film crew shooting somewhere in or around Crush.

If you are a cyclist you know the scenario. It is dark, wet, traffic is everywhere, the street car tracks are treacherous, and car drivers are pissed off because they are trying to get home and they are on their cell phones explaining the delay. Bike commuters take extra care in those situations.

As I got closer to the film trucks lining the south side of King Street, I was forced out towards the street car tracks by a line of those ubiquitous orange traffic cones. The cones were about two feet out from the parked vans and trucks and could easily be moved in line with them allowing easier passage for cyclists away from the cars, trucks, and streetcars.

It seemed an obvious solution so when I spotted the ever-present policeman assigned to these shoots I asked if he could get the support crew to move the cones over to make the street safer for the hundreds of cyclists who would be using it. Here the plot thickens.

The officer said no, he wouldn't. I asked why not. He said cyclists had to go where the cars go, implying if cars were stuck in traffic cyclists would have to wait as well. I thought he was joking so I asked him to look at the cones. He grudgingly obliged. I pointed out that it was common sense that the cones could be moved over a foot and a half - just enough to make it safe.

Again he said no. The cones must stay where they were. I responded somewhat taken aback that if a cyclist slipped on the tracks and was injured or, god forbid, killed his day would be ruined. His response? "My day wouldn't be ruined, the cyclists' would."

To serve and protect, as long as you are not a cyclist.

Now, if you are like me you were brought up to respect the police. Even as we grow older and wiser and learn that authority figures are not always right, it is difficult to find yourself in an escalating dispute with one of the city's finest. I shrugged, asked for his name while promising to myself to write this story and remember that some people don't take constructive criticism well - maybe he was having a bad day.

My dark view of Toronto's police improved a few blocks later when I came across two police on their mountain bikes. I stopped one and explained how dangerous the cones made cycling. He seemed to get it and promised to double back and take a look.

Now, I'm not sure he did and wouldn't blame him for staying out of the whole dispute. This is a policy issue not a policing issue and the real discussion must be made with the city's politicians and bureaucrats. If we want safe streets for cycling and the benefit cycle commuting brings to the city over commuting by car, then our representative have to see it as a political issue. Is it time for a serious cycling lobby group in Canada? Where do we start?
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 09/27 at 02:05 PM

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