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Go ahead, yell at me (and ‘make my day’)

November 6th, 2012 · No Comments

By Albert Koehl

I’m always happy when someone angrily yells at me when I advocate for cycling improvements in Toronto. I used to have a flag on my bike calling for ‘Bike Lanes on Bloor’ – until someone tore it off. This too made me happy. What I hate most is being ignored.

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said that all truth passes through three stages: “First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self evident.” When I’m yelled at, it means cycling is at stage two – and closing in on the third.

After almost a century of building, expanding, and extending our auto-based transport system, there is plenty of evidence that we need drastic change: 300 000 Canadians killed and millions more injured on our roads during that period, countless billions of dollars in damages, poor levels of fitness, lethal air pollution, and the frightening pace of climate change. It’s inevitable that the value of cycling (and walking) will soon be accepted as self-evident- stymied only by the slow pace of receiving needed funds.

When automobiles became popular in Canada and the U.S. in the 1920s it wasn’t because of their efficiency. Instead it was arguments about liberty, independence, and the illusion of speed, along with the rising power of motoring interests that forced streetcar lines out of most cities. Over the next decades governments sunk billions of dollars into road and highway infrastructure. Today, the average citizens spend almost $10,000 annually to own and operate a car so they can travel just a bit faster than a bicycle.

Cycling in Toronto has become popular despite the lack of infrastructure. There benefits are obvious – physical fitness, low cost, and the pure joy of riding a bike. Despite the increasing number of cyclists on Bloor, Toronto’s bike plan remains almost 400 km short (!) of its 2011 goal of 500 km of bike lanes.

Fortunately – as the screaming at cyclists veers towards acceptance – more and more unlikely groups are promoting cycling and cycling safety. Ontario’s Chief Coroner and Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, in separate reports, have recently called for safer cycling conditions. Merchants in the Annex increasingly accept and promote bike lanes on Bloor. (Perhaps they are motivated by the Clean Air Partnership’s finding that only 10% of patrons at local businesses arrive by car – and the majority of spending is actually done by cyclists and pedestrians.) The Annex Residents Association has unanimously adopted a cycling policy that includes recommendations for bike lanes on Bloor, and 30km/h speed limits. Such strong support proves that people are finally paying attention.

So if you are among the people who oppose bike lanes and other cycling safety improvements – please take the time to yell at me. It always makes me happy — and confident that our community is heading in the right direction.

Albert Koehl is a Board member of the ARA, a founder of Bells on Bloor, and an environmental lawyer. He was on the coroner’s expert stakeholder panel for the recent active transport death reviews.

Tags: Annex · Editorial