Serving Toronto's most liveable community with the Annex Gleaner

NEWS: Bike lanes (March 2018)

March 22nd, 2018 · No Comments

A dissenter makes his case

By Annemarie Brissenden

Do bike lanes make cycling inherently safer?

That question was up for debate at January’s Grounds for Thought, which runs the last Tuesday of every month at the Green Beanery at Bloor and Bathurst streets. With free coffee on offer, Grounds for Thought is an homage to the coffee houses of old, places where dissent and unconventional ideas were not only welcomed but encouraged.

Arguing against bike lanes in the heart of the Annex, a stone’s throw away from the much-lauded Bloor Street bike lane, is certainly unconventional. So much so that not a single representative of the city’s many cycling advocacy groups appeared to speak on behalf of the lanes.

(Organizers approached cycling advocate Albert Koehl, Cycling Toronto executive director Jared Kolb, Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, Share the Road Cycling Coalition, and both local councillors. All declined. In an email to the Gleaner Koehl wrote that he “didn’t see any basis for a productive debate given [Solomon’s] position”, while Kolb said he simply had another commitment that evening.)

That left Lawrence Solomon, a national newspaper columnist and executive director of Energy Probe, on his own to make his case against bike lanes in conversation with host David Caley, an author and broadcaster.

(Caley’s preferred mode of transportation that evening was clearly a bicycle, his pant legs still bound by the unmistakable clips.)

Solomon’s case is pretty simple. Bike lanes only seem safer. In actual fact, he suggests, they do the opposite of what they are supposed to do: they lead to more accidents, greater congestion, more pavement, and because they create a false sense of security, encourage more inexperienced cyclists to take the roads, which in turn causes more accidents.

According to Solomon, the biggest problem with bike lanes like those on Bloor Street is the criss-cross that bikes and cars have to do at intersections.

A driver travelling west on Bloor Street who wants to go north will have to cut into the bike lane to turn right, criss-crossing with cyclists travelling in the same direction who want to go south and have to cut into the car lane to turn left.

“This is the single greatest cause of bicycle accidents,” said Solomon.

He added that the lanes create more congestion because they reduce the amount of road space available for traffic flow and increase pavement by offloading parking onto side streets. And, perhaps what’s most problematic, they encourage more people to use a bicycle for transit, without making sure that new cyclists have safe equipment and understand the rules of the road.

“There are ways to promote cycling without having cycling lanes” —Lawrence Solomon, executive director, Energy Probe

Solomon supported his case with a variety of statistics from several different sources, particularly Cycling Death Review, an Ontario coroner’s report from 2012 that examined all accidental cycling deaths in Ontario from January 1, 2006, to December 31, 2010. He said the data showed that fewer than 20% of cyclists who were hospitalized in Ontario because of cycling accidents were involved in an altercation with a car. Often it’s because the cyclist is inexperienced, and hasn’t learned to navigate potholes, other cyclists, or those uniquely-Torontonian bedevillers, the streetcar tracks.

“It’s eight times riskier to switch from a motorized vehicle to a bicycle,” said Solomon, citing the Ontario coroner. “Cycling is inherently risker.”

All of that said, Solomon took great pains to make clear that he wasn’t anti-cycling.

“Everyone who wants to cycle should cycle.”

He believes that cyclists should ride in the middle of the car lane, occupying the same amount of space as a car, which he noted, “cycling advocates used to say”. He suggested that there should be better training for cyclists and better enforcement of the rules of the road.

“An educated and experienced cyclist reduces accidents by 75 per cent,” said Solomon. “Cyclists should have a similar proficiency and understanding of the rules of the road” as drivers.

Although none of the city’s cycling advocates were willing to engage formally in a friendly debate with Solomon, many in the audience were prepared to take up the cause.

Some wondered why, if bike lanes are so bad, so many European countries are building cycling infrastructure.

“Because Boris Johnson wants to make London the cycling capital of the world,” responded Solomon half-jokingly, noting more seriously that “at root there’s a desire to reduce carbon dioxide emissions”.

Others audience members criticized Solomon for cherry-picking data on cycling from the coroner’s report and not telling the whole story, even suggesting that the report recommended bike lanes as a remedy for reducing accidents.

Indeed, the report recommends that communities adopt a complete streets approach, requiring that “consideration be given to enhancing safety for all road users”. This would include the “creation of cycling networks (incorporating strategies such as connected cycling lanes, separated bike lanes, bike paths and other models appropriate to the community)” and “designated community safety zones with reduced posted maximum speeds and increased fines for speeding”.

Still other audience members questioned whether we are going to allow motor vehicles to have dominance.

“There are ways to promote cycling without having cycling lanes,” said Solomon, once again emphasizing that he’s not anti-bike.

The evening closed with a discussion of transit more generally, and Solomon explaining how amalgamation led to overcrowded subways and an archaic fare structure.

“Did you know the TTC once made money,” he asked, but that was a debate for a different day.

The next Grounds for Thought is on Tuesday, March 27 at the Green Beanery at 8.30 p.m. Shawn-Patrick Stensil, Senior Energy Analyst for Greenpeace, will consider whether the Pickering nuclear plant should be shut down with host David Caley. Admission is free.



CHATTER: Cyclists prey for open doors (Dec. 2017)

NEWS (Nov. 2017): Pilot project becomes permanent

NEWS: Here to stay? (Oct. 2017)

FORUM: A magical new supply of parking spots (October 2017)

EDITORIAL (FALL 2017): Bike lanes, good for business

CHATTER (MARCH 2017): Preliminary data on Bloor Street pilot bike lane released

CHATTER: Ground-breaking bike lanes launch on Bloor Street (August 2016)

NEWS: Bikes blessed for another season (June 2016)

FOCUS: An early advocate for bike lanes (June 2016)

NEWS: Bike lanes for Bloor Street (May 2016)

The faster we lower speeds, the more lives we save (October 2015)

Tags: Annex · News