Tension on roads: Toronto cyclists union director calls for more respect
- September 4, 2009 9:31 AM |
- By Your Voice
Submitted by Yvonne Bambrick
About/Bio: I'm the Executive Director of the Toronto Cyclists Union, the first city-wide, cycling advocacy organization in Toronto. I have also served as spokesperson since our launch in May '08. I have been called upon to speak for cyclists in Toronto frequently this week after a Toronto cyclist, Darcy Allan Sheppard, 33, died after an altercation with a driver. Michael Bryant, 43, former Ontario attorney general, has been charged in connection with the incident.
My take: Monday night's disturbing, deadly, and highly unusual, incident was triggered by a car/bike collision, and has served, in particular because of the profile of both men, to shine the media spotlight on the seemingly ever-present tensions between drivers and cyclists.
At the heart of this tension, I believe, is the fact that our provincial and municipal governments have thus far failed to take bicycles seriously as a viable means of transportation, and in turn, to incorporate bikes/cyclists into our transportation network, or to sufficiently educate all road users about our responsibility to share these increasingly busy transportation corridors.
While there are indeed many hazards faced by cyclists along their self-propelled journeys throughout the city, all of which put them at risk of serious injury, and in the worst case, death - car doors carelessly thrown open into their path, pedestrians bolting out from between parked cars, streetcar tracks threatening to send them head over handlebars... (riding a bike is not for the faint of heart) - there are also many thousands of cyclists who enjoy their ride safely and without incident or conflict every day throughout our city.
I've done close to 40 media interviews since early Tuesday morning and have spoken frequently of the need for much greater respect amongst all road users while we share our busy public roadways in these less than ideal, and often hostile, conditions for the most vulnerable - cyclists and pedestrians.
Due to an absence of sufficient political will, our city is shamefully lacking in cycling infrastructure, and well behind schedule when it comes to the implementation of the many kilometers of bike lanes, and off-street multi-user paths that were plotted, planned and approved (in theory) by council when the Toronto Bike Plan was passed in 2001.
In practice however, getting bike lanes approved one or two kilometers at a time has proven to be painfully difficult and has proceeded at a snail's pace, in part due to a cumbersome approvals process.
Given the present state of our roads, where all forms of motorized and non-motorized vehicles are forced by design to fight for the same space, along with the attitude shared by many drivers that bikes don't belong and are a nuisance to be 'tolerated', an individual cyclist can only do so much to be safe on the road.
Lights at night, a helmet for those who opt to wear one (they are only mandatory for those under 18), verbal and non-verbal communication to signal your intentions. Cyclists are ultimately, however, due to their size, weight and substance, at the mercy of the larger vehicles around them - drivers must realize how much of a power balance they have, and act accordingly to respect the right to safe passage that cyclists deserve.
The inclusion of the needs of cyclists in our urban planning as we move forward, and the implementation of cycling infrastructure are keys to dealing with this challenge. Changes in an environment produce real and tangible changes in the mindset and behaviours of the people in that environment.
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