It's not just about finding room for bikes
It’s wonderful that our mayoral candidates and the electorate have a position on bike lanes, whether pro or con, considering not that many years ago the topic didn’t really register with voters and politicians alike. Today there’s general support for bicycles - they don’t pollute, they save us money, they’re fun to ride and they help keep us fit.
Some of the candidates like bikes but not on arterial roads, and the latest plan for University Avenue is generating lots of debate. The reality is that many arterial roads are already used as main thoroughfares by commuter cyclists, and generally speaking bike lanes installed along strategic stretches of roadway could improve safety and comfort for cyclists and lead to more people cycling.
As a form of transportation the bicycle is ultra efficient, a model of appropriate technology that eclipses the automobile in its ability to transform energy into forward motion. For a machine that is seemingly so perfect it’s sad that it causes so much angst and consternation. Militarizing the debate is hostile and counter productive and I wonder if the vitriol that some people use to explain their distain for all things bicycle is really as pervasive as they would have us believe.
Others suggest that a licensing fee for bicycles, to pay for their use of the road and new bike lanes, would be in order. Like bike lanes that go against the traffic – this suggestion is "contra-flow" to prevailing thinking. If someone chooses to ride a bicycle, their travel behaviour should be rewarded and in many countries (unfortunately not ours) governments are paying their citizens to ride their bikes to work.
The Canadian Automobile Association, a seemingly unlikely cycling advocate, promotes the virtues of the bicycle in their spring 2010 issue of CAA Magazine. A series of articles under the "Pedal Power – helping the planet two wheels at a time" banner, reports on the benefits of cycle tourism and bike sharing schemes that have been in place for years in cities like Paris, Barcelona and Stockholm and that may be coming to our city around this time next year.
There appears to be lots of common ground on the debate and if we tease apart the rhetoric we’ll discover that it’s about real estate – and the amount of space to be shared by those on bicycle, on foot, wheeling and in motor vehicles. The dilemma then is where bicycles should go in the right of way (ROW) – that area of land municipalities take from developers and planners and engineers carve up to accommodate the numerous and competing interests and needs.
If this space isn’t adequately shared – transit slows, cars speed, cyclists don’t feel comfortable or safe and pedestrians are put at risk. When we get it wrong the consequences can be disastrous and tragic. As a first consideration we must apportion space more equitably for all road users and then employ road designs that don’t place the needs of motorists ahead of other road users.
A forum happening in the city April 23, 2010 and hosted by the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation or TCAT, will examine these challenges under the lens of something called "complete streets." Just as a relationship requires a sense of completeness between partners to make it work, our road network must be designed so that streets work for all road users not just those using a car.