Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Upholding our Right to Cycle: a Few Measures

Cycling alone will not make Toronto a green city. However, making cycling an effective option for shopping, commuting, and just getting around will make Toronto a greener city. For those eager to discuss these things in economic terms, it will also mean that we will have to spend less on the roads and will have a healthier, more motivated, and quite probably a more productive work force to draw on. For those of us who like to focus on important things, cycling unquestionably offers more enjoyment than driving. Simply put, you get more out of life on a bike.

So why do relatively few Toronto residents cycle? Why do I see lines of smoking cars with steaming drivers in so many places? They surely don't all suffer from physical disabilities. Something keeps them in their cars. Some of these things the city can, possibly, do something about. Some of them it can't. I offer this list of things the city could begin to do, today, to make cycling safer and more appealing.

  1. Offer tax breaks for businesses which support commuting by bicycle. That doesn't have to mean just the business which employs the cyclists; it also means offering support to health clubs which offer “cycling memberships”, basic deals that include a locker and access to a shower in the morning.
  2. Connect the bicycle lanes in the city. A set of unconnected bike lanes and paths does no more for cyclists than a set of unconnected chain links does for an anchor. Bike lanes have to get us somewhere. In fact, they have to get us where we want, or need, to go, and do it by a relatively direct route. Shopping areas, commercial and industrial complexes, transit stations, and recreational areas; we need ways to get to any and all of them by bike.
  3. Make intersections work for cyclists. Over the next little while, I hope to post on some of the conditions which make intersections dangerous, or at least intimidating, for cyclists, and what the city can and should do about them.
  4. Connect the cycle lanes to public transport. Right now, almost all of our commuter facilities have policies that say you can take your bike on the GO on the TTC subway, as long as you (and your boss) don't mind you sticking to the schedule they find convenient. Of course, they don't find it convenient to allow cyclists to use the system in peak commuting hours, the time most people actually have to get to work.
  5. Maintain bicycle paths in the winter. I know the big argument against it, money, but if you don't maintain bike paths in winter, I don't think you will ever see a significant increase in bicycle commuters. Not maintaining bicycle paths in winter also sends a terrible message: it tells everyone that the city regards cycling as recreation. To plow the Don Valley parkway while leaving the Don Bicycle paths under half a meter of snow confirms what Rob Ford says: bicycling belongs in a park, a form of recreation not transportation.
  6. Reduce the amount of salt on streets with bike lanes. Salt ruins clothes, shoes, and bikes.

The city could do a lot more, and I could write a lot more, but in accordance with normal blogging practice, I will break my comments up into chunks, and this one will do for now.

[edit] In the comments section below, Geoffrey mentioned this link to the Ontario Coroner's report on bicycle safety. Have a look; it contains some excellent recommendations for changes to the highway traffic act.


geoffrey said...

How about including putting bikelanes where people are likely to find them. Major streets would be nice. Bikelanes on backstreets with negligable traffic makes no sense to me.
There is a very real need for legislative changes. Fortunately the Ontario Coroner has already completed the study and it falls to the responsible levels of government to ignore it (which they have proven quite adept at):

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link.

As for the siting of bike lanes, I don't think in terms of finding bike lanes; I think in terms of making sure they go where the majority of cyclists want to go.

All things equal, I would like to see major bike routes, where appropriate on major streets. When I look at the question of major streets versus "minor" ones, I have two criteria: which street offers a more level ride or gentle slope, and can we get a policy of using less salt on bike lanes on "minor" roads?