I want you to close your eyes and picture a scene. It is a beautiful, sunny afternoon in Toronto. A woman is out enjoying the weather, walking leisurely down the sidewalk. Her two dogs walk calmly beside her, stopping occasionally to sniff a blade of grass, or a tree. Suddenly from seemingly nowhere, the calm is split by a loud, screaming whistle, followed by a string of profanities demanding that the woman to get out of the way. The woman spins around and sees a bicycle careening towards her at top speed. She has just enough time to throw herself and her beloved pets out of harm’s way before the bicycle blows past and continues its deadly trajectory along the sidewalk. Yes, that woman was me. And that scene has played out more times than I can count over the past few years.
Now some of you may be saying to yourself “please, that is so over-dramatic, nothing like that would ever happen in Toronto.” Others of you may be chuckling at the absurdity of it all. But I can bet that more than a few of you out there today are nodding your heads in understanding, as you remember your own close brush with disaster, at the wheels of an erratic cyclist.
Recently in our fair city, amid the continuing debates about more bike lanes (which, by the way, are sadly lacking in Toronto), a group of well-meaning residents have brought up the idea of implementing the Idaho Stop. What this basically means, is that bikes would legally be allowed to “roll through stop signs.” Now I don’t know about you, but I really don’t see the point of legalizing this behaviour, when it is already practiced by almost every cyclist in the city, and never enforced by police. In fact, I find the notion of “rolling” through the intersection laughable, as I rarely see a cyclist attempt to slow down, or even glimpse at oncoming traffic when they are riding through the stop sign. And god forbid they acknowledge pedestrians who have the audacity to be crossing the street at the same time.
I say that instead of creating new rules that will not be followed, and have no hope of being enforced, let’s try to manage the current laws. How, you may ask? Let’s start by ending the silence. As Torontonians, we are instinctively polite and forgiving. I have often found myself apologizing to an arrogant cyclist riding through a red light, as I attempt to cross the street on the green. And how many of us have witnessed crowds of TTC commuters scurry fearfully like a group of timid ants, as they debark a streetcar, just to get out of the way of a speeding bike. Let’s remember – an average bike weighs roughly 15 lbs. At an approximate speed of 15 km/hr, a cyclist weighing around 150 lbs would hit a pedestrian with the force of almost ½ ton!
I’ve been a cyclist in this city, I know first-hand how dangerous it can be. You have to be constantly on your guard, aware of every motorist on the road, as well as pedestrians who wander aimlessly in front of you. But I finally sold my bike because I was tired of being cut off, yelled at, and heckled by fellow cyclists as I tried to follow the rules of the road. Stop at a stop sign or red light? How dare I! Use hand signals when making turns? What a loser I am!
It is time we take a stand Toronto. We hear the chant from cyclists of “share the road”, “respect each other”, blah, blah, blah. Well, I think that should apply to everyone, whether you are walking, driving or cycling. Come on Toronto! Our city is packed to the gills with people and vehicles, and we have some of the worst traffic conditions in North America. For god’s sake, let’s get those bike lanes built. Our politicians are constantly bellowing about the congestion of cars, the smog, pollution, road rage. Here’s a thought, give us a safe alternative! And cyclists – USE THE BIKE LANES provided, and follow the rules of the road.
If we don’t start working together, and respecting each other, more people are going to get seriously hurt or killed, for no other reason than trying to make their way around the city. Let’s make our city safe and enjoyable for all.