It is time for the City of Toronto to grow up with regards to transportation policy. Even as our city’s website encourages citizens to join the two-wheeled revolution, that tidy phrase comes without acknowledgement of the cost of this revolution: human lives.
The man who died today was just like the rest of us. 35 year old Tom Samson was a teacher who coached chess and boy’s basketball. He will leave a great gap in our community.
Drivers, transit users and cyclists alike have much in common. We are all users of the road. Drivers as a group are not at fault for taking these lives. Our city, and therefore all of us are responsible. We must acknowledge that our needs – cyclists, transit users and drivers – are not being met by our city. We are in charge of the city. Lets make it safer for all of us.
Today, another young man died in a hit and run, and in spite of a vast net spread by media and the police, so far there is no progress in finding the driver. That this driver is unlikely to come to justice is not only a problem for cyclists, but for all users of the road. The driver, at fault or not, could have just as easily hit and run another vehicle, or a pedestrian.
The problem is one of design. Toronto’s cycling infrastructure is patchy and dangerous, requiring cyclists and motorists to weave in and out of traffic with one another. Compounding the problem, cyclists and drivers alike are poorly educated on traffic safety.
A case in point: Every day I see cyclists and motorists playing The Red Light of Death.
If you read that link, you’ll see that “Don’t pass on the right” appears twice in bold letters. Yet my informal observations as a daily rider tell me that most motorists and cyclists think that to the curb side exactly the place to pass.
I have had a few taxis and other professional drivers, actively try to block me from passing on the left, where it is safest. Meanwhile, cyclists most often cue at the curb and proceed to cut off right-turning vehicles, who unwittingly allow themselves to be cut off.
I don’t take it personally. They don’t know any better. I didn’t either, until I began cycling with my daughter. Having someone else’s life in your hands makes you care more.
Another obvious indicator of poor education is the way we react to potholes and shoddy road work. The scourge of drivers and cyclists alike, these pits of doom are deadly to cyclists, an enemy of every car’s suspension, yet sections of Bloor West and other streets leave us playing a deadly game of pinball.
When encountering a pothole, a cyclist is forced to “take the lane” or ride to the left of a full traffic lane. Drivers are forced to bob, weave, swerve and react suddenly to potholes and to the bobbing, weaving and swerving cyclists. It is a death trap, and a cyclist’s only defense is to take that lane by riding to the left.
A cyclist who does so can expect to be treated to flurries of honking and wild gesticulation by frustrated drivers who queue behind them. While the cyclist does so for safety and may do so legally, one cannot blame the drivers here either. Unable to pass on either side of the cyclist, it seems like a cruel joke to be forced to lumber along at the pace of a pedal pusher on a 3-speed Bixi, when in a car with plenty of power to spare.
We all just want to get where we’re going with a minimum of fuss and trouble. We all know the risks. When a bike is hit by a car, the rider may be thrown from the bike, or dragged across the ground, perhaps hit by another vehicle, as happened in that fatal hit and run today.
Helmets don’t protect against such a fate. Neither do bike lanes, full of uninformed, frightened, unlicensed cyclists who ride alongside similarly uninformed, drunk, distracted, unlicensed, or angry drivers. It is a dangerous mix, and it is dangerous by design. We have failed to design and build a safe city. We have failed to support each other. The intersection where he died is known to cyclists as a death trap. Why has it not been fixed? Why are we removing bike lanes on Jarvis and in Scarborough?
The view that cyclists and motorists want different things is perpetuated by our mayor, who has talked on his phone while driving. He apparently shares the anger and impulse problems that plague frustrated drivers. Many cyclists know that awful feeling of being stuck in traffic. We cycle to evade it!
That may be our choice, but many people are understandably not comfortable with the risks of cycling. Those risks must be reduced if our urban areas are to accommodate projected growth. There can never be enough roads in Toronto for all of us to drive.
The city must start protecting its citizens from senseless danger. Motorists and cyclists need to get together and demand better infrastructure. Bikes and cars are not at war. The city is slow to respond to our mutual needs for better infrastructure. We’ve let politicians divide and conquer us instead of setting the agenda.
In the end, it’s not Rob Ford’s responsibility to make this city safe. It is all our responsibility. Whether our mayor survives his next challenges in court, the residents of this city must work together to better protect and plan for cyclists, drivers and transit riders, and to become better educated users of our transportation system.
That will not bring Mr. Samson back, but it will save future lives.
What do you think we can do to make our city safer?