Cycling in Toronto and the toxic effect of consistent anti-bike rhetoric | #TOpoli #BikeTO

https://twitter.com/kiwinerd/status/349540526325903360

Bit of a change-up here, folks.

Usually it’s Daren who gets into the specifics and applies his wonderful witty blend of deconstruction, observation and analysis, while yours truly drops in every now and then with the windy, sententious “let’s all take a step back and put this into a bit of historical context,” yada yada yada.

Bit different today. I had some friends over yesterday, and one of them, a far more committed cyclist than I, was describing a confrontation she recently had with a motorist. She brought video. Because the matter’s still before the legal system, I won’t name names or get into specifics.

In brief, she had words with a guy in a van who yelled at her to get off the road, arguing that “roads are for cars.” Now where have we heard that before? She retorted, quite correctly, that as a cyclist she had just as much right to be on the road as him. Next thing you know, the son of a bitch literally ran her off the road with his truck. On purpose. She had to be hospitalized. She needed stitches. Thank god she didn’t break any bones.

But there’s a lesson here, and it goes beyond the specific circumstances of this one incident. Anyone who rides a bike in Toronto’s more than likely to have had words with a hostile motorist or gotten the door prize or any of a number of hazards that cyclists have to face on a regular basis.

Now, recall one of Daren’s recent posts about some of the people who drive private automobiles and their sense of entitlement:

There’s no war on the car going on. It’s the exact opposite. This is all about the over-weening sense of entitlement and primacy in the minds of those using their private vehicles as their sole source of getting around the city. … a car driver’s sense of their right to the road is boundless.

That’s part of the context. Add to that the consistent drumbeat of hostility and vindictiveness toward cyclists from certain sectors of Toronto’s political sphere and it’s not too hard to draw the connection to my friend’s experience. In brief, as I’ve argued previously,

it’s become more socially acceptable, among a certain segment of the population, to abuse, threaten and even assault cyclists and other users of the road.

Now, maybe it’s just me and my white male privilege talking, and / or my middle-class upbringing, and / or my fetish for principled conservatism, and / or maybe even just my bourgeois nostalgia for civility, but how is this making our city better? Isn’t it in all our interests to push back against this? We’re all in this together.

Happy Canada Day, y’all.

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#cARTographyTO and Astral Media: subverting the commercial colonization of public space | #TOpoli

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Via The Grid and Torontoist, news of an inspired and inspiring guerrilla action over the weekend.

Dozens of sidewalk-blocking, ad-filled eyesores, laughably known as “info pillars,” were repurposed and turned into art installations, social and political statements, and focus points for satire.

It’s hard not to sympathize with cARTography Toronto. Public space and public amenities are under relentless pressure from the advocates of privatization and the purveyors of commercial messaging; with the dogma of “austerity” comes more and more pressure to find new sources of revenue, especially when we’re saddled with a municipal administration intent on choking off one of the most traditional sources.

I’m sure these goddamn things are good for someone. No doubt they’re good for Astral. And perhaps they get the advertisers’ messages in front of more eyeballs. And who knows, maybe they bring in a dollar or two in licencing fees or something. But, in the words of one of the activists:

They’ve done a lot of permanent damage, tearing up sidewalks, cutting down bike posts, and creating a sightline hazard for pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists…

How you see this depends, as do many things, on how you define terms and how you frame the questions. If we’re committed to making the public good paramount, then the reclamation of public space from those who seek to colonize it is something to be encouraged. And while aesthetics are admittedly subjective, it’s hard not to be disturbed by the incessant, intrusive, and garish invasions of public sightlines, the cheapening of the visual environment, and the cumulative assault on our senses.  Factor in the removal of bike posts, the destruction of trees and the interference with pedestrian traffic and it’s hard to see how the community as a whole comes out ahead. Surely we’re surrounded by enough vulgarity already.

Of course, that’s only one viewpoint. If we buy into commercial orthodoxy and the gospel of privatization, then anything that brings in revenue is good, and anything that questions the underlying assumptions or interferes with the sacred operation of the market is suspect, elitist, anti-capitalist, and quite probably a threat to national security. And by that logic, it won’t be long before the corporate media are pounding that drum day and night, the activists (already a word with negative connotations for some) are demonized, and the resources of the criminal-justice system are marshalled in their pursuit.

It would be easy to reduce this to competing visions of what public space should be. And while that’s certainly part of the discussion, not all such visions are advanced with the same energy. Not everyone has the resources for lawyers, lobbyists and SLAPP suits. Not everyone has the same degree of access and influence to the decision-makers or conversation-shapers. And not everyone has the same fluency with the technocratic, class-biased language that informs so many public-policy debates.

As we work for more inclusive and democratic conversations, it’s worth keeping that in mind.

(Image via torontoist)

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