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

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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The four-wheel fetish: moving beyond the car | #mobilityTO #moveTO

Back to the whole War on the Car thing.

A recent post at All Fired Up suggests that driving cars essentially turns people into sociopaths. Perhaps I’m not giving the argument the space it deserves here, but it’s pretty compelling. A sample:

… if we’re looking around for a culprit for the serious democratic deficit currently facing us, the toxic public discourse that now passes for political debate, the unbridgeable left-right schism, we can stop searching right now. It’s all about car ownership.

The unnatural attachment some people have to their cars could be the subject of an entire book. It  was very much in evidence at City Hall last night in some of the questions at the opening of Toronto Talks Mobility. And, as in almost any discussion of this, someone just had to bring up one of the first things Rob Ford said as our newly installed Chief Magistrate: “The War on the Car is over.”

Yeah, well. I’ve gone on at some length about that meme, so not much point in rehashing it, but there was one guy at the microphone, fairly shortly after moderator Christopher Hume opened things up to questions from the audience, prompting me to tweet:

[View the story “Toronto talks mobility: one tweet … ” on Storify]

Apparently, it struck a chord.

The staying power of the “War on the Car” meme isn’t just about stupidity. It also speaks to the lingering effects of bad planning and misguided nostalgia for better times that never were. So let’s consider some of the things that should guide our thinking when we’re designing our communities and shaping infrastructure, because those are essential to the way we move people and goods around.

  • Peak oil.
  • Carbon emissions. 
  • Non-sustainable urban form.
  • And this cheery piece from the Guardian, which says, basically, that if we don’t manage to get thing turned around by 2017, we’re fucked.

Not an exhaustive list, of course, but rethinking how we design our communities and how we get around isn’t just good policy any more — it’s survival. We can’t build things around the car any more.

In fact, I’ll recycle Justin Beach’s argument from last summer — there is no war on the car. As recent events shows, what we’ve got is open season on anyone who *isn’t* in a car.

Can we finally, at last, please, retire that idiotic meme?

P.S. What was that about cars turning people into sociopaths?

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What happens when you design cities around cars

Bad design kills people.

That’s right. It’s not a matter of aesthetics, or of politics, or of opinion. It’s a plain fact: When you design streets solely for cars, people die as a result. The underlying conditions that are responsible for those deaths are rarely or never challenged. The victims often get blamed for their own injuries or deaths.

Not that there’s a lesson in this for Toronto or anything. (h/t @HiMYSYeD)