Thursday, September 3, 2009

War On Road Rage

Frankly, I'm a little too bummed out to really dive into the whole cyclist v car debate that's been raging in the wake of the former future premier killing a bike messenger. The forums have been vitriolic: allegations of drunk driving, drunk cycling, road rage, who deserved what, and so on into nasty infinity. It's sad.

Drivers all over the internet were pointing to cyclists - all cyclists - as erratic morons who dart in and out of traffic for the sole purpose of irritating and frightening them (the drivers). I would challenge any of those posters to spend a week biking to and from work in downtown Toronto, and see how they feel about big-ass cars and stop signs. Scared? I thought so.

I have a twelve-kilometer daily commute, one that takes me along Davenport, Bloor, the Prince Edward Bridge, and Danforth. Bike lanes, if they're there, tend to run over some of the roughest roads I've ever biked. Cars go at higher speeds and are slowed by fewer intersections. There are some especially tense moments right before Yonge Street, when vehicles are merging both left and right in an effort to get onto/avoid Bay Street.

Drivers are afraid of cyclists, and for good reason: manslaughter is a lousy thing to have on your conscience. Cyclists are afraid of drivers, too: being killed is stupidly easy. It's attractive to blame cyclists for getting hit. We are erratic a lot of time, and not so good with the signalling. And, unlike drivers, we don't have to pass a test in order to drive our vehicles, a fact that's been pointed out roughly 80 million times in the past couple days.

On the other hand, people can start riding bikes as soon as they can walk; learning to drive takes a little longer. And financing the kind of infrastructure changes that would license cyclists would be hella expensive, and hard to pay for: who trains cyclists? at what age? at what cost? who enforces these licenses? and don't the stakes seem a little lower? After all, how many licensed drivers kill or seriously injure people every year? Plenty. Licensing cyclists doesn't make reactions time any fast or street smarts any sharper; only hours and hours on a bike can do that. And hours and hours on a bike, in busy traffic, is a tough assignment.

Most of my friends have been hit, doored, slipped in the streetcar tracks, or screamed at by someone who desperately needed to be going 15% faster. We get such little protection - a foot or so of dedicated road on either side of the street (if we're lucky), and a helmet. And...that's it. No airbag. No power windows. No A/C. No turn lanes. That's all the car's domain, and that's fine. It's just hard to understand how drivers can feel so angry at cyclists. What's that all about?

As one person on the internet said yesterday, "If there's really a War On Cars, why are all the casualties on the other side?"

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