Why Rob Ford is (partially) right about Cyclists in Toronto

Rob Ford has gotten a lot of flack for a statement he made about cycling in Toronto. To quote the relevant section:

What I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks, and sooner or later you’re going to get bitten. And no wonder, roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks. And my heart bleeds for them when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.

Now – to be clear, I in no way support Ford’s candidacy for Mayor. If you vote for Rob Ford, I will actually punch you in the face. Just kidding. But seriously, his opposition to Transit City is potentially disastrous. And, he’s probably a climate denier – his policies certainly are. But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about how this statement he’s made is actually true – and the radical opposition to it reflects a peter-pan syndrome in leftists. It’s true that the roads we have built are not for bikes – and putting bikes on them is precarious. I don’t think people properly understand the dangers associated with riding in the city – in traffic – and I don’t think that if they did that building more bike lanes would increase ridership.

The bike lanes he is opposing in this speech are, I think, significantly worse than doing nothing to improve conditions for cyclists. Worse because they increase the perception of safety, but not real safety (at least not directly). To make a very simple point – most of these bike lanes are 1.5 metres wide, and sandwiched between traffic and parked cars. But, if you look at the Vancouver engineer’s cycling recommendations, it is a no-no to cycle within 1 metre of parked cars. So, just from a door-opening perspective, 2/3rds of the bike lane (which you are presumably meant to ride in the middle of) are unsafe. And if you think drivers have an incentive to look before they open their doors – just look at the case on Eglington where a driver having killed a cyclist was fined only 110$.

One might think the solution is Montreal-style separated bike lanes. But they also expose cyclists to very high risks of death due to the problematic situations they create at intersections. According to a whole slew of studies linked to the wikipedia page, the major danger to cyclists is not being rear-ended by cars, but being hit at an intersection. And, a variety of studies indicate that separate cycle paths create far more accidents at intersections. So, while you might be impressed when visiting Montreal at the number of children riding in the bike lanes – this is based on the perception of safety (or rather, their parents perception of safety), not the real risks they are exposed to – which might actually be higher than if they were riding in traffic.

Some researchers argue that the decrease in the perception of risk is itself a real cause of increased risk – and that the increased perception of risk in shared space (drivers mixing it up with cars) is a better way to increase safety. This might be true, but the risks still might be greater than people are willing to rationally absorb.

In a radical sense, if you are out doing something which you know is dangerous, and you get killed doing it – it is your fault. For example, if I’m driving home and I know there is a certain risk of being run off the road by a drunk driver, and that happens – then my death is a result of my free choice. The issue, therefore, is not to “figure out who to blame”, but to reasonably decide what risks we are willing to take on. Complaining at Ford because he speaks an inconvenient truth about risk and responsibility does nothing to improve the situation of cycling and rational risk taking in our society.


4 thoughts on “Why Rob Ford is (partially) right about Cyclists in Toronto

  1. I completely agree with you Northernsong!

    Btw: your comment “If you vote for Rob Ford, I will actually punch you in the face.” was said in jest, just like the way Rob Ford likes to say things in jest. Yet ppl just want to tear the man apart bcos they are afraid of him. Plain & simple.

    The below fact speaks for itself.

    Cyclist killed by streetcar | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun

    Do you not find it strange that there is not one thing in Ontario that a person can do or drive without a permit or license, & or insurance yet cyclists are able to come and go as they please, on roads, sidewalks, pathways, parks, private grounds, lawns etc.

    They have absolutely NO ACCOUNTABILITY whatsoever!
    They treat the roads & sidewalks like their own personal bike track marathons.

    1) They run red lights. I have seen this many times in the busiest of intersections.
    2) They run stop signs.
    3) They do not stop to let a car back out.
    4) They do not stop for a car door opening, instead the kick the car door and speedily ride away.
    5) They actually have babies either on their backs, or seats or pulling a wagon with kids, yes more than one in it. Holding up traffic. HOW DANGEROUS IS THAT?!
    6) They ride side by side, refusing to pull over when we honk.
    7) They do not have night lights on their bikes. How many times drives have almost had a heart attack, slamming on their brakes at the last minute.
    8) They weave in and around the cars that are waiting for a light change, and cut across the middle of the intersection, showing up out of no where into on coming traffic. How many times have we heard the squealing of tires, thinking that they have been killed!
    9) They actually ride off the road onto busy, very busy pedestrian sidewalks, many times crashing into a pedestrian and speedily riding off. There is no way to catch them and they know it.
    10) They intentionally stay in the middle of the road on side streets, holding up a driver all the way, knowing that the driver cannot pass them, catch them or identify them to report them.

    They show NO ROAD COURTESY what so ever!
    I am sure this list could be longer, but these are the points that come to mind at this moment.

    I am positive if a very public announcement was made that there is a petition or poll to see if people would like to see
    BIKES OFF THE ROAD, you would see that it would be an Land Slide YES!

    If this is not possible, then:

    Cyclists should be subjected to the same road laws that car drivers are subjected to.

    1) Pass a road safety examination.
    2) Pay for and obtain a road license.
    3) Pay for and display a license plate on the back of the seat and on their fronts & backs, in neon, so that we can report them when they are in violation as they alway manage to cycle away without penalty after doing the above stated violations.
    4) Pay for and obtain Insurance, just like we have to.
    5) Impose front & rear head lights, so that they can be spotted from a distance on dark nights as well as neon reflectors on the spokes.
    6) Police enforcement of ticketing the offending cyclist.
    7) Subject to court penalties.
    8) Yearly bike inspection.
    9) Law against babies, toddlers etc., to be carted around with them. One human per bike.
    10) Unlawful to attach a wagon to the bike. That means no carting around kids in it!

    I am sure more can be added to this list as well. If they want to ride on the road then it’s time that they were made accountable just as every other vehicle licensed citizen is…….period. This is long over due.

    I live in the High Park/Roncesvalles Ave area of Toronto & these newcomers to our area have taken over our roads. Imagine risking your child’s life in this manner!
    Children’s Services should have more power, bcos we would definitely report many of them, as we know where they live.

    These people should be charged with reckless endangerment and not rewarded with more cycle lanes…….period!

    In the old days, we were taught to get off our bikes and walk them across the roads…..not ride across them. Same thing on pedestrian busy sidewalks. When & why have these rules changed?

  2. btw: I understand that there is a cyclist union. WTF is that all about? Anyway, why is the President not interested more in acquiring donations to build an indoor or outdoor racing lap some where, instead of making these deadly, reckless endangerment demands of bike lanes like you described in your article?

    I seriously think that this union President should be examined by a psychiatrist & should never have been taken seriously by any politician. This has gotten way out of control.

    If they want Amsterdam…….let them move there!
    We liked Toronto the way it was. Cycle Free Roads!

  3. Ugh.

    Rob Ford is a rude pig-headed jerk. I don’t know how he got elected. With his backwards attitude we’re doomed. What ever happened to progressive thinking?

    I just returned from a business trip to Taiwan. Their rail system is clean, modern, and super-efficient. Toronto looks like the third world in comparison.

    Our only hope is that this mayor will succumb to cardiovascular disease before the end of his term.

    Not unlikely.


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