Bike lanes, trams and trains: cheap at half the price

by Raymond Parker on April 18, 2011

in Advocacy, Cycling, Environment, Video

I was chatting with a taxi driver a couple of days ago. Nice chap. But soon the topic turned to cycling—occasioned by the sight of an idiot on a bike, weaving through traffic.

The cabbie went on a rant: They should be licensed, they should carry insurance, they should ….

Resisting the temptation to critique the driving habits of his colleagues, I agreed the cops should enforce laws; errant cyclists should be held accountable. However, I suggested, his view was skewed by the many—what shall we call them?—marginal people, careening around downtown streets on questionable errands.

There are many more unnoticed bicycle commuters going about their business, adhering to the Highway Code (erroneously called the “Motor Vehicle Act” in Canada).

Nope. “Ninety per cent” of bicyclists are scofflaws. That was clearly a wild exaggeration, I countered. He should know; he drives all day. Again, I suggested that he was not noticing the majority of law-abiding cyclists.

He took another tack: Cyclists actually increase pollution, because they “slow down [motor] traffic” thereby causing more emissions.

I reminded him that that the industrial and urban infrastructure it takes to support car culture is a massive burden on the earth’s resources and environment, and it’s clearly unsustainable.

We drove by a gas station. The price had jumped again. I checked my iPhone oil-price ap. Crude had hit a new high of $109 per barrel. As analysts like economist Jeff Rubin remind, it’s not a matter of if but when, cars will be parked by the tens of thousands.

“People are used to their cars,” the driver argued. “There’s no way they’ll give them up.”

If it’s a choice between food, shelter and gasoline, they’ll learn how.

Besides, cycling is too dangerous, the cabbie said. “I bought a bike, but returned it—too scary.

“I felt safer on a bicycle in India, even with all the traffic.”

(Maybe he had a point. Are North American motorists more malignant?)

Statistics, I pointed out, didn’t support his theory. We should be mortally afraid, flying along in these tin cans, where 7,127 Canadians met their end between 2004-2008. Though there are obviously fewer cyclists on the road than motor vehicles, in comparison, 290 cyclists died on our roads over the same period.

With popular opinion still supporting expansion of highway mega-projects, the daily howls of indignation against implementation of cycling and rapid transit infrastructure are expected—“It’s a waste of tax-payer’s dollars, I tell ya! We need a new highway interchange, bridge, freeway!”

A free way. Missing is recognition that such investments are short-term fixes for a malfunctioning system, based on a fatally flawed idea, and waste of critical resources.

Resisting the inevitable in the Age of Reckoning is a waste of energy—literally. It’s time to board the freedom train.

The Hitler rant, from the movie Downfall, has seen its share of parodies, but I think this version is, er, germane to this post.

Cycling, Safety and Health by Thomas Krag (pdf)

{ 2 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

Lynn April 18, 2011 at 9:22 am

I absolutely see your point regarding city traffic. I have done my share of swearing at the bicycling scofflaws in Boulder, who assume they have the right-of-way at all times and in all places — but I have to admit that many (most?) of them stay in the proper lane and signal appropriately.

Where I really have problems is with recreational bikers who love to use the winding, narrow mountain road that leads to my house as their practice route. As soon as it’s warm enough for them to shed winter jackets, they infest the road (which has no paved shoulder), slowing down those of us who actually NEED to use the road. Most of us are relatively polite, waiting until the road is clear to pass them, but some zip around them heedlessly. I have seen a number of “near misses” caused by frustration with the bikes.

Last year, the state passed some new road rules: cars have to give the bikers at least 1 meter of clearance as they pass; bikers must ride in single file. To my knowledge, both rules are being followed. But still….

If I could use a bike for commuting, I still probably would not, since it’s at least 10 miles to the nearest place where I could have a job. (Leaving aside that my cycling days have been over for a few years now.) It makes sense in the city; not here. There’s been a proposal for the last few years to build a bike path parallel to the road — which is an ideal solution for all — but, of course, there’s no money for it.

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Raymond Parker April 20, 2011 at 10:34 am

I wonder how much of the motor traffic that uses the road that “leads to your house” is of the recreational variety–that is, Sunday drivers– and how you feel about their right to “infest” it.

Presuming that it is a public road, then surely all users have the same right to travel its length and, of course, the same responsibilities to use it safely.

Last Sunday, a friend and I drove out into the hinterlands (to check a route for a cycling event that will send a large group of cyclists along those country roads this weekend). We encountered throngs of recreational cyclists along the way, and were content to drive behind them until safe passage could be found.

But that’s the difference between us and the many motorists who see cyclists as vermin : We are in no hurry, and believe speed limits are way too high. We feel no need to drive above 50km/h in most situations. Never mind cyclists, we frustrated other impatient drivers as we dawdled along on our (needless) Sunday drive.

As if to underline my point about the true costs of our car addiction, we were not able to complete our reconnaissance because the Trans Canada Highway was closed by the crash of a tanker truck, which spilled its 42,000 litre cargo of gasoline into Gold Creek, effectively sterilizing it, and wiping out its precious brood of chum salmon.

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