Stylocycle’s Blog

I’m not so sure that…
May 22, 2010, 4:25 pm
Filed under: commute by bike

“We’re just not that into bicycles” as a local writer for the city newspaper asserts (See bottom for a link to his article).

First off, my training has built in me a tendency to question the ‘we’ whenever it is invoked by one person claiming to speak for everyone else. Who the hell is this ‘we’, anyway? Certainly I’m not part of the ‘we’, and my spouse isn’t part of the ‘we’, and the cycling committee on campus isn’t part of the ‘we’, and the folks at RIM who just decided to install short-term bike rentals for visitors to their campus aren’t part of the ‘we’…. The kids who need to get from a-to-b in this town where bus service is inadequate to appalling in the suburbs where so many of them live aren’t part of the ‘we’.

OK, I take the point that the great majority of folks around here prefer to drive. That plus the over-abundance of pork products around here accounts for the fact that we have the highest average BMI measurements in the country.

But this leads to my second point, which is that our author assumes an obvious, single reason that people don’t cycle more and that is that they don’t like busy streets. And that becomes his argument for leaving things as they are.

Now, I don’t mind at all diverting bike traffic to calmer side-roads; that’s not what’s stuck in my craw on this one.

What’s bugging me is the unfounded but oft repeated assertion that biking for daily purposes can’t be enjoyable. Well, true enough if you don’t have a bike that suits your needs, and for most professionals, that means not having to pack all our stuff on our backs (in my case that can run to 250 exams at a go, plus the laptop, plus whatever books I’m working with at the time). It also means not wanting to arrive sweaty at work, in day-glo spandex, and if showering at work isn’t an option, then that means that a cruiser or city bike become the better ride. I learned this when I assessed why I had given up riding my bike to and from work when I became a professor. I’d always ridden to and from my previous work-places but I’d had less to carry and a more casual environment in which to work, so arriving with the helmet painted with flaming skulls and my short kilt (avoiding chain problems) and Great Big Boots (for sturdier stopping) wasn’t an issue. Once I was a prof. though, I could not really show up looking like Hardcore Morgan, Professor of Doom. Academic freedom doesn’t extend as far for women as for men (who can still show up to work in cut-offs and retain some kind of hippie, counter-culture credibility). Most of the women professoriate are too young to be able to stake those kinds of claims, so linen trousers for summer it is!

OK… I digress. I know.

The point is that I’d stopped cycling, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t that into it.

Third, if we are serious about getting more people out of their cars and onto bikes, we know that making our viability visible is a key issue. That’s why I have my pretty baskets, and that’s why I usually have some kind of nice scarf on when I’m riding… it attracts attention to the fact that you can ride, AND not look like a crossing-guard trying to chase down the Tour de France.

If “cycling is popular in some places but not here”, which I don’t dispute, I don’t think the solution is to accept that the model we have is the model to which we must acquiesce here. Instead, we should be looking at what has everyday bike ridership up by over 40% in the last few years in Toronto. Some of it is response to the price of gas and car ownership, the cost of parking, and the decline of TTC services. But some of it is because of positive changes in what’s available to ride (and hat can include good used bike shops that repair and restore city bikes — they don’t have to be costly EU bikes). Some of it is that even the costly EU bikes are cheap compared to the cost of driving (but our provincial tax relief for a bike purchase under $1000 is going to dry up with the kick in of the HST in July). Some of it is that Toronto has worked to provide more bike parking in shopping areas, and restaurants are providing places to lock up off to the side of their patios, etc. That is: shops are figuring out how to bring cyclists to their shops along with pedestrian traffic, instead of moaning that without big parking lots people won’t shop… central retail areas are close to central residential areas (we are starting to get this right with the redevelopment of the core, meaning that we aren’t all forced to drive 10k to a big box mall to get a light-bulb!)

Fourth; I just can’t stand the lack of imagination in Outhit’s editorial piece; it’s an apologia for the way things are, and it’s counter to his own opening observation that “Cycling is healthy and pollution-free”.

On that note, I’m going to spend my day making a rhubarb crisp (from Mark Bittman on the NY Times), cycling uptown to get new trainers ‘cuz my old ones are shot, and reading a dissertation in preparation for my role as examiner in Utrecht next week.

Cheers folks!

Here’s the link to the article in the Record.

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Here’s the link:

I spoke with Outhit a few days ago about buffered cycling paths, and I’m glad to see him writing about this as what’s needed to make cycling more attractive as transportation for regular people. My guess would be that he didn’t choose the headline.

That said, I don’t agree that “Adding painted cycling lanes won’t make busy streets any more attractive to [prospective cyclists],” as I believe it does make some people more likely to ride. It’s not enough, and I hope to see more staff and politicians realize this.

Comment by Michael Druker

Agreed about the headline, Michael; I ought to have noted that editors are usually in charge of headlines and often run roughshod over content in their efforts to be catchy.

I am with you, that painted lanes do help, and I’m really quite interested in the green boxes for intersections (where many cyclists feel most vulnerable). I never used intersections for my left turns until I got the Batavus. I just didn’t feel visible or stable enough to do it. Given that not everyone is going to get bikes like mine, I think that redesigned interections and buffered cycling zones are a good idea.

The other thing that I really want to point out is that cycling is only attractive on a daily basis when there’s somewhere to get to, things to see along the way.

By the time I had put in two years of bike commuting on Columbia, out to the west end of Waterloo, I was ready to defenestrate myself from the boredom. My rides now are always more interesting because in every direction that I travel there is something to see, and often something to do — even several somethings. A vibrant cycling culture is part and parcel of a vibrant urban culture and is unlikely to thrive in a suburban culture of pseudo-freeways that go from nowhere to no place.

Our city politicians need to understand that building a better cycling infrastructure is really just part of the larger project of building a better city in which neighbourhoods are generally mixed use.

Comment by stylocycle

Agreed on all counts.

Comment by Michael Druker

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