Category Archives: cycling

Why drivers will love more bike lanes and better transit

Rocco Rossi’s speech to the Empire Club yesterday [PDF] has generated a lot of discussion, especially his pledge to end “the war on the car” by opposing bike lanes on arterial roads and halting planned transit construction. Underscoring that discussion is the news that another pedestrian was killed on our streets this morning, a tragedy that also brings pedestrian safety and infrastructure to mind.

A Copenhagen bike lane. PHOTO: bmevans80 on Flickr
A Copenhagen bike lane. PHOTO: bmevans80 on Flickr

I am reminded of a conversation I had while in Copenhagen last month. One of the first things you notice about Copenhagen is their extensive cycling infrastructure and how well it’s used. The climate in Denmark is similar to ours (while I was there it was cold and snowing) but because bike lanes are wide, separated, part of a large network and receive good snow clearance, they’re used year-round by large numbers of commuters and families. When I told a local woman named Anna Sophia how impressive that was, her first reaction was to lament that it wasn’t nearly good enough. “Amsterdam has a great cycling culture,” she said. “Ours is OK.”

Then I told her how many bike lanes are available to Torontonians, what they’re like, and the fact that efforts to expand our bike lane network are met by some with the “war on the car” accusation. She laughed, and said two things. First, “that’s such a Canadian/American thing to say.” (I don’t think she was trying to be hurtful.)

The second thing is what really stuck with me, though. She said, “I can’t imagine what this city would be like without our bike lanes. Everyone would have to drive. It would be so congested and impossible to get around.” The realization hit me like a tonne of bricks: she’s describing Toronto.

As Hamutal Dotan wrote for Torontoist earlier today, “what we need—urgently, and very badly—is to measure the success of our roadways by how well they move people, not cars, and privilege the modes of transportation which are most efficient at moving the largest numbers of people.” Rossi was absolutely right when he said that “cars are simply a necessity for many people,” and planners need to recognize that. However, his contention that this city suffers from too much traffic congestion due to a “war on the car” is backwards: the fact that we have so many cars on the road causing congestion is a direct result of urban design that has disproportionately favoured cars over other methods of transportation. The idea that we can somehow accommodate more cars on downtown roads while improving traffic conditions is fantasy. The best way to improve driving conditions is to offer better alternatives to driving.

All of our best research shows that when people have a transit system that works and treats them with dignity and a cycling infrastructure that doesn’t make them fear for their safety, they take advantage of it and drive less. That means fewer cars on the road, which means less congestion for those who choose or need to continue to drive. Drivers (a group that, as an Autoshare member, I include myself in, along with being a cyclist, pedestrian, and transit user) who want less congested streets should favour “complete streets” that do a better job of balancing different transportation options.

Five things I learned in Copenhagen

By the time you read this I’ll be on my way back to Toronto, and since I’m afflicted by an embarrassing amount of anxiety whenever I’m separated from the internet for more than a few hours, I thought it might calm my nerves to know that this post was scheduled to go live in my absence, communicating with the internets on my behalf.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some things I’ve learned this week that I don’t think I could have gotten from just following the news coverage from back home.

Canada’s international reputation really is very damaged. That’s not eco-spin or a partisan jab, it’s the reality on the ground. You can see it in people’s eyes when you introduce yourself as Canadian, and hear it in their voices as they ask how we went so wrong. I now understand first-hand what George Monbiot meant when he said that Stephen Harper risks doing to Canada what George Bush and Dick Cheney did to the United States. By the end of the week members of the Canadian Youth Delegation had actually sewed American flags onto their backpacks.

Speaking of youth, they really are having an incredible impact. I’d wondered if reports of youth influence was just pandering, but the members of the youth delegation I saw in action are truly some of the most engaged, intelligent, passionate, and affective people here.

Despite claims by some of the government’s defeatist defenders (“Canada isn’t significant enough to have an impact on the talks anyway”), Canada could have taken a major leadership position at this conference. I’ll point to two pieces of evidence. First, an account of the Rio climate talks told by Jean Charest at a press conference Wednesday morning (and confirmed by former MP David MacDonald, who’s traveling with me and was in government at the time), at which Canada was the first G7 country to sign the deal at a critical moment, convincing others to follow. Second, the fact that countries like Tuvalu and Maldives have dominated this conference due to their strong leadership, and despite their extremely small size.

There are lots of easy obvious things we could be doing that Copenhagen and other European cities take for granted. Escalators and hallway lights are all motion activated. My hotel room has a “master switch” by the door that lets me turn off all the power in the room before I leave. All toilets have two flush options. I bought a drink of Gløgg at an outdoor stand and put a deposit down on the cup, then got the deposit back by returning my cup to an automated station. All simple ideas we seem to have not even considered.

People who live in Copenhagen are hard core. It’s freezing, it’s night time, there’s snow on the ground, and they’re still cycling around the city in large numbers. And they look like they’re enjoying it.

Writing for Torontoist

I’ve been hired as a contributor to Torontoist, a Toronto community/info/news/blog site that gets around 100,000 unique visitors a month and is the largest website of its kind in the country. (Although they’re also in the largest city in the country, so that’s kinda cheating.)

My first post was today, regarding the end of BikeShare. All future posts by me should appear here. My contributions to Torontoist will be fundamentally municipal or local in nature, while I’ll continue to use this blog for topics that are more federal and/or partisan. (I won’t post here less than I have been, I’m just adding Torontoist to the pile.)

By the way, this seems like a good time to solicit feedback from y’all on what you want to get out of this blog. What sorts of posts have you liked? What haven’t you liked? And, come to think of it, who are you? Where are you? How did you find me? I’ve been getting over a thousand visits a month (increasing each month since I started), but I don’t have a good sense of who you all are. It’d be great to hear from you via comments to this post.