V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Bike versus car

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers May, 2009.

I was beaten, bloodied and bruised in the Toronto Sun newsroom yesterday.

As the lone commuter cyclist in a heated debate with a handful of reporters and editors, I dodged attacks on bad biking etiquette with some defensive verbal driving, and swerved around openly hostile attacks about my fellow two-wheeled kin.

In yesterday's article "Pedal-pushers a problem," columnist Joe Warmington threw down the smacktalk, calling cyclists a nuisance, dangerous and road hazards to "themselves and everybody else."

Let the verbal rumble begin.

First of all, I'm not anti-car. In fact, I own one and drive a few times a month.

So for Joe to say that using "our roads" -- as in motorists' roads -- is a "privilege" is guffaw-worthy. Cyclists have every legal right to use city streets. Highway traffic acts recognize that bikes are legal vehicles.

As Victor Gedris, contributing writer to ibiketo.ca points out, we pay for these roads just as much as motorists do through property taxes.

"Heck, we even pay for roads that we're not allowed to use, the Gardiner, Allan Rd. ... the DVP," Gedris said.

Which brings me to my next -- and perhaps bigger -- point.

If cyclists are dangers on city streets, then drivers are legal killing machines.

To say "there's nothing more dangerous on the roads than bikes" is preposterous considering the slaughter that happens every day because of drivers.

Last year, motor vehicle accidents killed 42 people in Toronto -- 21 pedestrians, 13 drivers, six passengers and two cyclists.

Who's more dangerous to whom?

Indeed, a look at Toronto traffic statistics shows that cumulatively, biking collisions occur mostly because of hapless oblivious motorists "dooring" us as we ride by, driving into the path of bikers, striking a cyclist while turning on a red light or rear-ending us.

To avoid the fatal car-door death trap, I am unapologetically trigger-happy with my bike bell as I can imagine a fate no less poetic than being catapulted into the air to a messy death because some douchebag didn't look before alighting from his car.

Now I don't condone cyclists who mow down rickety old ladies on city sidewalks or bikers who pedal by their own rules. But just as there are bad bikers, there are bad drivers.

But rarely do bad cyclists kill. Road warriors behind the wheel forget they're manning a machine made of tonnes of steel.

Meanwhile, bold, forward-looking cities like Barcelona, Paris, Copenhagen and Montreal, notorious for their take-no prisoners drivers, have installed bike rental systems to take more cars off the road, and ease gridlock and air pollution. To argue that Toronto infrastructure wouldn't support that kind of system is a fallacy, says Dan Egan, manager of the city's pedestrian and cycling infrastructure unit, as Paris installed the bike rental program before it had biking lanes.

"The city completely changed in the last few years," he said. "It shows how quickly political will can turn things around."

Furthermore, a Statistics Canada study found that 59% of cyclists who commute to work were more likely to enjoy their ride than 37% of commuters who drive.

As the late Toronto writer and urbanite Jane Jacobs asked, who are we building cities for -- people or cars?

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