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Cyclists vs Motorists… the great debate

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It’s full into summer and the cyclists are out in force. Cycling is a great form of exercise, but using a bicycle comes with certain responsibilities – responsibilities that far, far too many cyclists ignore.  So I’d like to take this space and deal with a bunch of common arguments for and against cycling.

We have a right to use the roads

Many cyclists pay taxes like anyone else.  However, and this is an important point, driving on the roads, in any vehicle, is a privilege, not a right.  The fact of it being a privilege is enshrined in law.  So anyone, including a cyclist, who thinks they have a right to the road is just plain wrong.

Beyond that, in most places in Canada, the roads are not designed to accommodate cyclists.  The roads are built for automobiles and often (but not always) for trucks.  It doesn’t matter if, technically, you have the privilege of riding your bike on the road.  The road is not designed to accommodate you and by doing so you are endangering yourself and others.

The taxes you pay that go to roads don’t go to accommodate cycling either.  Roads could be retro-fitted to make for safer cycling, of course, but the money to do that should come from licensing cyclists and their bicycles, just like a good chunk comes from licensing drivers and their vehicles.

Better still, cyclists should have separate infrastructure, paid for out of cycling-taxes.  That will give them the best opportunity while keeping them safe.  They could even build them in such a way as to handle winter cycling in the worst conditions, with cyclists paying for clearing and snow removal.

The Netherlands has a very effective cycling infrastructure

Yes.  Yes it does.  The Netherlands is also about twice the size of the “Golden Horseshoe” area of Ontario with half the population of Canada packed into that small space.  Unlike most of Canada which receives 4-7 months of the year where the ground is snow and ice covered, rendering cycling both stupid and dangerous, the Netherlands has a marine moderate climate where the average temperature never gets below 0 C, and they average about 25 snow days a year.

A person can reasonably get somewhere on a bicycle in the Netherlands.  Except for puttering around your neighbourhood, in Canada, cycling is not a viable method of transportation for most people.  A typical commute in Ottawa is over 10 km each way.  In Toronto it’s a lot more than that.  Canada’s entire infrastructure is designed around the long distances between places that are covered with snow and ice, whereas the Netherlands infrastructure is designed around a dense population and short distances and warm climate.

Cycling is good exercise and we should encourage it

Fair enough.  Lots of things are good exercise, and the people who participate in those activities pay for it out of their own pockets.

In North America, our civilization is based on motoring.  If we took all the cars off the road tomorrow, our economy, our country, everything would collapse.  If we banned cycling tomorrow, we’d have a few more fat people.

That is why cycling will never be as important as motoring for the foreseeable future.  And while it might be a good idea to encourage cycling, doing so should not come at the expense of, nor risk to, motorists.

Cyclists should not have to follow the rules of the road

Seriously, people have made this argument publicly.

Do I really need to discuss this one?  The gist of it is that there is a core group of cyclists who think they shouldn’t have to stop at stop signs, should be entitled to drive on the wrong side of the road, etc. simply because it’s inconvenient.

Of course, they also want all accountability to rest on motorists.

That’s just hypocritical, self-entitled bullshit.  If you use the same infrastructure, you follow the rules.  Duh.

Cycling would be easier and safer if drivers weren’t jerks

True.  Lots of motorists are complete and total jackasses.  Anyone who would say otherwise is simply lying.

Cycling would be easier and safer is cyclists weren’t jerks too, because, percentage wise, it seems that at least as many cyclists are complete and total jackasses.  And to be frank, each cyclist would do well to make sure they’re not being a hypocritical jerk first, and worry about motorists being jerks second.

At the end of the day, a cyclist is nearly guaranteed to lose any confrontation with an automobile, so that puts an onus on the CYCLIST to ensure their own safety.  Wrapping yourself in the Highway Traffic Act is not going to protect you when you’re driving up the wrong side of the street and blow a stop sign and get hit by a bus executing a turn, and the bus driver should not be held accountable for the cyclist’s illegal activities.

What needs to happen?

In the short term, we need stepped up enforcement of existing laws with respect to cyclists.  That means ticketing motorists for not following the rules, and it means ticketing cyclists… harshly.  We need to have a crackdown on:

  • cyclists driving on the wrong side of the road;
  • cyclists driving without proper safety equipment (lights, reflectors, etc.);
  • cyclists disobeying traffic signs and signals;
  • cyclist road rage (mouthing off at drivers);
  • cyclists damaging vehicles; and
  • cyclists impeding the flow of traffic.

Second, we need to see cyclists getting some of the love in terms of new infrastructure and retrofits.  That costs money, and should be paid for by licensing and taxing adult cyclists.  Every adult should be required to plate their bicycle annually much like motorists.  Profits raised can be funneled into creation and maintenance of separate cycling infrastructure.

Finally, in order to support a safe environment, bicycles need to be banned from roadways where there are motorists.  Bicycles should be on sidewalks.  Yes, bicycles could hit pedestrians, and a pedestrian might be injured, but the injuries are most certainly to be less severe overall, and since cyclists tell me how awesome and responsible they are, I am quite convinced that it safest for everyone if the cyclists share their space with pedestrians.  If this is a problem, then maybe cyclists can carry liability insurance like motorists do.