Triple the number of bicycles on Toronto's streets? Brrrrr!

Brian Fri, 2011-10-14 08:43

You can't beat foresight when engaged in strategic planning.

Being able to do thought experiments about the consequences of adopting a strategy or tactic is crucial to one's ability to handle those consequences. That can be true even when your strategy is successful.

For example, there's the matter in Toronto (and elsewhere) of the pressing need to get more people out of their cars, and either on to the TTC, bicycles, or some other less-polluting, less greenhouse-gas emitting conveyance. Many, many people think the world will be wonderful as soon as enough people abandon their cars, doubling or even tripling the number of bicycles on our streets.

Me, I'm not so sure. Now, I'm an avid bicyclist (and motorcyclist, and pedestrian), but the thought of having to cope with triple the number of bicyclists scares the bejeesus out of me. Why? Because it's hard enough to put up with how many of my fellow bicyclists there currently are.

For some reason, though most can easily see that driving a car is serious business, and we certainly shouldn't let anyone get behind the wheel of one without instruction and licensing, we think any goof can get on a bicycle and pedal happily away. Incredibly, they're using the same roads as the cars, but most are blissfully unaware of the need to travel predictably, safely, and making good use of the rules of the road. We even have Bixi bicycle stands now where anyone with a credit card can commandeer a bicycle, and ride on our streets (or sidewalks!) to their heart's content, whether they've ever ridden a bicycle before or not. (Not that Bixi stands aren't a very, very good thing!)

In my many years of experience riding a bicycle, I find that the average car driver compares very well to her/his bicycling counterpart, if only because the average car driver is mostly following the rules of the road, even if only because they're supposed to. My fellow bicyclists, not so much. They dart here and there without so much as a head move, let alone a signal; they enter my lane without looking to see if I'm bearing down on them; they pass me at red lights even though I'd just sped by them, so I have to pass them again; they putter along at any speed they wish, completely failing to recognize there are other people on the road besides their angelic selves. And I use the term "angelic" advisedly. Since many, many bicyclists see themselves as being on the side of the angels, they think it's scripture that the non-angels have to look after them. And, as we all know, often the non-angels have problems of their own.

So what's all this got to do with strategic planning? It's fine to try to triple the number of bicycles in the streets of Toronto (and don't get me wrong—I'm all for it, despite my misgivings), but one has to prepare for the consequences. What will triple the number of bicyclists look like? What will it mean for the roads? Do we want three times as many bicycles darting about with no thought of the possible consequences? Will we have to get more serious about the rules? Will bicyclists object, because rules inhibit their freedom to do whatever fool thing they want to do?

Do we need separate lanes for bicycles? (Not the lanes the City of Toronto seems to have planned, where curbs are to be mounted on the current, too-narrow bicycle lanes. I can just imagine trying to pass the average, lolly-gagging bicyclist with a curb there, ready to send me careening headlong into the traffic if I make the slightest wrong move, or if the bicyclist I'm passing does, which seems more likely.)