Cycling to work for the last few weeks, when the weather is favorable, has been an exercise in both illumination and frustration.
After more than 260 kilometers (so far!), the changes in my body have been illuminating. Once the initial shock of regular physical activity faded, I find myself more energetic, more alert, and generally happier. Not to mention thinner.
It is also illuminating to see how road traffic works from a decidedly different vantage point. Interesting to watch the ebb and flow of traffic during rush hour in a major city, and learn that a bicycle making a steady 20 kilometers per hour will often arrive at its destination faster than a car that can move much faster, but is limited by the stop-and-go nature of driving in such a city.
Not being insulated from the environment, one quickly becomes aware of the pollution that automobiles generate. This applies doubly for North American automobiles and trucks that insist on having exhaust pipes aimed at sidewalks and bike lanes. Because cyclists are not insulated in steel and glass cages, one becomes aware of (and surprised by) how loud cars really are.
Nobody said illuminating must be pleasant. Hence the frustration. After watching how drivers behave from ‘the outside’, I find myself amazed there aren’t more car accidents. People on cellphones, eating, drinking coffee, applying makeup, crackberrying. Frankly, anything but operating a motor vehicle with attention and care. Not only amazed, but frightened.
People weave back and forth in their lanes (when they actually stay in them). They run red lights routinely. They drive in the cycling lane, or when they’re not driving in it, they’re parked in it. They bleat their horns, scream obscenities at me as I cycle, and drive dangerously close to me (in my cycling lane, no less) in order to force me off the road and onto the sidewalk, where I apparently ‘belong’. They pass me within inches, only to suddenly turn right in front of me. I have come to the conclusion that drivers in Toronto do not consider cyclists on bicycles to be vehicles. This might be because so few cyclists on bicycles act like vehicles.
Cyclists, I have come to realize, are doing themselves no favors. When it suits them, they act as vehicles on the road. The problem comes when cyclists decide that they are not vehicles, and therefore not subject to the rules of the road. They don’t stop at red lights. They weave in and out of traffic, taking advantage of their smaller size and maneuverability, and suddenly become pedestrians when they want to cross the road and don’t want to wait for traffic to allow them the opportunity. In short, many of the cyclists I see on the roads are as thoughtless, careless and dangerous as the people in the cars.
I count myself lucky that I don’t have to spend much time on busy roads to get to work. I get to ride on the multi-use path along Lakeshore for most of the trip. Closer to home I get to ride on the very low-traffic roads through High Park, and closer to the office, I get to ride on Queen’s Quay, which has bike lanes along most of its length, or through residential areas. It’s a pleasant trip, and for the most part, I am spared the danger caused by selfish cyclists and inattentive drivers.
I don’t know the solutions to these problems. By Ontario law, bicycles are vehicles on the road, and subject to all the rights and privileges of a vehicle, with certain restrictions (no 400 series highways). Perhaps the police need to start enforcing this status, and ensuring that cyclists are following the rules of the road in the same way that they enforce those rules for automobiles. Perhaps the police need to make a more concerted effort to enforce that vehicular status, to make those drivers aware that bicycles have as much right to the roads as cars.
Some tolerance from both the cyclist camp and the driver camp couldn’t hurt, either.