When the weather is nice, I try to cycle to work as much as I can, and have been doing a pretty good job of it for the last three years we’ve been living in the city. Not as good as I’d like, but not too badly.
One of the great things about cycling to work (and walking, when the weather isn’t conducive enough for me to pedal) is that I get some time to think. And because bikes have been in the news so much lately, and lets face it, also because I’m on a bike, I have been giving a lot of thought to the problems of cycling in the city.
Cars are big, bikes are small, and when they both try to occupy the same space at the same time, the bike is pretty much guaranteed to lose out. This is not a problem that any amount of debate or legislation is going to fix. I know drivers and cyclists will both support me when I say that the only way to solve this is to ensure that cars and bikes never try to occupy the same space at the same time.
Those who don’t cycle will tell you the solution is easy – get the bikes off the roads. Let them ride on the sidewalk, or dedicated bike roadways. Anywhere where the cars aren’t.
Those that do cycle will probably have a different take on the matter, though I know that most of the support the creation of more bike lanes and bikeways. Sure, in an ideal – and somewhat surreal – world, we’d get rid of the cars, but that is simply not going to happen any time soon.
Legislation and debate CAN have an effect on this part of the equation. Cities can create more cycling lanes. Such lanes, when designed well, go a long way to ensuring that the cars and bikes don’t try to occupy the same space at the same time, simply by ensuring that bikes NEVER occupy the same space as cars. And this is a good start. A very good start.
But it’s still addressing the problem laterally. The problem isn’t that cars and bikes are in close proximity, it is that they so often try to be in the same spot.
Many motorists do not feel bicycles belong on the road. Regardless of their personal feelings on the matter, our highway laws do not distinguish between automobiles, motorcycles or bicycles. They are all governed by the same laws. Bicycles are vehicles. End of debate.
Or not, evidenced by so many motorists who continue to honk their horns at cyclists who are not behaving as they think cyclists should. OR when a motorist, outraged that a cyclist is slowing him or her down that they recklessly pass by inches from them, regardless of the fact that they are actually directly and purposely endangering someone’s life.
And there are cyclists do nothing to help. They run through red lights, ride on sidewalks, weave in between traffic and ride the wrong way down one-way streets, and in general, behave recklessly. This infuriates motorists, and I don’t blame them for being upset. It’s dangerous behaviour and it has no place on the streets.
So what’s the solution? As with so many of the world’s ills, the solution may be education. How do we educate cyclists about the rules of the road? How do we educate motorists about bicycles and their position in the transportation ecosystem? I have an idea.
I suggest that no motorist in Ontario be permitted to drive an automobile unless they’ve gone through a graduated license process that includes bicycle training.
What I am proposing is this:
Instead of turning 16 and going down to the MTO to take the test and receive a G1 (learner’s permit) as is the case today, I propose that at age 14, one goes down to the MTO and takes a test of road signs in order to receive a B1 (bicycling license).
Children under the age of 14, I encourage to ride on the sidewalk, but at age 14, any child on a bicycle should be required to have a license to cycle and also be required to operate their bicycle on the road or on designated bicycle ways. It can be restricted in the same way as a G1 license. No alcohol, no riding at night, and so on. Helmets are covered by other laws, but the use of a helmet could be another one of those restrictions.
From two years, the licensed cyclist will obey all the rules of the road. At 16 (or more specifically two years after receiving their B1 license), riders can elect to undergo a practical test demonstrating their knowledge and cycling skills. Success with this test will provide them with a Driver’s License Class B, which entitles them to full cycle privileges on the road, without the restrictions in place on the B1 license, and also grants them a standard Class G1 license, with which they can now learn to operate a motor vehicle.
Any ticket received for failure to follow the rules of the road extends the two year period. The cyclist must have a clean cycling record for 24 consecutive months in order to be eligible to take the ClassB/G1 test.
Adding cycling into the drivers license program ensures that all motorists innately understand the dangers and pitfalls (and joys) of operating a bicycle as a vehicle, since they’ve already done so themselves.
Having a Class B license would also mean that traffic violations on a bicycle would be punished in exactly the same manner as if they were committed in a motor vehicle. Points deducted, insurance impacts, the whole lot. This ensures that cyclists continue to obey the rules of the road even after they become motorists.
The result is a population of educated cyclists and motorists, who now naturally understand the rules of the road and how they apply equally to both types of vehicle. These vehicle operators are far less likely to attempt have their vehicles occupy the same space at the same time. Accidents are greatly reduced, and the safely factor for both types of vehicle operator increases.
Coupled with intelligent cycling infrastructure (bike lanes, separated bicycle paths, the so-called ‘complete streets’), this would create an ecosystem in which bicycles and automobiles can not only co-exist peacefully, but actually thrive.