Driving the Lane: Toronto Prepares for Public Bicycling – Walrus

Toronto Ride For Heart bike-a-thon on the DVP 6

Dear Emily,
I’m just going to skip over the second paragraph where you place blame on a cyclist for his own death.
Our roads are the domain of everyone who uses them. Finger tapping motorists and scofflaw cyclists alike.
Driving the Lane: Toronto Prepares for Public Bicycling

by Emily Testa
What do Jack Layton and David Byrne have in common? Sure, Layton’s Twitter account tells us he’ll be busking on the Danforth this Saturday, but at press time, the range of his musical talent remains untested. No, it’s a shared interest in the future of cycling that unites the current NDP leader and former Talking Head, who will participate in an October 24 panel discussion at the International Festival of Authors. Along with Toronto Cyclists Union executive director Yvonne Bambrick and urban designer Ken Greenberg, Layton and Byrne will discuss the potential of urban planning — specifically, bike lanes — to improve the political climate of cycling in Toronto and around the world.
Next, I call Richard Poplak, who has written about bike culture for Toronto Life magazine and is currently at work on a graphic novel about bicycle hoarder Igor Kenk, the “Fagin of Queen Street.” As an authority on sharing the roadway, Poplak’s credentials certainly pass muster — he estimates that between commuting and training as a UCI–licensed racer, he spends twenty-five hours every week on a bicycle. Poplak is doubtful that the riders who use Toronto’s new public system will amount to a meaningful increase in the number of regular bike commuters, or a meaningful decrease in the number of cars downtown. In the meantime, he calls for improved road infrastructure (“so that bicycles can safely traverse the streets without having to dodge lake-sized potholes”) and a large-scale safety campaign targeting cyclists and drivers alike. I ask whether Toronto’s public bicycle system should underwrite an expanded network of bike lanes, and can almost hear him shaking his head from the other end of the telephone line. “What bike lanes don’t do is enshrine cycling as a right,” he says. “What they do do, is enshrine the primacy of the car.” Like Heaps, Poplak believes cyclists should simply obey the rules of the road: no more rolling through red lights as they see fit. As well, motorists should recognize cyclists’ right to share their roadways. “Cyclists have the right to be everywhere except the 401 [highway] and the Don Valley Parkway. End of story,” he says. “We have rules — all we need to do is enforce them.”
Whether enforcing the rules will neutralize the discord remains to be seen. What is certain, though, is that no one, whether they travel by car or by bicycle, has the prerogative to ignore where and how their fellow commuters take to the road. Just before he signed off, filmmaker Christopher Sumpton put it to me this way: “It’s like the weather. Everyone has to deal with transportation.” Poplak was more frank in the last email he sent me: “No matter how much you may loathe cyclists, you’d have to agree that something has to be done, and pretty quickly. Painting white lines on the road and/or handing out bikes isn’t the solution. Making sure we all understand the rules of the game, however, is.”
Photo of Toronto Ride for Heart via Flickr

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