Transportation

The Week of Hating Cyclists

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 01, 2007

So far, this has been the week of hating cyclists on the letters page of the Hamilton Spectator, and I'm not even talking about the correspondence regarding drug abuse among Tour de France competitors.

On July 31, Robert Coxe argued against "bicycles being able to mix with vehicle traffic on higher speed-limit roads."

He managed to notice the similarities between Main-King and the QEW (a connection we've made here on RTH) but missed the opportunity to conclude that expressways don't belong downtown.

He also dismissed bike lanes because he believes "very few people ... would try and use them." Nothing like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On August 1, Sandra Martin weighed in with a collection of anecdotes about "cyclists breaking the laws". Setting aside the fact that anecdotes don't prove anything, every cycling horror story has its analogue among drivers: going through red lights, talking on cell phones, not signalling properly, and so on.

She called these cyclists "accidents waiting to happen," a sentiment that applies equally to reckless motorists.

The preselection of a group to watch suggests a confirmation bias on the part of the author, an attempt to cherry-pick examples that reinforce already-held assumptions.

Yes, some cyclists are reckless. As a cyclist who tries to follow the rules of the road, I resent people who ride on the sidewalk, ride on the wrong side of the road, and so on. The attitudes they foster among drivers increase my danger on the road.

However, I equally resent reckless drivers. In fact, I resent them more, to the extent that their capacity to cause harm through their recklessness is far greater with a larger, heavier, and more powerful vehicle.

The big question is: what do we do with these collections of anecdotes? Should they inform policy decisions? If so, how?

Is the answer, as Coxe argues, to restrict cyclists even further? The available evidence on cycling safety inveighs against this conclusion, since the surest way to make cycling safer is to get more cyclists on the road.

Sean Burak made this argument in his recent article Changing the Rules:

The best way to reduce the number of injuries to pedestrians and cyclists is to increase the number of pedestrians and cyclists on the road.

This is counterintuitive, since we would expect to see more injuries within a given group as the group size is increased. The reasoning behind this unexpected result is that motorists become more aware and more respectful of cyclists and pedestrians if they encounter more of them on a daily basis.

Additionally, an increase in human-powered transportation generally results in a decrease in car use - and automobile involvement is the major factor in almost every case of pedestrian or cyclist injury.

This last point is particularly instructive. If Main-King is too dangerous for cyclists, the answer is not to remove the cyclists but to remove the danger: the high-speed motor vehicles rushing through city streets that are displacing the people who rightly belong there.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 01, 2007 at 14:59:58

I just sent a condensed version of this blog entry to the Spec as a letter.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted August 02, 2007 at 13:53:51

Here's the crux of the argument:

"I resent them more, to the extent that their capacity to cause harm through their recklessness is far greater with a larger, heavier, and more powerful vehicle."

I resent them too, but our resentment is neither here nor there, it is no more or less valid than the resentment of cyclists by the car-addicted.

But the key is the capacity to cause harm, and the difference between cycles and cars is massive.

Not only that, who is the recipient of the harm? With a bike, it is by far the rider. With a car, it is everyone else on foot or bike indiscriminantly - but only minimally the driver.

Cars are the perfect tool for cultural sociopathy, the collective (and now accepted!) lack of responsibility for the consequences of our personal actions. "It wasn't me".

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By lorne (registered) - website | Posted August 02, 2007 at 16:58:59

As a cyclist, I do agree that in Hamilton, far too much attention is paid to the ‘rights’ of the motorist and far too little to those of the cyclist. It is almost as if the car exists as a birthright, and the bicycle as a privilege. That being said, I do feel that many cyclists take an excess of risks, for example, riding Main Street at rush hour, something I would never consider doing.

While it may be unpalatable to have to yield to the car, it is a fact that there are almost always alternatives to busy thoroughfares. Of course, that will lengthen the time for your commute, but surely safety must be one’s top priority.

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By w willy (registered) | Posted August 03, 2007 at 12:58:50

I was surprised to see that cycling on Main at rush hour involves taking an "excess of risk." I have done that a number of times. It is unpleasant to ride with all the exhaust fumes and the large amount of traffic, but it is generally safe. In fact, if one takes the stories of bike fatalities, probably much safer than cycling on rural roads. it is in fact safer than a lot of biking I did in Montreal and Toronto, since the lack of curbside parking greatly reduces the chance of claiming a "door prize."

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 07, 2007 at 08:38:42

Robert Coxe Said: "For drivers, it is scariest when approaching other vehicles and cyclists at the same time."

The simplest way to ease this fear is to slow down until it is safe to pass (either the car or the cyclist), and then pass safely and widely. It is only scary if you try to negotiate the tight squeeze while trying to maintain your original speed.

Robert Coxe Said: "Yes, we need to be able to use alternate transportation methods for a lot of different reasons, but we need to use common sense as to how much and in how many areas."

Common sense is to allow and encourage alternative transportation methods as much as possible and in all areas. Alternative methods need to be not only allowed -- but promoted -- in every square inch of the city that cars are currently permitted. Placing restrictions on bike, pedestrian and transit is equivalent to demoting these from "transportation methods" to mere "hobbies".

Sandra Martin Said:

I see so many cyclists breaking the laws.

I have seen cyclists riding on the wrong sides of the streets, going through red lights and riding on sidewalks.

I saw one lady talking on a cellphone while riding her bike, paying no attention to what was going on around her.

One area that is bad for cyclists breaking the law is Kenilworth Avenue North, where there are many heavy equipment vehicles. If a cyclist gets run over by a coil carrier they won't have a chance.

I almost hit the same cyclist two days in a row at the same intersection as both times he went through a red light.

People like this are accidents waiting to happen.

Only once in the past year have I seen a cyclist use the proper arm signals. I felt like stopping and congratulating the person on using proper safety procedures on the roads. The stoplights and stop signs are there for their protection.

I see so many motorists breaking the laws.

I have seen motorists speeding on every single street in the city, rolling through stop signs, going through red lights, changing lanes without looking, opening their doors into the path of oncoming traffic, tailgating every car they drive behind and not signalling turns.

I see dozens of people daily talking on a cellphone while driving their car, paying no attention to what was going on around them.

One area that is bad for drivers breaking the law is Kenilworth Avenue North, where there are many heavy equipment vehicles. If a motorist gets hit by a coil carrier they won't have a chance.

I almost get hit on my bike every day by inattentive motorists who refuse to share the road with me.

People like this are accidents waiting to happen.

Only once in the past year have I seen a driver come to a complete stop at a stop sign. I felt like stopping and congratulating the person on using proper safety procedures on the roads. The stoplights and stop signs are there for their protection.

If we are going to make assumptions based on individual examples, we need to be fair about it. Lawbreaking drivers FAR outnumber lawbreaking cyclists, and each time a driver does something dangerous it puts others at a much greater risk than when a cyclist does.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 07, 2007 at 08:39:47

Robert Coxe Said: "For drivers, it is scariest when approaching other vehicles and cyclists at the same time."

The simplest way to ease this fear is to slow down until it is safe to pass (either the car or the cyclist), and then pass safely and widely. It is only scary if you try to negotiate the tight squeeze while trying to maintain your original speed.

Robert Coxe Said: "Yes, we need to be able to use alternate transportation methods for a lot of different reasons, but we need to use common sense as to how much and in how many areas."

Common sense is to allow and encourage alternative transportation methods as much as possible and in all areas. Alternative methods need to be not only allowed -- but promoted -- in every square inch of the city that cars are currently permitted. Placing restrictions on bike, pedestrian and transit is equivalent to demoting these from "transportation methods" to mere "hobbies".

Sandra Martin Said:

I see so many cyclists breaking the laws.

I have seen cyclists riding on the wrong sides of the streets, going through red lights and riding on sidewalks.

I saw one lady talking on a cellphone while riding her bike, paying no attention to what was going on around her.

One area that is bad for cyclists breaking the law is Kenilworth Avenue North, where there are many heavy equipment vehicles. If a cyclist gets run over by a coil carrier they won't have a chance.

I almost hit the same cyclist two days in a row at the same intersection as both times he went through a red light.

People like this are accidents waiting to happen.

Only once in the past year have I seen a cyclist use the proper arm signals. I felt like stopping and congratulating the person on using proper safety procedures on the roads. The stoplights and stop signs are there for their protection.

I see so many motorists breaking the laws.

I have seen motorists speeding on every single street in the city, rolling through stop signs, going through red lights, changing lanes without looking, opening their doors into the path of oncoming traffic, tailgating every car they drive behind and not signalling turns.

I see dozens of people daily talking on a cellphone while driving their car, paying no attention to what was going on around them.

One area that is bad for drivers breaking the law is Kenilworth Avenue North, where there are many heavy equipment vehicles. If a motorist gets hit by a coil carrier they won't have a chance.

I almost get hit on my bike every day by inattentive motorists who refuse to share the road with me.

People like this are accidents waiting to happen.

Only once in the past year have I seen a driver come to a complete stop at a stop sign. I felt like stopping and congratulating the person on using proper safety procedures on the roads. The stoplights and stop signs are there for their protection.

If we are going to make assumptions based on individual examples, we need to be fair about it. Lawbreaking drivers FAR outnumber lawbreaking cyclists, and each time a driver does something dangerous it puts others at a much greater risk than when a cyclist does.

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