Major mayoral candidates are douches to cyclists

Mayoral candidate George Smitherman's office put out a critique of mayoral candidate Rob Ford's stance on cycling. Witness the video where Ford state's that his "heart bleeds" for cyclists who are hit, but that in the end he feels that it is "their fault" for being hit, presumably because they shouldn't be on bikes at all.

This was an easy swipe at Ford and the video is making the rounds. The fact is, Mayoral Candidate Rob Ford is just not as suave as George Smitherman or candidate Rocco Rossi, though their basic stance is the same: take cyclists off the streets.

Smitherman, in his transportation plan, for instance, claims (unlike uncouth Ford) that he "supports Toronto cyclists and will make it easier for Torontonians to choose safe cycling". In order to that he will "rethink" the cycling plan. Then the first thing he will do is indefinitely postpone / cancel all bike lanes on arterial roads (Smitherman announced this soon after Rossi made a similar announcement). There are two major bones that Smitherman is throwing to cyclists, and both of them have their own issue (I'm ignoring the others because they're not really new at all):

  1. build physical separation of existing bike lanes
  2. "expedite" bike "expressways" through hydro corridors and ravines

My responses:

  1. Most urban cyclists would prefer physically separated bike lanes. The reality is, aside from the contentious University Ave separated bike lanes which lost by 1 vote in City Council, there are not that many ideal locations for putting in barriers, particularly in downtown. The problem is that wherever the bike lanes are to the left of car parking a barrier can't be installed.
  2. Bike expressways are an important way to get in and out of downtown, but they are not a wholesale solution to safer cycling. Most Toronto cyclists live and bike in the core. There are very few ravines (or ideal minor street routes) in the core. The vast majority of locations where Toronto cyclists (like all Torontonians) begin and end their trips do not happen to conveniently coincide with an available hydro corridor or ravine. Smitherman (and Rossi's) have taken the approach that cyclists need to be removed as much as possible from our main streets, regardless of whether a cyclist needs to be on that street or not.

I highly doubt that Ford, Rossi or Smitherman have bothered to get expert advice on urban cycling needs. Their poor attitudes and approach to getting cyclists off the streets is like the 1970s all over again when mayors attempted to ban cyclists from major roads. Only now, (other than Ford) the candidates are being more politically correct in saying they support cyclists while still trying to remove them. Therefore I suggest voters to look further down the list for a realistic plan for cycling, pedestrians and sustainable transportation: Joe Pantalone, or less known candidates such as Himy Syed (who doesn't have an election website but does show up at cycling events) or others.

I'm not officially endorsing any of them at this time, but at least I find the statements they put out more palatable.


My heart bleeds for Rob Ford supporters when they all end up living like him, but it's their own fault for voting for him.

He is not the picture of health, and so will Toronto be should this man have his way.

All of the candidates are seizing on the media's "war on cars" panic, none of them seem to reach out to cyclists... do they realize cyclists vote? YES.

What seems to be happening is a collective agreement between the candidates to slander cyclists and sacrifice their votes with the hopes of cutting the voting pool down and appeasing motorists with a negative action motorists can all vote for(people love to see other people put down, it is status reaffirming and comforting). These promises offer no competitive advantage to the candidates or hold positive advancement for the city.

Pearls before swine...

You need to change the title of the post.
Douches serve a purpose, these guys do not.


I'd never vote for Smitherman, Ford or Rossi, but we should acknowledge that they are representing the views of a large percentage of the voting population. Hurling insults doesn't help, other than to polarize the electorate. It's a smart move if you're doing this to try to get a majority to work against a minority (a la Smitherman, Ford or Rossi) but it doesn't work backwards.

As cycling advocates, we should come together as ambassadors of our community, and espouse the positive aspects of cycling for non-cyclists. E.g. it's cheaper than building roads or subways, it improves traffic, it improves air quality, there's almost no noise pollution, it's green, lower health-care costs, etc.

i agree with Ben. Which is why Herb's replies to smitherman's points are spot on.

in addition to #2 it would help if George got his facts straight: a large portion of the hydro corridor/expressway projects will be completed this year (Finch, Gatineau, Scarborough Spur, Leaside) or in the near future (West Railpath Phase 2, Humber, Martin Goodman). The challenge to finishing these has been funding - so George, how will you pay for and expedite more of them?

Right, the mayoral candidates certainly didn't bother to get expert advice. My reactions to their proposals are much stronger than herb's.

First, physically separated bike lanes SUCK (I will refrain from telling you exactly whcih parts of the human anatomy they suck, though I do have to exercise considerable restraint to do so), and anyone who thinks they are a good thing has zero idea about actual versus perceived safety. Most collisions happen at intersections, and separated bike lanes make this problem worse, not better. Also, they do not allow cyclists to make a left turn, to pass slower cyclists, to go around glass or obstructions; snow clearing is a major issue... should I go on? Because I can! The only reasons cyclists like the idea of separated bike lanes is the knee-jerk "oh my god, cars will run me over" reaction based on false uneducated assumptions and phobias.

Second, hydro corridors and ravines make PATHETIC bike expressways, for the following reasons:

  • There aren't enough of them, there will never be enough of them (no one will tear up streets to actually build them, after all - they'll only go in existing ravines and hydro corrirods) and they don't form a logical network.
  • They have few connections to streets (often very poor ones, involving stairs or ridiculously steep hills) OR have to cross lots of major intersections and have poor signal priority (or no signal and, heck, no curb cut at all - you're supposed to dismount and walk across). The first problem won't be fixed - the major elevation changes are just there, that's why ravines are ravines. The second one has no ideal solution either. Even paths that have a dedicated bike signal and don't require dismounting, still require one to be extremely vigilant and slow down to a crawl at each intersection, however minor, since they are basically glorified sidewalks, and turning drivers don't look for bike crossings. I've seen lots of close calls on the Lakeshore trail east of the DVP and on Eglinton West trail.
  • They lack of winter maintenance (I suppose that's one thing Smitherman could actually change under his plan, though snow clearing equipment might have trouble on some of those paths, especially ones with posts in the middle that block off anything with any width to it from entering the path).
  • During the summer they have hordes of clueless recreational cyclists and randomly roaming pedestrians, including children, dog walkers, huge groups made up entirely of a-holes blocking the entire path etc. - all of which makes your top safe "expressway speed" in the vicinity of 10 km/h. Having two paths, one designated for pedestrians and one for cyclists does not help, BTW - pedestrians just walk anywhere they bloody want.
  • They are mostly isolated and unlit, which presents safety problems at night... the "unlit" problem can perhaps be solved, the isolated not so much.
  • They zigzag like crazy, unnecessarily and significantly increasing distance one has to travel to get from A to B
  • They get interrupted, with non-obvious street connections.. or unexpectedly split up into multiple branches - and have no or insufficient signage. And whatever signage is installed gets tagged and vandalized soon enough (related to isolation, see above).

Of course, it's silly to suggest that they should get expert advice - because that's what you would do if you actually cared about encouraging cycling, and improving cycling efficiency and safety. Smitherman, Rossi, and Ford are simply out there for the votes, and will do whatever it takes to get them. All three are complete scumbags (and not just because of their stance on cycling, of course), and I am really sad for Toronto. Most likely one of them will win, and any one of them in the office spells b-a-d-n-e-w-s. It must be some kind of reflection on Toronto that we have the crop of candidates that we do. Not a pretty reflection.

Herb wrote:
"...there are not that many ideal locations for putting in barriers, particularly in downtown."

Kevin's comment:
I can think of two locations right off the top of my head:

  1. Bloor Street
  2. Yonge Street

Both have ample width for protected cycle lanes and Dutch-style intersection protection. They also have a subway line for multi-modal transportation.

I remember when Yonge went car-free in the 1970's. That is something that should be done again.

Kevin Love

Who is at fault for the lack of support for cycling among municipal political figures?

Do I blame the Politicians? Yes, but only as far as they are reluctant to lead responsibly, which is falls a distant second to their getting elected. The measured position of a politician is more of a reflection of public opinion than it is a testament to their brevity on a particular issue. “Give the people what they want”, just don’t tell them they are misinformed and self destructive.

Do I blame Cyclists? Yes, because we generally accept this BS from our elected politicians without really doing anything serious about it.

Do I blame the Public? Absolutely!

Public policy around cycling is only going to shift if all of the stakeholders push that agenda. So cyclists need to lead the charge, followed by people in the communities that make up Toronto, and lastly politicians.

PS - I think you'll see Smitherman's position drift more to a supportive one after he is elected. Either way, he's holds just one vote in Council, so no biggie!

Physically separated bike lanes ARE needed in this city.

"The "oh my god, cars will run me over" reaction based on false uneducated assumptions and phobias."

For this exact reason we need (physically separated lanes) them. We as a city need to diversify the ranks of the everyday commuter and recreational cyclist. As it is in my view of cycling in this city everyday most of the people on bikes I see are men ages 20-40( myself included).

In my view the reason for this is the risk or perceived risk the general public sees in cycling in this city(ask anybody who doesn't cycle regularly and they will no doubt go to a bag of reasons as to why they don't cycle and the top one usually is its too dangerous. Try to view cycling from their point of view:

  1. I have to know how to bike in traffic
  2. I have to strap a helmet on my head
  3. I get to ride inches from cars in a curb lane that is 2 feet wide with the shoddiest pavement.
  4. I have to trust that every motorist ( they know how bad drivers are with other drivers) on the road sees me and knows how to drive with cyclists.

    I realize there are loads of women, children older people etc and I hate to bring up the old "in Europe" argument but when you are over there ( ya just randomly pick a country) you will see all sorts of people cycling and not just recreational to the beach but everyday commuting needs.

Minimize the perceived risk and you will get a more varied selection of cycling...similar to drivers and walkers where you see the whole range of people. Once you have a diversified group of people you will have a stronger voice, a stronger vote and more power. Do you think any of these politicians give a fuck about 20-40 year old men?. I mean Pantalone just announced he would freeze seniors’ property taxes. Seniors ( don't see a whole lot of those on bikes) are the voters these guys want and until cyclists become more diversified on the road (bixi will help) politicians will barely even give them/us lip service.

Speaking of helmets, bill... there is much talk about a mandatory helmet law in Ontario after the release of a recent study done in Manitoba in which the researcher calls the lack of such law reprehensible.

Now, I know helmets do prevent injury but, a helmet law is treated like a panacea. Rob Ford would love it, since now all cyclists have helmets wipes hands safety problem solved. No more need for infrastructure or better public policy(the hard stuff)!

Mayor Rob Ford on a bicycle??

That's a heart attack waiting to happen!!

Well, if the oaf candidate(s) gets elected, just remember: militant tactics are always available. Cycling is progressive and we can keep the torch lit through the dark ages.

The ravine bicycle expressways are a cruel joke. They will never be that convenient, fast, or popular. It's a nice way to bury the issue.

... is that they turn out to the polls.

Traditionally, municipal election turnout is low. So a group, such as seniors, that has a high turnout rate, gets catered to by the pols.

If we can convince them that cyclists vote, they will fall all over themselves to meet our needs.

"For this exact reason we need (physically separated lanes) them. We as a city need to diversify the ranks of the everyday commuter and recreational cyclist."

So you are okay with minimizing perceived risk in exchange for increasing actual risk? Is it really responsible to take these non-cyclists who know next to nothing about where road dangers come from, thrown in some infrastructure that sets them up perfectly for right hooks and other conflicts at intersections (as well as encounters with pedestrians who will, without doubt, just treat it as a sidewalk extension, especially given the narrow Toronto sidewalks), and watch them flock to it because it appears safe? Even if "safety in numbers" effect moderates or even negates this extra danger, you're still making some clueless saps unsuspecting martyrs for the cause of cycling. At least those who choose to cycle now have no illusions that anyone out there is doing anything for their safety.

If your goal is to really draw completely clueless newbies into cycling - and with a demand that they must not be forced to learn any safety rules other than what they already know as pedestrians - then there needs to be MUCH more done than installation of a few concrete barriers. A whole truly idiot-proof system would have to be implemented, requiring a major rethinking of how our roads work. Unfortunately, this system will also be quite inefficient, because a system can't be both efficient/powerful/flexible and idiot-proof. In other words, expect lots of stops and delays.

Before you try to tell me than in Europe things are just wonderful, here are a few things to consider:

  • European cyclist AND drivers do get educated on how to interact with each other on the road.
  • Car-bike collisions still happen in Europe, and are MORE likely to happen on separated bike lanes (not just in terms of actual numbers, but proportionately more likely)
  • European cycling infrastructure IS inefficient. Bike travel distances there are usually rather short (North American tends to be way more sprawled). Lots of bikes are squeezed into narrow separated lanes and everyone pedals slowly. OR - there aren't too many bikes and consequently cars don't pay too much attention to those side paths, which means one has to be extra-slow and extra-vigilant at each intersection, which again slows you down to a crawl.

I agree that this "Europe-style" vision has many proponents with today's North American cycling advocates. It's a choice one can make, and I can respect it - but without accepting it because it reduces cyclists to essentially "glorified pedestrians" - when cycling can be so much more. If you can't go further than a couple of kms on a bike before you start getting annoyed at how long the trip is taking you - heck, you might as well walk. the future cyclists might have to contend with traffic jams. Whoa X 3.

let me ask: what exactly do you want from George?

Do you want him to state clearly that cycling will matter in Toronto on his watch? If so, he has done so, right at the top of his statement on cycling.

Do you want him to come up with a plan for facilitating cycling in this city? He has. Do you want him to come up with a plan we will all agree on? Nobody can do that, because as a community, we quite rightly disagree about a lot of things.

Just as a cyclist, let me make three points:

1) We already have mixed-use paths in both major ravines, and the ravines do have most of the problems that "chephy" identified: they wander, they have serious grade issues, and they don't connect to the grid. The hydro corridors, on the other hand, do follow a rational design. Real dedicated bicycle paths, ones that actually excluded pedestrians, had lighting, and which the police patrolled could encourage a great many more suburban residents to cycle, particularly if we made sure we connected them with the transit system.

2) I don't believe most parents in North Toronto will ride, or more important, allow their children to ride, on most suburban "arterial" roads. As a 40+ year cyclist, I find these roads pretty alarming. If we want to encourage cycling outside the downtown core, hydro corridors offer pretty much the best of an imperfect set of alternatives.

3) I ask my fellow cyclists not to give into political despair. Please. I believe it matters who takes the mayor's chair this fall. Even if you see George Smitherman and Rob Ford as cut from the same cloth, they have very different supporters. At least, don't vote for a candidate who will almost certainly not win based on the illusion that we can salvage four bad years with "militant action". We need to large numbers of Toronto residents to see the bicycle as a means of transportation they and their children can use safely, and that will save them money and time. The sight of militant cyclists clashing with police police and motorists on the nightly news will set that process in reverse.

John G. Spragge
Mariner, cyclist, pilot