A reminder that women are not well served by transportation tools

In the wake of the death of Jenna Morrison because of a large truck on a dangerous stretch of Toronto road and the road rage incident where a male driver assaulted a woman with his car just because she was in front of him making a legal left turn, I'd like to reprint a op ed article by Heather McDonald responding to the decision by an all-male Public Works Committee to remove the Jarvis bike lanes, ignoring the voice of the vulnerable. Cycling infrastrucure, Heather points out, is a women's issue.

Every day on my way home from work, my last bit of the journey involves making a left hand turn onto my quiet street. I take a deep breath, check my shoulder, signal, and brace myself for my most loathed part of my trip. On several occasions, as I extended my arm and safely merged into the lane, I’ve been shouted at by a passing car driver. Twice I’ve been called the “C word”—just for turning the way they teach in a CanBike course. I come home near tears and lament to my partner how awful it feels to be treated so poorly just for using my bike for transportation. It’s downright insulting.

More insulting: we’re being shoved out from having a role in making the decisions that affect us.

A few years ago, when I was providing home care for patients, I found myself cycling up and down Jarvis frequently, visiting various community housing locations along the street. The traffic speeds were far over the limit. The noise was excessive. Even the residents avoided walking on Jarvis. One woman with anxiety discussed with me how she feared crossing Jarvis Street and avoided leaving her house to go to appointments. The streetscape design suggested that people in single-occupancy vehicles were worth more than people on bicycles.

What a difference two years and bike lanes make: cycling has increased from approximately 300 to 900 cyclists per day. Two weeks ago I stood watching cyclists pass for an hour. These are people who depend on the bike lane as a convenient way to get home safely.

Councillor John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West) introduced a motion at the recent Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to remove this exact bike lane—and he did so without notice, after hours of debate about cycling infrastructure, but not about Jarvis. This scenario perfectly illustrates a formula for shoving vulnerable people out of the process: ignore the numbers, and the people discussing them. Use the rhetoric of war to incite fear and intimidate people. Avoid any community consultation. And that female councillor whose ward you’re meddling in, with your mostly male executive committee? Don’t mind her.

Here’s another often-ignored element to this debate: cycling infrastructure is, among other things, a women’s issue.

I’ve been asked why I link my cycling advocacy to women’s issues—and at times I am hesitant to do so. But in the literature on safe streets, the number of women cycling is seen as an indicator of safety and convenience. Women take more short trips then men. They are more likely pick up children, run errands, or accompany elderly parents to appointments. In all these short trips women encounter the consequences of a transportation system that has been dominated by men for the past century. Every year 35 vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists) die on our roads, many more are injured. Congestion and air quality are significant problems. Something is broken with our transportation system, and catering to the private automobile is not the solution. I think about this every time I hear females explain (more often than men) that they would love to be riding a bike if only the streets were safer. When the committee tasked with implementing cycling infrastructure is composed of six men who get to make decisions without public consultation, I can’t help but be struck by the injustice to these women riding on Jarvis.

I proudly support the dedicated women who are are working to advocate for better conditions for cyclists and pedestrians. My mentor in safe streets advocacy, now director of the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation, Nancy Smith Lea, wrote about issues of inequity in public transportation ten years ago. Today a line from an article she wrote rings truer than ever. “Society, and in particular, women, have not been served well by the transportation tools and housing developments designed by men. Potentially powerful linkages to achieve social change exist between feminism and transportation.” [PDF]

I’m not naive. Cycling won’t solve all our problems, and cars aren’t going away. But if we have to fight like hell for each improvement in cycling infrastructure and are resisted or lied to at every step of the way, what hope do we have for any improvement that makes our city more livable? Streets need to safely accommodate all road users and provide safe, convenient places to travel for all members of our society.

More and more I find myself asking, how can we have productive conversations about the just and logical use of road space when even our own politicians see the people riding those bikes as disposable members of society? Doug Ford himself suggested that the alternative to taking an imaginary road was to knock off cyclists on Queen Street. I wrote him a letter about that and I’m still waiting to hear back.

I’ve got my arm out signalling my intention to move forward in a productive, solution-focused and evidence-based way. I’m signalling the way that many cities across the world are moving, and there are lots of Torontonians with me. We’ve got a tailwind fueled by a confluence of factors such as the obesity crisis, rising gas prices, concern over air quality, and most importantly, the joy that comes from the convenience of riding a bike. You can call me names, but you can’t ignore me.

Heather McDonald is an occupational therapist in the trauma unit of a downtown hospital by day. She moonlights as the president of the Toronto Cyclists Union.

There is a memorial for Jenna Morrison on Monday (tomorrow) at 7:30am starting Spadina and Bloor and ending at Sterling and Dundas.


It is true, women are not well served as cyclists in the city. The vast majority of cyclists in Toronto are men. In countries where there is proper cycling infrastructure, more women than men ride.

In the meantime, here is an article from the Toronto Star on November 10.

**Man charged in violent driver-cyclist incident

A man has turned himself in to police after a confrontation that led to a cyclist being struck by a car.

Police say a cyclist was travelling southbound on Ossington Ave., turning left onto Harbord St. on Wednesday morning when the incident occurred. A man driving a black Hyundai was behind her.

The driver passed the 35-year-old woman in the oncoming lanes as they both turned, sparking an argument.

Joey Porretta who works at the auto repair shop at the intersection said he heard the blare of a car horn and got to the front of his shop in time to see the cyclist kicking at the side of the black car.

“I just saw legs and arms flying,” he said.

The cyclist rode off and the car followed.

Further east on Harbord, near Grace St., police say the driver turned his car toward the woman, forcing her onto the sidewalk and driving alongside her. The woman was struck by the car and knocked off her bike. The driver fled.

The woman and her bike were near a small laneway behind a glass repair shop when police arrived. She suffered minor injuries.

“We see it all the time here,” said Porretta about run-ins between cyclists and drivers at the intersection.

Other locals agreed. They say these types of incidents are regular occurrences. Although no one’s been driven off the road in recent memory.

Matthew Nettleton, 38, turned himself in to police a few hours later. He is charged with failure to stop after an accident, dangerous operation and assault with a weapon.

The incident occurred just two days after 38-year-old cyclist Jenna Morrison was struck and killed by a truck at Dundas St. W. and Sterling Rd.

No charges have been laid against the driver in her death.

Getting harassed, intimidated and assaulted while cycling is not just some women's issue.

There would be many more cyclists if they weren't daily either getting harassed, intimidated and assaulted on our roads.

There are very good reasons why in The Netherlands women slightly outnumber men in cycle mode share. The proper protected infrastructure allows them to safely run all the errands that Heather lists.

My slogan for our cycle infrastructure: Let's Go Dutch!

Yes, it is not just a women's issue, but it is a woman's issue. Similarily, it is not just a class issue, but it is a social class issue.

Kevin Love

I don't want to go dutch though. Instead of a poorly fitting clog of a solution i'd like a unique Canadian one! Haha. ;)

As to cross-cultural comparisons i don't think it's so simple, but i know accommodating infrastructure will increase the number of cyclists.

I’m still learning from you, but I’m trying to reach my goals. I definitely love reading everything that is written on your blog.Keep the aarticles coming. I loved it!

We've got a similar situation here in Chicago. I'm one of relatively few women I know who will ride almost anywhere. When I ride on more difficult roads, the other cyclists I see are almost all men. While conditions are getting better, we still have a lot of roads where women don't feel safe riding with the existing traffic and road conditions.

Ah, yes, - tilting at the PWICs - and over the years absolutely there's a difference between the citizens and the suits ie. the women are often the concerned citizens and the PWIC (powerful whites in control?) tend to be male, and yes, the power dynamics extend to the streets where often women aren't so comfy playing in traffic with the cars, and like bike lanes, which we're now removing under Mayor F*.

And while there's hope, is there that much? The great commitment of the Fordkers to biking will soon be tested to see if there will be a council commitment to a $250,000 EA for c. 3kms of the touted separated bike lanes, and of course, the F*s tout how many millions they will be spending in paths in parks in suburban areas.

The more remote paths are inherently less safe for women, and I think it was an Arlene Mayers or some name like that who found that out the hard way in Ottawa a few years ago, and if that could be checked please? by someone? as it should perhaps be included into the Coroner's Review. And by spending millions in suburban paths for mostly recreational cyclists and avoiding doing much of anything for the many many urban commuters, that's a major diss of everyone. Even the focus on the separated bike lanes, as it will likely cost larger money vs. a linked network of paint, including Bloor bike lanes, means that the larger ticket items will be readily targetted for savings, and this may include the Richmond/Adelaide EA,.

And as with the hype around all the paths in parks, the hype and "green" bike-friendly cred of an EA, then project, may just remain that, though they'll likely do the $250,000 EA. And to put it all in some perspective, three of the four cycling fatalities along core Bloor since 1992 when it was first given the best-east-west designation by planners, they were younger women.

And for more perspective, it seems that a proper design of the intersection of a suggested bike route and a bike lane where Jenna Morrison was killed is possible with paint for less than the cost of the funeral in all likelihood.

Folks should be careful about what they ask for maybe, and think of basic and boring things like repairs and linkages in existing networks ahead of gold-plated Euro-style facilities that the current crop of F*s might well be using to keep us busy, hopeful, and outta committees.

Thanks for your well-stated position.

May I add:

Societal bias against cyclists is endemic. When Jenna M. was hit , the news reports
indicated she was hit by a truck. Trucks don't hit cyclists, they are inanimate. Careless truck drivers kill cyclists.

The media was already implicitly exonerating the driver.

Does our "justice system" care enough about the loss of Jenna's life to at least
interview the driver with a polygraph attached? On what basis are there no charges?

Why the hell is the Mathew Nettleton assault against the 35-year-old female cyclist not getting major news coverage during Anti-bullying Week?

Your position that female cyclists are being bullied is accurate. They experience double vulnerability. The driver of a machine weighing tons bullying the driver of a light weight bike
is compounded by the male bullying the female.

Please remain aware that male cyclists still get bullied by motorists, some of them female.

Painted lines are better than nothing, as they provide some "herd safety", but why not so-called "gold-plated" solutions as in the Netherlands and Denmark. Important to mention Denmark because they get serious snow, and there are places snowier still farther north in Scandinavian countries where bicycle lanes are cleared of snow. (At the copenhagenize.com blog there are photos of the little chenillettes (as we call them here, where they are used to clear sidewalks) clearing the bicycle paths.

Infrastructure and other pro-cycling initiatives, such as cycling lessons for all schoolchildren, do much to make cycling more "normal" and improve the gender split as well as making cycling an active, environmentally-friendly and pleasant transport mode used by people of all ages, and has been said here, all incomes.

We have more transport/commuting oriented bicycle paths here than is the case in Toronto (and all municipal parties are infinitely more pro-cycling and pro-cyclists) but there are still too many poorly-designed paths, even our star, La Piste Claire-Morissette on boulevard de Maisonneuve through the city centre is poorly designed. Not only does it run both ways on the same side of a one-way street, there is an area (le Quartier des spectacles) where it almost disappears (see Montrealize blog for illustrations of this). And progress has been far too slow on new paths (including one projected for my own street in Petite-Italie). Still, we can be proud in the increase of utilitarian cycling and a good gender split, and most cyclists dressed in "normal" street clothing, not "kit".

I am a cyclist but when I read that article I see a female cyclist kicking a car. Was she not the one creating the road rage situation by having kicked his car?
IF t hat is the case, then I am not suprised he wasnt charged nor did the media pick up the story. Cant have it both ways.

Without knowing the exact circumstances, it's hard to tell who did what to whom first. It's generally not a good idea even to touch someone's car if you are on a bike and there is a suggestion of conflict. However, that's not always easy to remember if you feel threatened, and remember that this guy forced her onto the sidewalk, knocking her off her bike.

He was in fact charged, as the article says, with failure to stop after an accident, dangerous operation and assault with a weapon'. Maybe you're thinking of the collision at Dundas and Sterling - no charges laid.

pennyfarthing ok frye