After reading more than 60 news articles in various news media (including one from Florida!), most of them inflamed with fierce language of war on the car, I was getting myself ready for anything that motorists would say to me in preparation for yesterday's Open House to discuss the extension of bike lanes on Rathburn Rd in Etobicoke, Toronto.
When I arrived, City staff were prepared to deal with the heavy questions of traffic studies, changes in average speed and traffic volumes, incursion, diversion, and other traffic concerns. I was prepared to defend the value of the investment in cycling infrastructure, and of these bike lanes in particular, and even to defend the whole bike plan.
I was the last of the public to arrive. 10 people had come and gone long before me. They were all supportive of the extension of the bike lanes on Rathburn. No objections, no second thoughts, no negotiations. Just a simple, "Oh! That's what you're doing. OK then, go ahead. That makes sense."
Why had staff and I come so well prepared? Because at last week's meeting for bike lanes on The Westway (also in Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby's ward) there was severe opposition. A few of the people there had said they'd be warned that the "Bike lobby" was coming. And they were prepared. When they saw me coming they pointed their accusatory fingers at me and shouted "You! You're the 'Bike Lobby!'"
Yeah, that's me. I'm the "Bike Lobby" I've been found out. I'm the man behind the curtain. Now we can all tell Sue Ann Levy on whom we can lay all the blame for all of the madness at Silly Hall. It's all me. I'm the one that fills council chambers and committee rooms at city hall with cyclists all day long, and on week days. That's me. TCAT and Bike Union, sorry, but I've replaced you because I'm the "Bike Lobby" now. Angry residents at the meeting said so.
(Speaking of which, the next Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting is June 3rd at 9:30am in Committee Room 1. There are two important items on the agenda about bikes. The first item is about all of the bike lanes proposed so far this year, including the ones I'm discussing in this post. The second item is about changing the scope/focus/direction of the Bike Plan, including a proposal to hire external consultants to study Bike Lanes on Bloor into a coma, if not death.)
It was no surprise that the angry objectors largely took over the meeting last week, and used every irrational argument they could against the bike lanes; from increasing pollution, decreasing safety, and even having this imposed on their community without notice (the city's bike plan is how old now? The Westway was part of the plan from the start.), even raging against Mayor Millers "agenda." They also were railing against the bikes because it is too far to cycle to downtown as a regular commute; or because cycling is something "foreign" that only makes sense in the downtown and not in the suburbs; about cycling being only a seasonal pastime; and even about the costs of adding the bike lanes (they really seemed to be grasping at straws). A few of the attendees had legitimate concerns about parking; school drop off zones; conflicts from turning movements; lengths of left turn lanes; and the ability of the road to handle peak traffic demands. Staff were doing their best to explain the how they anticipated this, and how their design addressed or accommodated these concern to the best of their ability.
However, staff also had to bear some of the anger that filled the room. Their job is to answer questions about the plans and it's impacts; not to be verbally attacked for doing the job that "we" hired them to do. I felt bad for staff, and tried my best to offer myself as their target for this anger instead. After-all, I'm the "Bike Lobby."
I hate to say it, but I'm starting to find this anger amusing, and somewhat entertaining. I've long since learned to not take the yelling irrationally at me personally. So I didn't much mind being the target for this anger for evening. Besides, I'm the "Bike Lobby."
One of the people there even threatened to fight me "all the way to city hall." But as I'm the "Bike Lobby", whose power and influence in City Hall grows daily, I don't have to take his threat too seriously.
After all was said and done, about 30 people showed up for The Westway meeting last week. Roughly 10 people were in support, 15 people strongly opposed, the remaining five were indifferent or came by only to find out more about the plans.
So why the strong difference in opinion between the two meetings? I think that because Rathburn already had a segment of bike lane, and that the world didn't end when these were installed, it only makes sense to extend these bike lanes. Whereas for The Westway, the bike lanes are a novel and scary experience for these people, and I think that they were largely just having a knee jerk reaction against the unknown.
Monday is the last public house of this series. In Councillor Peter Milczyn's ward we'll be talking about putting bike lanes on The West Mall and -- get this -- Bloor Street! I'll be there. But I have to be -- because I'm the "Bike Lobby." Perhaps you'll be able to make it as well? I also enjoy talking to other cyclists, not just angry people who want to shout at me because I'm the "Bike Lobby."
I suspect that Monday's meeting will find at least some opposition, and again, largely because bike lanes are not yet known in the neighborhood, and it's the unknown simply scares people. The media may also fuel some tempers, or else add to people fears. The irrationality expressed could be quite entertaining. But I've been wrong before.