Dave Meslin makes a pitch on why Mayor Rob Ford may not be so anti-bike. Ford made headlines with his quotes about cyclists "swimming with the sharks" and in this video which was distributed before last fall's election, Ford is quoted as saying "Cyclists are a pain in the ass". Meslin's point is that if we had listened through the entire video (a rambling 7 minutes long) that we would have heard something more supportive coming from the mouth of the then-councillor.
Ford says “cyclists are putting their lives at risk every time they go on the road,” and his solution is both simple and practical: “We have to widen our sidewalks, split them basically in half, pedestrians on one side, closest to the stores, and the cyclists on the other side. It will work in this city.”
This might not be the right solution for every street, but the idea of physically separating cyclists from motor traffic, where possible, is a good one. It encourages more people to try cycling. The concept is not new, nor radical. It’s just common sense, and that’s why separated lanes are being used in cities all across the world, from Berlin to Manhattan to Montreal.
It’s easy to demonize and judge each other based on our worst moments and quotes. But upon closer inspection, Ford’s infamous anti-bike speech happens to contain one of the most supportive bike policy proposals ever put forward on the floor of city council. And during his campaign, Ford proposed “a comprehensive network of bicycle trails across the city to provide a safe, convenient ‘backbone’ for bicycle transportation across Toronto.”
This is just one example of how nothing is black and white at city hall, although it is often appealing to pretend otherwise. It’s much easier to break things down into bike vs. car, downtown vs. suburb, or left vs. right. But bicycle safety is not a left-wing issue, nor is it a downtown issue.
Cycling is a billion-dollar industry in Canada. More than 65 per cent of Toronto households have at least one bicycle and the fastest growth is actually in suburban areas. I grew up in suburban North York and rode my bike all the time on quiet streets, in parks and on the sidewalks of Bayview or York Mills. All my neighbours had bicycles, too. And while Don Cherry talks about “pinkos who ride bicycles,” anyone who has ever stepped into a suburban Canadian Tire knows bikes are as much a part of our culture as hockey.
Not all cycling advocates aren't buying Meslin's argument:
I've been known to be pretty critical of the mayor and his rhetoric, and I'm not going to really retract anything I said. I believe the mayor should take responsibility for making the streets more dangerous. Since the election I've had a feeling that cyclists have been on the receiving end of increased anger from motorists. Still, I will agree with Meslin that it isn't black and white. Ford has supported (off-road) bike paths where they don't increase (car) traffic congestions. I would never have imagined a right-wing councillor like Minnan-Wong come forward with a plan for a comprehensive separated bike lane network downtown and say things like this:
“My bike plan is a recognition of [the fact that] bikes exist. They’re here to stay. There have been too many accidents and we need to do something about that. I don’t believe that bike lanes should go on every single street. But I do believe they deserve a reasonable option.”
I don't have to agree with everything that Minnan-Wong is doing but in this bike plan I fully support him.