Toronto Bike Tragedy "The Story None Of Us Can Stop Talking About"


CBC

It really is extraordinary to see protesting cyclists taking up half the front page (the biggest picture I can remember since 9/11) of "Canada's national newspaper", the Globe and Mail. While a thousand cyclists close down one of the City's main streets, others are questioning the actions of the police in letting Darcy Alan Sheppard out on the road after they picked him up an hour before the altercation that cost him his life; (Background here) their flip and unsatisfactory answer: "We're Toronto Police, not Toronto Taxi."

Some of the dispatches from "The War of the Wheels":

Judith Timson in the Globe suggests that

Beneath the facts of the Bryant case lies a bubbling cauldron of social resentments, mistrust of authority and other prejudices.


Globe and Mail

She notes that many think that Bryant will get off easy, since everybody in the entire judicial system worked for him when he was Attorney General.

Listen, they could resurrect Gandhi to specially prosecute this case, but if the former attorney-general prevails in his declaration of innocence, a sizable number of citizens will believe that the case was rigged from the moment Mr. Bryant was allowed to emerge from a night in custody to face the cameras, not unshaven and rumpled like most people, but impeccably turned out in a sharp suit and shirt and tie.

More in the Globe and Mail

In the aftermath, other thoughtful writers have looked at "the war of the wheels" in the context of planning, urban issues and politics. Marcus Gee, a year-round cyclist, asks why we can't just get along.

In Toronto the cyclists call for more bike paths, more sanctions on negligent drivers, a Toronto made safe and secure for what they consider a superior mode of transport. The motorists want an end to the so-called War on the Car, an imaginary conspiracy by bike-loving city officials.

Neither side is going to get its way. There are no winners in this war. The idea that Toronto can be transformed into a kind of Scandinavian paradise for cyclists - Copenhagen by the lake - is a fantasy.

He thinks that it comes down to civility.

If that sounds naive or idealistic - why can't we all just get along? - then let's remember that a city is an idealistic enterprise. Millions of people with different backgrounds, jobs, temperaments and modes of transport are thrown together in a crowded space. To survive, they need common rules, a code of etiquette, a sense of tolerance.

That is what we are lacking in the fraught interaction between two wheels and four. Though they travel side by side, cyclists and motorists seem to inhabit separate, hostile, uncomprehending worlds. In city streets, they almost literally bump up against each other. Somehow, we have learn to bump along together.

More in the Globe and Mail: Wake up, cyclists: Canada is no bike-lane utopia

I don't think so, Marcus, because somehow when they bump against each other the guy on the bike always gets the short end of the stick. Chris Hume, the Architecture critic for the Star, is not so polite and accommodating.

But for the time being, Torontonians unquestioningly accept the supremacy of the automobile. Drivers remain convinced they "own" the streets.

That's what must change. Roads, and the rest of the public realm, belong to everyone.

Car advocates and safety tyrants argue that the rest of us must be kept off the streets for our own good. Isn't that just another way of punishing victims?

That the public is ahead of politicians on these issues is borne out by the growing number of cyclists on Toronto streets. The city's response is to have squandered the past 30 years, decades when it could have rebuilt the infrastructure, especially the transportation infrastructure, intelligently, sustainably and humanely.

Instead, we cling to illusions about who we are and the inviolability of our way of life. As events this week have made horribly clear, however, that way of life is increasingly becoming a way of death.

Yvonne Bambrick is head of the Toronto Cyclists Union, and has done over 40 interviews since the accident. Given her role, she is surprisingly temperate in an article on the CBC:

Given the present state of our roads, where all forms of motorized and non-motorized vehicles are forced by design to fight for the same space, along with the attitude shared by many drivers that bikes don't belong and are a nuisance to be 'tolerated', an individual cyclist can only do so much to be safe on the road.

Lights at night, a helmet for those who opt to wear one (they are only mandatory for those under 18), verbal and non-verbal communication to signal your intentions. Cyclists are ultimately, however, due to their size, weight and substance, at the mercy of the larger vehicles around them - drivers must realize how much of a power balance they have, and act accordingly to respect the right to safe passage that cyclists deserve.

The inclusion of the needs of cyclists in our urban planning as we move forward, and the implementation of cycling infrastructure are keys to dealing with this challenge. Changes in an environment produce real and tangible changes in the mindset and behaviours of the people in that environment.


More at the CBC

National Post

Peter Kuitenbrouwer, another cyclist/ journalist writes about a cyclist's cry at the memorial for Sheppard:

But that guttural scream of the courier was not just about the Sheppard tragedy. That scream vocalizes the pent-up aggression of a huge cross-section of Toronto residents, from children to seniors, from Rosedale to Parkdale, who take their lives in their hands every day simply because they choose a method of transportation that has been around a lot longer than the automobile, thank you very much. We are cyclists.

More in the National Post

For the last few years, every time they try to put a bike lane in this city, the anti forces call it a "War on Cars" But as Shelley Fralic wrote in the Vancouver Sun last month, It's not about cyclists vs. motorists, it's the old urban/suburban divide. Whether or not Michael Bryant gets off or not, his political life is probably over. Those politicians who rant about the extra two minutes a bike lane will cost them in their commute downtown should think about the fact that it could have just as easily been them in this mess.

See also:
Former Attorney General in Cyclist/Driver "Altercation"
Update on Toronto Cyclist's Death : It Gets Complicated

Tags: Toronto