The demonization of cyclists and anti-bike culture war in Toronto reaches new low with Rosie DiManno column

CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter/ Sherbourne Street bike lane, full of lycra-clad screaming spoke people

More people in Toronto are cycling, not for sport or recreation but for transportation. Lots of people resent them being on the road; The mayor certainly does, and has said that cyclists have nobody to blame but themselves when they get killed. He also refuses to read the Toronto Star, since they keep suggesting that he is a crackhead. That's a shame, because he would have very much enjoyed Rosie Dimanno's recent column, where she calls cyclists "ped-aphiles" (cute) and says that "They have risen to No. 1 on my list of People Who Should Be Shot." Dimanno writes:

In its natural habitat — which I contend should not be any North American metropolis never designed for bicycle-right-of-way — the ped-aphile is a flat-bottomed creature with a stupid aerodynamic helmet (as if about to contest a pursuit race in the velodrome) and stupider Lycra shorts. Its distinctive mating call goes like this: GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY A--HOLE! It pays no mind to red lights and crosswalks, especially when in the employ of a courier service. It makes rolling stops at intersections. And it is hysterically confrontational with motorists.

Now a lot of cyclists who don't own any Lycra (like me) were outraged by this column. Many (like me) wrote to the Public Editor of the paper, something I have never done because as Managing Editor of TreeHugger, I know what it is like to be buried in complaints, it is not something I do lightly. I was not going to comment on Dimanno's column, until I read Kathy English's response, titled Columnists free to express outrageous opinions: Public Editor

"You’ve got to be kidding"

The Public Editor thinks we are too literal and are over-reacting.

The newsroom simply did not expect most readers would believe DiManno was actually inciting violence or hatred by referring to cyclists as the top of her personal list of “People Who Should Be Shot” or using clever word play to label cyclists “ped-aphiles.”

“We don’t share the concern that readers who dislike cyclists will believe as a result of reading this column that shooting or otherwise deliberately harming cyclists is OK and act on this belief, or that cyclists are comparable to criminals who molest children,” [managing editor] Davenport said.

The Public Editor, Kathy English, suggests " the phrase that any individual or group “should be shot” is a common figure of speech, not an incitement to violence."

But to be perfectly clear to the literal-minded: no one at the Star is actually suggesting anyone should actually be shot. I mean, really? You’ve got to be kidding.

Yet somehow I suspect that if Rosie said that Jews should be shot, or blacks should be shot, or for that matter, Rob Ford should be shot, the reaction would have been different.

"The overblown rhetoric of wishing cyclists to be shot serves only to further propagate the hyper-politicization of transportation issues."

Aaron Manton has written a wonderful letter to Rosie Dimanno and the Public Editor that looks at the Star's newsroom policies, but also makes some good points about what has happened to dialogue in this City.

Ultimately, the ‘War On The Car,’ the war between drivers and cyclists, and even DiManno’s self-proclaimed guerrilla warfare against anything that doesn’t walk, are all part of the same divisive politics that have been used to fragment this city and pit it against itself. Rob Ford’s demonization of cyclists and efforts to incite a culture war in Toronto for his own gain have led to cyclists’ and drivers’ identities and perceptions of each other being dangerously framed and mobilized against each other. Toronto is worse off for this.

Who would have thought that a Toronto Star calumny-ist (hey, we can play with words too) would become an enabler of this kind of talk. Or as Aaron puts it,

The overblown rhetoric of wishing cyclists to be shot serves only to further propagate the hyper-politicization of transportation issues. It promotes the same divisive culture which allows people like Rob Ford to dismantle the things we love about Toronto.

What would Joseph Atkinson think?

The Toronto Star is supposedly governed by the Atkinson Principles, which include:

We support proper city planning, the development of strong communities with vibrant local fabrics and the active involvement of citizens in civic affairs.

I wonder what Joseph Atkinson would think of Rosie, who says that "There is indeed a war afoot in the city", and attacks one of those communities so viciously. I don't think he would approve.

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