In 1979 on the Dick Cavett TV show, the author Mary McCarthy described the writing of another author, Lillian Hellman, in one of the most famous insults in history: "every word [Hellman] writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'." That was on my mind when I was deciding whether there was a post in discussing an anti-bike rant by columnist Jim Kenzie in the Toronto Star. After all, this guy thinks electric cars are a fraud and that the VW scandal is a tempest in a teapot (“Environmentally speaking, it is a raindrop in the ocean”). Why give him the pixels?
But I subscribe to this paper, and there was so much wrong, so many inaccuracies, so many outright lies in this article of Kenzie’s that I thought something should be said. It’s all about Toronto’s Mayor, John Tory, saying nice things about bikes, that “cycling is '...the way of the future' for Toronto.”
So let's count them:
If Mayor Tory would maybe drive the Gardiner or the 401 during “rush hour,” which these days is pretty much any time between midnight and 11:59 p.m., he would see approximately zero bicycles.Actually, that’s because bikes are not allowed on the Gardiner or the 401, it’s illegal, they are controlled access highways.
Actually, it was the Guardian, not the Telegraph.
According to a recent article in The Telegraph of London, Eng., Hwy 401 is currently the busiest highway in the world.
Actually, it’s not. In Beijing they carry seven times as many cars on their highways in one day. They just had the good sense not to put all their eggs in one basket and instead break it up. I have been on those Beijing highways and the 401 is a country road by comparison. And what is the point? What does this have to do with bikes?
In. The. WORLD.
Okay, so maybe we shouldn't have built our city the way we did.
But we did.
Sure, we should have built more subways and rapid transit lines.
But we didn't.
And we should build more — even if now we can barely afford the cost.
But to think that bicycles are ever going to be anything but a minuscule percentage of our daily vehicular traffic is to live in a Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland fantasy.
So we made some mistakes. So we should double down instead of trying to fix them?
The argument that your city is not like Amsterdam is invalid. Neither was Amsterdam; it took long, radical effort pic.twitter.com/5At4rHLHro— Cycling Professor (@fietsprofessor) May 26, 2015
In the Netherlands after the oil crisis in 1974 they realized that they hadn't built what they should have, so they decided to invest in cycling infrastructure and it went from ten percent cycling to almost forty percent. It is not a Wonderland fantasy.
Sure, we have had a milder winter than usual. Still, how many cyclists did you see pedalling up the Avenue Road hill toward St. Clair the day after Valentine's Day, when the temperature was about minus 30 on the wind-chill scale?
Not only does Avenue Road have the stupidest street name in the City, It is a stupid place to bike and nobody does it even in nice weather. The Avenue Road hill is six lanes wide and the steepest in Toronto, steep enough that when I have to take it, I push my bike up the sidewalk. I have suggested that the city install a Trondheim lift there but am not getting much support for that one, because there are lots of alternative routes. And that was the coldest day of the winter.
But given Toronto's weather, its landscape — we are a city of ravines — and its spread-out nature, cycling will never, ever, be an option for the vast majority of commuters.
Who says cycling has to be an option for the vast majority? what if we went from 5 percent to 25 percent? Even Amsterdam is only 38 percent. How many people could decent bike infrastructure take out of cars and out of transit, making more room on the road for Jim Kenzie and everyone else who feels they have to drive? Even in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, the world's top cycling cities, it is still the minority. People who feel they have to drive still can. But every single person taken out of a car or even off the bus saves the taxpayer major dollars.
I really don't have all that much against building a better cycling infrastructure for the valiant handful who want to ride their bikes. Other than that it is probably a gross misappropriation of scarce taxpayer dollars dedicated to a tiny — if, admittedly — very vocal minority.
Actually, let’s talk about gross misappropriation. Who you calling gross? Toronto is spending north of a billion dollars to save an elevated expressway that saves a few thousand drivers a few minutes in their commute. Forgive the scrolling, but have a look at how much bang for the buck you get out of bike infrastructure by comparison, in this San Francisco example:
I don’t know why I have spent all this time writing this, I am not going to change Jim Kenzie’s mind. And I don’t agree with Biking Toronto doing the “old man shouts at clouds” response, this is not about age, it is about mindset. I am probably as old as Kenzie but find that slogging around Toronto on my bike keeps me young.
And maybe Mary McCarthy’s insult is too strong; perhaps very word isn’t a lie here, it’s just stupid, wrong, and an embarrassment to both him and the Toronto Star that published it.