It's a rule of the road: When it is easy to drive, people drive.

empty bikelane
© Carlton Reid/ empty bike lane under roundabout in Stevenage, UK

But when it is slow and inconvenient to drive, even cranky right wing columnists turn to bikes.

Where I live in Toronto, every bike lane is another battle in the War On The Car. According to Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy, it’s all the fault of “complete streets” (leftist speak for utter chaos) and…

Bad planning courtesy of the outgoing chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, and her like-minded leftists who refuse to acknowledge that the car is here to stay, no matter how inconvenient they make the drive.

But Sue-Ann has a clever solution to get back at all those leftie planners:

The traffic has been so horrendous this summer, it has driven me to regularly ride my bike to work.

In this, Sue-Ann describes what is a fundamental truth: When driving gets inconvenient, people get on bikes, even the Sue-Ann Levys of the world. It is the appropriate response. And once there are people on bikes, the appropriate thing to do is give them a bit of safe space to ride in, like bike lanes.

Stevenage© Ladybird’s Story of the Bicycle of 1975 praised Stevenage’s cycleways.

An interesting counterpoint was published the next day in the Guardian by Carlton Reid, author of Bike Boom (reviewed here). Reid has a corollary fundamental truth: Where it’s easy to bike and drive, Brits and Americans [and Canadians] drive.

Reid proves his point with a look at the post-war new town of Stevenage, which was built with wonderful separated bike infrastructure, which nobody uses. “Squint, and – where the infrastructure is intact, under the free-flowing roundabouts, for instance – you could be in the Netherlands. Except there are very few people on bikes.“ Eric Claxton, the planner who designed it, was appalled at how it turned out.

There are safe cycle routes from homes to schools, but today only a tiny proportion of Stevenage’s children cycle each day. Many are ferried to school by car, a situation that Claxton abhorred: “It is pathetic to see the way some parents bring their child to school by car and later park in the street near to the school to give them a ride home.”… Despite all the best efforts of a chief designer with empathy for would-be cyclists, “build it and they will come” failed for people on bikes in Stevenage but worked for people in cars.


Sue-Ann Levy is not alone in her complaining about bike lanes slowing down cars; there is a campaign in the east end of Toronto to remove a bike lane on Woodbine Avenue that isn’t even completed yet. According to a petition that is circulating,

Traffic has increased since they've opened. We see many cars diverting to residential side streets in order to find quicker routes. These routes are travelled by children walking to school and the increased traffic will make it less safe for them to walk home.

And don’t forget that bike lanes cause pollution! “The idling cars in traffic result in exhaust being expelled right in front of residential houses on a daily basis.”

It’s hard to for a planner to know what to do (unless you are Toronto’s Jennifer Keesmaat, and she up and quit.) As Carlton Reid points out, you can’t really get people onto bikes unless you make it harder to get into cars.

Cities without high cycle usage, but which want to gain the benefits that such usage brings individually and collectively, would need to restrict usage of cars… Sadly, such measures are known collectively, by media and politicians, as the “war on the motorist,” and in our short-termist political cycles it’s incredibly difficult to do anything that interferes with the sacrosanct Great Car Economy.

Back in Toronto, the mayor is as as short-termist a politician as you can get, and 2018 is an election year. The War On The Car types will probably be very happy and see the bike lanes torn out. Because there are more of them.

Tags: Bike-Friendly World | Bikes | Biking | Toronto

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