Monday, June 13, 2011

Manners, please.

Emily Post is rolling in her grave.

If she saw the state of bike/car relations in this city, well, she'd just (politely) freak out.

On my way to work the other day, I had an epiphany and, to save time, wrote a whole blog about it in my head while biking. I planned to put my head-blog to paper (err...) once I arrived at work. Coincidentally, someone else had the very same idea and beat me to the punch.

No matter. It saves me a lot of angry/passionate typing AND I'm sure grateful to have someone on my side. Miss Emma Woolley wrote this open letter to fellow cyclists and I recommend reading it. 

So my epiphany was this: my bike rage has increased to fire-y levels since cycling became my preferred mode of city transport 5 years ago. Every year I became angrier. And my rage was always directed at motorists. A natural enemy, right? Occasionally it was shot at the wishy-washy attempts of City Councilor Adam Vaughan (and City Hall in general) to improve bike-ability through our neighbourhood and the rest of city. But not until this revelation of a ride, did I discover how really misplaced my frustration had become. 

The cyclists vs. motorists vs. pedestrians war was one I fought naturally on the side of fellow cyclists (rights for bikes!) but I am defecting. I'm AWOL from this war. I realized three things:

1. This is not a clear cut "us vs. them" scenario - there are good people on all sides. And there are assholes. (This is similar to my thoughts about the G20... and, frankly, most wars.)

2. While I am mostly a cyclist (if I'm forced to be defined by my chosen mode of transport) I am also sometimes a pedestrian and occasionally a motorist. I'm not picking sides anymore.

...and lastly and most shockingly...

3. The worst culprits of all are cyclists.

There, I said it. My fellow cyclists are the most entitled and least accommodating in the dicey traffic dance. I am ashamed. More bike-goers than not assume 100% right of way, won't even so much as slow down at stop signs, and are generally non-courteous and unsafe. They give a bad name to the rest of us (just like a handful of jerk-offs do to all drivers). Thanks guys.

This isn't about laws or by-laws though. I'm a rule bender, but I believe in respect and kindness and etiquette. Ms. Post, I'm fighting the good fight! 

I was engaged in a 2-day Twitter debate with @bikeTO about the issue of courtesy and how it could go a long way to improve our streets. @bikeTO vehemently disagreed with me arguing that the only way to make streets bike-friendly is via an elaborate overhaul of the cycling infrastructure (the addition of separated bike lanes, etc). Well, wouldn't that be nice! I like dreaming too. Sometimes I'm a triple-threat Broadway diva. While Denzil Minnan-Wong is fighting for this issue (and is seemingly getting the right support for it) realistically, the plan is only a fraction of what needs to be done. Angrily pointing fingers at City Hall just isn't solving anything.

In the meantime, until roads are completely road friendly, we can be a little more friendly ourselves. My M.O. for this summer is paying forward courtesy and set a better example for my fellow cyclists. 

(In a later fully-validating moment, Joe from the unaffiliated @bikingtoronto tweeted wildly about the merits of bike courtesy.)

So, to my biking-class brethren, please hear the following: Making full stops at every stop sign is ridiculous, but slowing down, checking and giving the right-of-way where it's deserved is just common sense. Also, I get that sometimes you just gotta hop up onto the sidewalk for a block, or ride the wrong way on a one-way just to connect two safe routes. Really, I get it. But stop acting like you deserve to be there. You don't. You're borrowing that space from pedestrians and cars going the right way. I don't care if you wear a helmet or not, just stop doing things that might get your head smashed in. Or mine. Be aware, be patient, be accommodating. Oh, and read Emma's letter because I'm just gonna be redundant here.

@bikeTO sent me this video to "prove" that well-designed streets make for safer roads. While watching this video, though, I couldn't help but notice that caution and courtesy really made the design work:

Maybe the Dutch are just nicer people? Do you think this could really work in Toronto?

This video, shot at an intersection in NYC really hit home for me - while general lack of care or concern for others is happening all over the place, the dangerous entitlement of cyclists is a huge problem. It's very frustrating to watch:

The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man.  Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish.  Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.  -Iris Murdoch

(Oh Iris, I wish.)

[ that's my girl. she gets me around. ]


  1. Not everyone on a bike is a jerk. Most of us are considerate, even if we disobey the odd law:

    I also think everyone needs to relax a little. Don't you find it sad that a cyclist who doesn't have "manners" makes another cyclist seethe? I really don't understand how we can go through life being so angry. I think deep down, this anger that you are talking about is the same deep-rooted anger that motorists have too - towards each other, towards cyclists, towards pedestrians. Everyone on our streets is angry. It's pretty sad, and if cyclists obeyed every law known to mankind, it wouldn't change the fact that people are angry unfortunately.

    We really need some self reflection to really understand why everyone is so angry at each other. Riding a bicycle in China is so easy and comfortable compared to Canada, because they don't have road rage and resentment towards each other. And traffic signals only apply to motor vehicles over there (perhaps not legally, but in reality a cyclist won't wait at a red if there is nobody in the way).

    Anyway, my view is that everyone should relax a bit and be considerate of other road users (regardless of whether you are following the law in all cases or not)

  2. Great post! I really like the contrasting videos though I had seen the NYC one before. I think part of the issue with no traffic lights, stop signs, etc is volume of traffic as well as, as you point out, a culture of civility. That said I would really support and be interested in seeing how something like that could work here with one or more pilot projects, maybe starting in some smaller communities in Ontario and working their way up. Or say at a larger intersection in Toronto that has good visibility and not a huge amount of traffic. I can't see it working at say, Dundas & Yonge! I wonder if it has ever been tried here?

  3. I was thinking about this the other day after the 4th time in one week I was almost hit by a car. I decided when I am a cyclist I hate motorists and pedestrians. When I am a pedestrian I hate motorists and cyclists and, yes you can figure out the third one: when I am a motorist I hate cyclists and pedestrians. I guess I carry that sense of entitlement around with me no matter what form of transportation I am sporting.
    The Dutch are NOT nicer people, they just happen to have been given bike lanes that are larger/wider than most car lanes. In the Netherlands, the only way you could hit a cyclist with your car is if you were steering with your chin.