Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Embarrassingly Ignorant

Frank Touby of The Bulletin seems to think renegade freeloading cyclists aren't paying their share of the costs of bike lanes and that licensing of cyclists would somehow rectify the situation. Here is my response -

Dear Mr. Touby:

Driver’s licensing fees do not contribute to the cost of your streets. If anything those fees only make the management and administration of licensing revenue neutral. Do you think your insurance pays for your streets? Obviously, it doesn’t. Do you think parking fees pay for your streets? They don’t. You might logically think the tax you pay on fuel pays for your streets. It doesn’t. Road budgets come out of the larger pot of all of your taxes. So when you pay your property tax, rent (which includes the landlord’s property taxes), income tax or any HST, you’re paying for your streets. Even the kid buying a candy bar from her allowance is paying for your streets. If you did not know any of this about your streets, then I am embarrassed for your ignorance.

I say “your” streets because you seem to be mistaken in believing the streets of Toronto belong to you, a single driver in a single car. They do not. Streets existed long before the automobile and even today our streets are a shared resource for private, personal, commercial traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, rickshaws and even horses. A recent statistic has revealed of everyone traveling in the downtown core, 75% of people are moving by transit, walking, or cycling while only 25% are driving. A survey in New York City found that some 30% of people in their cars in the downtown were actually just looking for parking. Extrapolating to the Toronto statistic just noted, that would mean only about 17% of people driving in the core are really going anywhere, on your streets. By your logic that means 75% of people living and moving in the core are paying for 17% who take up an inordinate amount of room, cause noise, congestion and pollution but they are your streets after all because you pay for them. Except clearly, you don’t. The people really getting screwed here aren’t the pedestrians who walk across streets or the cyclists who take up so much room but the people on the TTC. Riders pay for about 85% of the cost of the TTC, not to mention their taxes also pay for the streets drivers, pedestrians and cyclists enjoy.

Knowing this, it is absurd to say that drivers pay for Toronto streets. Everyone pays for Toronto’s roadways, so it makes no sense to say drivers pay for bike lanes. In fact, the truth is transit riders, pedestrians and cyclists are paying for roadways that do not favour them. In fact, it would be more honest to say all Toronto residents are subsidizing the cost of roads for that 17% of people driving in the core. Given that Toronto has over 5000 Km of roadways but less than 100 Km of bike lanes the imbalance becomes even more apparent. It’s easy to see your confusion about bike lanes not being used. That’s simply optics. Cyclists do not take much room at all. When I commute via Sherbourne and Queens Quay I am joined by thousands of others. Traffic counts on Queens Quay, Richmond-Adelaide, Harbord and Bloor Streets have counted thousands of trips made by cyclists daily. When I’m at a stop light at King and Sherbourne I may count as many as a dozen cyclists at the intersection, a single street car, dozens of pedestrians and maybe 10 cars. But of all of those modes, which takes the most space on the roadway? The car. How many people are using each car? Typically one. Yet the bike lane looks empty. Whenever someone uses this red herring argument I look out on the vastness of streets around me and see empty roadways everywhere but instead of planting wheat or soya beans or trees, we’ve paved them in case a car comes by. The only roadway in Toronto that is always full of cars is the Gardiner Expressway. That’s okay though because cyclists and pedestrians are not allowed on that road. But wait, at a cost of over a billion dollars for the current East Gardiner reconstruction plan, I’m paying for a roadway I’m not even allowed on? That doesn’t sound fair.

Let’s not let fairness taint this discussion. Let’s talk about safety. I don’t ever recall a pedestrian or cyclist running into a car and killing the driver. It happens far too often the other way around though. That’s because the likelihood of a car weighing 1000 Kg made of steel, plastic, glass and rubber moving faster than 30 Km killing someone is really high. Thus, we have to ensure people who operate such vehicles know how to avoid bumping into people who are not in protective bubbles of steel, glass, plastic and rubber. You don’t even to have to be on the street to get hit by a car. Three incidents this year in Toronto have involved cars accelerating off the road and onto the sidewalk or even into a building. Imagine getting killed by a car when you were in a dance studio. People walking or riding a bicycle find it difficult to smash through windows and walls to collide with occupants inside.

I’ve lived in Toronto for almost two decades and for last five years I’ve gone without a car. That means I have personally made more space on our streets. By not owning a car, I’ve personally freed up at least 8 parking spots (by some estimates, that’s the average number of spots available for each car). By riding a bike, I’ve given up my seat on the bus, street car or subway for someone unable to ride a bike or drive a car. I ride roughly 2000 Km per year saving approximately 340 kg of carbon dioxide from Toronto’s air. Multiple that by five years and I have personally prevented over a metric ton of CO2 from entering our air. By that metric, I, along with thousands of other cyclists in the city act as the carbon offset for every driver in the city. Some cities and businesses have proposed paying 25¢/Km to cyclists as an incentive to commute by bicycle. At this point, I could argue that not only do drivers get to drive on my streets that I pay for, they should actually pay me to offset their carbon production.

City staff have looked at licensing cyclists in the past and both city officials and the Toronto Police have determined that at any reasonable rate it would simply cost too much and be too impractical to implement. Of course, if you had bothered to look that up you would have found this.

As to cyclists who break the law, it is true. Some cyclists are terrible offenders of going through red lights, riding on sidewalks or failing to signal. To be honest, once or twice I’ve seen pedestrians crossing mid-block and every morning at every intersection I see drivers going through red lights, not signalling when they turn, making illegal u-turns and turning without stopping at stop signs. I’m sorry if I ring my bell to let you know I’m there. I’m surprised you would have even heard it. Did it startle you? I hope it did. That’s the point of a bell, which I am legally obliged to have on my bike (see, there are laws cyclists have to follow that don’t require licensing). Sometimes (well, a lot of times actually) drivers use their horns to announce their presence and displeasure too and the average 90 Db car horn is a lot louder and more intimidating than an irritating and apparently righteous-sounding bicycle bell. If you’d prefer I will equip my bicycle with a car horn, which I assume is more to your liking.

Now, if you like the streets that you drive on, and it sounds like you do, you can thank pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, other drivers and even mounted police officers who all pay for those streets. By the way, if you like paved roads you can thank cyclists for that too. You see, bicycles have been around longer than cars and the “Good Roads Movement” of the 1870s was advocated by, you’re not going to like this, bicyclists. So the next time you’re enjoying driving, thank a cyclist and don’t forget to thank that little girl buying a candy bar because we all paid for our roads that you drive on.