A Cyclist’s Defense of Car Lanes

Posted on July 21, 2011

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I am not a driver. I have a license, and I occasionally drive the family car when I’m staying at home, but the personal automobile is not my preferred way to get around. I find it frustrating and stressful. Driving means taking my life into my hands as I control a one ton machine while it hurtles down a road with hundreds of similar machines, all of which are operated by drivers who may be texting, applying makeup, or yelling at children in the back seat. If you swim with the sharks, to put it in the words of Toronto’s mayor, you’re eventually going to get bitten.

I prefer to use a bicycle to get around, but I nevertheless respect drivers. While I think that the number of cars on the road needs to be decreased if we’re going to do anything about such problems as smog, pollution and climate change, I can’r reasonably hold every individual driver responsible for all those problems. I don’t begrudge motorists their right to safely reach their destinations in a reasonable amount of time.

It is for this reason that I am deeply concerned by Toronto City Council’s decision to remove the designated car lanes on Jarvis Street, Pharmacy Avenue and Birchmount Road. I realize that the car lanes on these streets were controversial to begin with, but I think they have been shown to be quite effective. While the superior speed of an automobile may seem to give it a significant advantage over a bicycle, it is important to note that a motorist can only take proper advantage of their higher top speed if they have adequate space on the road. While many cyclists, myself included, are willing to move over to the far right of the lane in order to accommodate this disadvantage and let drivers pass us, it is not always possible to share a lane with a car. The law, in fact, requires cyclists to ride one meter out into the lane, meaning that those who choose instead to drive to work will be stuck behind us. The designated car lanes were a sensible solution to this problem. While they took some space away from cyclists, they allowed motorists to have their own space on the road where the extra bulk of their vehicle would be less of a handicap. The simple act of separating the road between cyclists and motorists did a lot for the convenience and safety of everybody involved.

Unfortunately, a short-sighted city council has voted to roll back this progressive solution to the congestion problem by removing the car lanes on Jarvis, Pharmacy and Birchmount. The only planned compromise is the eventual construction of a physically separated car lane on Sherbourne. This costly and counterproductive move will not remove cars from the road. Instead, it will mean that cars move back into the lane with cyclists, with the two groups once again forced to share the same lane. This makes no sense. By re-integrating downtown traffic, Mayor Ford and his allies on council are subjecting motorists to delays as their cars are forced into situations where they do not have the space to move at maximum speed and efficiency.

This is not fair to drivers. While I am not a driver myself, I stand in solidarity with those who depend on private automobiles for their daily travel needs. It is silly to force motorists to drive in the main traffic lane where they will be constantly blocked by cyclists like myself. While cyclists were the primary motivating force that brought paved roads to Canadian cities, the subsequent popularity of the automobile has meant that considerate cyclists should be willing to share those roads. The best way to do this is to create separate, large lanes for automobile traffic. I hope that council changes their minds, and reconsiders the war it has declared on the car.

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