Thursday, June 11, 2009

I've got the Toronto Cycling Blues

It takes only a visit to the bike-friendly parts of Europe to realize that Toronto's cycling infrastructure sucks eggs. Rolling into Amsterdam on the train, I looked out my window and could not believe what I saw. There were literally thousands of bicycles parked at the train station. So numerous were the bikes, that platforms for bike parking had been constructed to accommodate them all.

Throughout the city, bikes are everywhere, taking up all of the available parking spots. In fact, with so many bikes, there are not enough places to lock the bikes, so people have resorted to locking the wheel to the frame and then propping the bike on its kickstand or leaning it against a wall. Many bike parking shelters lack any secure object that one could use to lock the bike.

The most amazing thing is the network of bike lanes, complete with traffic signals just for bikes! There are pedestrian signals, car signals and bike signals. And, what's more impressive is that these bikes lanes are generally separated from traffic. Amsterdam is a bike paradise.

Other things I noticed:

- no one wears helmets
- most of the bikes are old-school, with few or no gears and ancient brakes
- no bike cops to be seen anywhere
- people talk on cell phones and text message while riding or driving scooters
- they pile as many people on bikes or scooters as possible

Really, we saw lots of people doubling (which I think is illegal here). I saw entire families on one scooter. We saw a woman carrying a baby in a sling on a scooter with two other kids on the back. There are bikes with huge wooden "wheelbarrows" at the front where you can drop several kids or a family of four. People are adept at riding bikes, and the only thing I saw that might have one-upped anything we saw in Amsterdam was a man in Geneva who was cycling while picking his nose. Now that probably requires a great deal of concentration.

Back in TO, I felt really nervous getting back on my bike, despite having been a year-round cyclist for years. It seems wrong to put bikes on the road with huge cars and trucks. On the second day of riding after my return, some idiot is a yellow car turned right without shoulder-checking and almost took me out. He should have to re-sit his road-test to remind him that mirrors are not enough, especially while driving on a road with a bike lane clearly marked in white paint.

Toronto languishes in the dark ages of cycling, while Europe is living the dream. This sucks and it really pisses me off.


Alex said...

I want a scooter really bad, but I don't think that would work out very well here in Alaska.

zydeco fish said...

Yeah, probably not. I think I want to live in a place with no snow and get a Harley.

Maia said...

A friend of mine cites research from Europe saying that car drivers are less aggressive around cyclists who do not wear helmets. I think she made it up, but whatever.

I think what is more to the point is that drivers in Europe are simply more aware of cyclists...

If only we could get to that point here in Canada.