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If you build it, they will come.
And once they do, cycling will be a viable means of getting around in a city that each year grows more populated, congested and frustrating for drivers to navigate.
Toronto city council voted last week to make permanent the 2.4-kilometre stretch of cycling lanes along downtown Bloor St., a defining moment in the evolution of bikes as legitimate urban transportation.
It’s a vital step in the city’s plan to build a connected network of cycling lanes, but has met with resistance and hostility on the part of many drivers and even some city councillors who represent suburban wards.
So far, they don’t recognize the value of cycling and resent that their drive home might be a couple minutes slower because they’ll have to share the road with bikes.
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They believe roads are the exclusive domain of cars. If the bike lane next to them is not clogged with a wall of cyclists, they see wasted road space that should be filled with vehicles.
When the Queen Elizabeth Way and Gardiner Expressway were first built, the multi-lane highways were thought by some to be a boondoggle and a colossal waste of money.
Nobody is saying that now.
One day, it’ll be the same with cycling lanes. But until drivers accept that bikes are worthy of a portion of the road and are willing to share it, the friction will continue.
We do a lot more driving than bike riding and see the world through the eyes of a driver. We’re in as a big a hurry to get home as the next guy. When half of a four-lane street is annexed for bike lanes, it’s hard not to resent it.
But when we honestly consider how much it slows us down, we know it’s no more than a few minutes, at most.
As the cycling network and number of lanes protected from vehicular traffic expands, more people will be likelier to use them, particularly if they feel it provides a measure of safety from speeding cars and trucks.
As more people ride bikes instead of riding in vehicles, exhaust emissions will be reduced. People who ride bikes are less likely to need a doctor or a hospital — unless a driver mows them down.
It’ll be healthier for everyone and less expensive for taxpayers. Eventually, it could free up road space for vehicles.
As for the argument that bike lanes are useless in winter, how much snow have we had in the last 10 to 15 years? Toronto isn’t the winter wonderland it used to be. Even when it is, hardy cyclists are still willing to ride.
The bottom line is that the city’s 10-year plan to further expand and connect the network of cycling lanes is good for everyone, but the most formidable learning and acceptance curves will be for drivers.
It won’t be easy, but it’s the most practical and equitable way to reapportion road space that will only become more pressured as the city grows.
We suspect a lot of people will disagree, but is it reasonable to wish bicycles would just go away, particularly when they are legitimate transportation in so many other cities, even in northern climates?
If you think we’re pandering to leftist tree-huggers who decorate their bikes with plastic flowers and smiley-face decals, tell us. We want to hear your ideas for relieving traffic congestion, as long as it doesn’t involve building more roads where there’s no more room, or banning bikes.
But if you want to blow off steam and tell us we’re full of it, go ahead. We think you’re wrong, but we’ll publish the best and most outrageous of your comments in an upcoming column.
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