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A new path to peace needed for cars, cyclists

The Toronto Star: Porter: A new path to peace needed for cars, cyclists

By Catherine Porter
Columnist
Published On Sat Oct 31 2009

"Fellow Commuter,

You have received this card because you have done something Wonderful.

It is not easy for cyclists in Fall & Winter. With the limited daylight and slick road surfaces, courteous drivers are more important than ever.

So for checking over your shoulder and giving cyclists some space, thank you.

The city works better when we all work together".

– From your friends at the Toronto Cyclists Union.

 

A stack of these has been poking out of my backpack for a week now.

I haven’t given out a single one.

I almost did, to a guy in a powder blue sports car who had stopped on Yonge St. while I passed. Then the light turned red and he drove through it.

Turns out he had been working his BlackBerry.

The cards are the Toronto Cyclists Union’s make-up notes to drivers – its way of reaching across the bed to rub a cold shoulder. The blow-up being the tragic encounter between Michael Bryant and Darcy Allan Sheppard and its aftermath.

Thank you for not killing me. Thank you for not maiming me. That’s what I think the cards should say.

"It’s the butter-side-down toast thing," says Ryan Thomas, the graphic designer who whipped up the cards and is handing them out to drivers like Halloween candy. "We don’t remember the million positive things that happen when we ride. We fixate on the terrible ones."

A handful of cyclists have come to a rainy downtown corner for the campaign’s kickoff – a student, a retired hospital worker, an architect and two oil stock salesmen in leather jackets.

They all think it’s a great idea. Maybe I’m being closed-minded.

The next morning, I kiss my kids goodbye and push my 15-year-old clunker past the family car, which sleeps by the curb most weekdays.

It takes less than a minute for my first heart-seizing encounter with a driver who’s whizzed past a stop sign and confronted my terror-stricken eyes though the windshield. I swerve out of the way. Thank God there isn’t a car right behind me.

You think cyclists break the law? When was the last time you jaywalked or drove the speed limit along Mortimer Rd.? We all bend the rules. The problem is, most of us are driving. The rest of us don’t carry airbags.

My wheels crunch over leaves as I enter the sanctuary of a residential street. But it’s not safe here either. A cement truck driver swings open his door as I pass. This is what cyclists ironically call the door prize. It’s among the top three causes of what police term "cyclist-involved collisions." So far this year, 951 have been reported.

The vast majority are caused by drivers, says Dr. Chris Cavacuiti, a family doctor-turned-cycling advocate after a dump truck smashed him off his bike three years ago. He spent his recovery reading cycling reports.

A hill rises and I rise too, out of the saddle, legs pumping, heart pounding. I am spit out onto Coxwell Ave. and back into the thick of traffic.

Here’s my take on the car-bicycle war in this city. There is no war. Everyone outside a car hates everyone inside one. And every driver hates everyone outside – bikes, pedestrians, buses, other cars. They are all in the way. I get this way too behind the wheel, except I’m mindful of cyclists.

Technically, I’m not supposed to speed down the thin ribbon that opens between cars and the curb. But even the cops acknowledge that’s a silly law. This makes for confusion. When that black SUV roars by and then French kisses the curb, blocking me, is the driver breaking the law or being just plain rude?

Anne Burbidge has given out cards to three drivers for simply not doing this. "They left me ample space," the soft-spoken bookseller says. She’s been hit twice by cars.

I can’t bring myself to. We are not in Grade 3. We don’t all get gold stars for behaving.

Now, an admission: I mount the sidewalk for two blocks before reaching the Lakeshore bike path. My principles end near highways. I’d rather break the law than my neck.

The bike path. The glorious bike path. So much space, so few lurking tragedies. Freed from the tethers of alertness, my mind wanders luxuriously. I admire the fiery trees. I plan my Halloween costume. I giggle over the memory of my daughter Lyla saying goodnight to her closet door yesterday.

Eight years ago, the city vowed to build 1,000 kilometres of bike paths, lanes and right-of-ways by 2011. It has barely built 400, despite stacks of studies that show cycling infrastructure equals more cyclists which equal safety. An army of cars idle on the Lakeshore, waiting to go go go. I imagine hundreds of eyes staring at me jealously. I find none. They’re all staring at the bumper ahead.

That’s when it comes to me. If the cycling union really wants to convert drivers, it should be printing up bumper stickers, not cards.

Mine would say: "I bike too. Be nice to cyclists."