Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer Editorial Series – The Pinko Commie Manifesto

“Actually I'm wearing pink for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything.” That’s what Don Cherry told the gathered politicians, reporters and general public in December at the swearing in of Mayor Rob Ford. Undoubtedly, this admission was prompted by the audible gasps heard form the crowd when Cherry stood up in a hot pink sports coat that would even make Barbie call gauche on the Hockey Night in Canada commentator.

The “pinkos” Cherry was referring to were people vocally opposed to Mayor Ford’s “roads are for cars only” policy. “Grapes” then went on to compare Ford favourably to former OPP Chief Julian Fantino, and lauded both men for their honesty before wrapping up his address with a hearty “put that in your pipe, you left-wing kooks.” Don Cherry, class act.

But this editorial’s not about Cherry, or even Ford for that matter (he’s suffered enough… for now). But Cherry’s comment is the harsh reaction that encapsulates a growing feeling of negativity towards bikes and bike riders. In Guelph, the philosophy of a city being bike friendly was tested again recently with the introduction of a bike box at the intersection of Stone Road and Chancellor’s Way.

For the uninitiated, a bike box is a space reserved for bikes at an intersection where a bicyclist can pull up in front of a line of cars and thus get to turn the corner before the car traffic. The use and implementation of the bike box falls in a kind of grey area so far as traffic law is concerned, but some are wondering why the city’s squandering so much time and effort to accommodate bike riders when many of them either a) don’t obey traffic rules to begin with, or b) are a nuisance and the city should be more occupied with improving traffic flow. CAR TRAFFIC.

Others have mentioned that a lot of bicyclists don’t use the roads, and still use sidewalks when perfectly good bike lanes are already there. A reasonable point, but speaking as a bike rider myself – not to mention the fact that I’m also a frequent pedestrian – car drivers in the City of Guelph are scary as hell. Scary. As. Hell.

I have been at an intersection, crossing with the light, walking at a reasonable pace, and have seen out of the corner of my eye some car creeping around the corner so that they literally don’t have to stop for me. There’s something so sinister in this. A tacit implication that maybe if you don’t start moving faster then this car driver will lower the boom on the gas petal and just mow you out of the way. And then there are the ones that don’t slow down at all. The ones that take the corner and miss you by inches. You can literally feel that breath of wind as the car just zoomed around the corner behind you.

Now that’s not to say that bicyclists are victimless. Certainly there are a number of riders who are rude, they ride too fast, they don’t observe basic safety, they don’t signal and they switch from sidewalk to road with reckless abandon. But for the cautious majority, I can understand perfectly the nagging fear that riding on roads, especially ones with no clear bike lane, can lead to potential doom. To coin a phrase, in the battle of car versus bike, the car always wins.

There was a headline lately that Guelph Police had fined 36 bicyclists in a safety blitz, mostly for riding on the sidewalk and disobeying traffic lights and stop signs. I bet the amount collected from 36 bike riders will be a tidy sum, maybe enough for the Chief of Police to buy everyone at the precinct a donut and coffee. But as I pointed out last week, it was reported in April that the City has yet to collect $5.2 million in overdue fines going back six years for offenses like speeding and careless driving. I predict that any rider defaulting on his ticket will have the court system on him faster than by-law on Led Zeppelin.

This isn’t a call for bicyclist anarchy in the Royal City, but an appeal for rationalization. Bikes are fun, they encourage exercise and they’re part of a more sustainable, liveable community. And while people on bikes may occasionally skirt the law out of indifference or ignorance, the same can be said for car drivers, and the potential negative effects can be much more severe. For years, the term “pedal to metal” was associated with driving fast in your car. Let’s change that. Let’s make bike riding gangsta, and leave commie comments to the guy in the pink sports coat.

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