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I Have More Fear Cycling In Toronto Than Anywhere Else In The World

I tell them that the most dangerous thing in my life is commuting by bike in Toronto. This is not a flippant answer. It is the honest truth.

It has been a tragic 24 hours for the Toronto cycling community. Yesterday a cyclist was seriously injured and today another rider was killed by a truck. TDA Global Cycling Founder Henry Gold reflects on the situation.

I have cycled on all the continents that are cycle-able, all six of them. I have biked Africa from north to south and have spent four months cycling from Istanbul to Beijing. In fact, I have cycled in over 80 countries and covered a big chunk of the world on my bicycle.

I run a company that supports hundreds of cyclists each year, taking them on some pretty incredible cycling rides. So one could say that when people ask me is it safe to cycle in such and such a country or place, they probably figure that I may just have some idea what I am talking about.

I have learned that when people ask me about safety, they really do not ask in an objective way. They are subconsciously asking about the things that they are afraid of, be it wild animals in Africa, getting sick in India, being robbed at gunpoint in South America or kidnapped by terrorists in Central Asia.

All of those things can happen to any cyclists or travellers anywhere in the world but when I answer that question of safety, I do not talk about any of those things as these possibilities are infinitesimally small. I tell them that the most dangerous thing in my life is commuting by bike in Toronto. This is not a flippant answer. It is the honest truth. I feel more threatened every time I have to cycle any of the main roads in the city of Toronto than cycling anywhere else in the world.

If the person asking the question is a cyclist they will quickly understand my answer. However if they are not, they look at me with disbelief. How can that be? In their mind they dismiss my answer as hyperbole. We Canadians have an image of ourselves as being benign, friendly people who would never do harm to anyone, at least not willingly. Except try cycling on Dufferin, Finch or any other busy street. Every few seconds a driver passes you, one that may believe that if a cyclist is hurt, it is, as our former Mayor Rob Ford said, “their own fault”.

After all, in the driver’s opinion, roads were created for cars and not for anyone else. This behaviour is not singular to Toronto. It also apply to countries such as the USA and others where car culture many years ago successfully appropriated the roads from children, the elderly, pedestrians and, yes, cyclists. Ironically, it was cyclists who, over a century ago, lobbied governments to build roads, well before there were any cars.

I do not live in those places. I live here in Toronto and have to face the streets here day after day. The tragedy is that it does not have to be this way. In most developing countries, as much as the drivers would love to own the roads, unfortunately for them, there are motorcycles, scooters, cyclists, pushcarts and even animals on the roads. This forces drivers to operate at speeds well below the ones I experience when I am forced to cycle on Bathurst, Sheppard or Bayview. Even the legal speed limits here in Toronto are such that if a pedestrian or a cyclist is hit, their chances of survival are close to zero.

Years ago Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, suggested that a 30km/h limit apply in the city. For that suggestion, he was just about run out of town by then Mayor Rob Ford and the car loving public. In the meantime, the toll of death and injuries of vulnerable road users continue to climb and I can honestly keep telling anyone who asks me, it is much, much safer to cycle in India, Sudan or Iran than it is for me to bike to my office in Toronto.


12 Comments for "I Have More Fear Cycling In Toronto Than Anywhere Else In The World"

Henry, I have been making the same comment to people for many years. It appears that the fear of unknown lands is far greater than the supposed safety of one’s own backyard.

I might also add that the road conditions in Toronto are atrocious: full of potholes and debris, which is another hazard. This winter my wife and I cycled, fully loaded, about 5000 kms from Singapore to Bangkok, and between us we had one flat tire,
as the roads are in excellent condition. Last year the first time I went out on my heavy duty city bike, I got a puncture..

andrew

Thanks very much for this. I’ve been trying (with others) to make it waay better for cyclists here in ‘Caronto’, for I guess two decades, and a Huge problem is the domination of the core by the suburban politicians. So even where we have a subway line, a crowded one, and a 1992 study that says Bloor/Danforth is the most logical place for a bike lane, very very little gets done, and it’s ward-by-ward safety only.
I knew we were bad; having done a tiny bit of biking in Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary – but I haven’t done enough of the biking beyond this place to know how bad it really is, including the ‘carrupt’ ‘carist’ justice system, which does tend to discount a person’s worth if they aren’t driving, so that’s the way to kill someone, right?
I’m not a fan of most of the politicians either; too bad we’ve sunk so low that the better ones also don’t have their sights too high. And it’s time to oust Mr. Tory soon; Ms. Climenhaga gets these biking issues as she’s bike-toured Europe with her family.

    Love “Caronto”, “‘carrupt’ ‘carist’” justice system. I will borrow it and use it in the future.

Here’s my letter today to the mayor. I’ve written him about this before, and nothing has changed, but I’ll keep sending these letters and maybe one day, something will.

To Mayor Tory and the City of Toronto:

I’m just reading in today’s paper about more tragic and unnecessary cyclist deaths. As a cyclist and pedestrian, I am aware daily of the deadly risks on Toronto streets. And to me, the other measures – the construction of bike lanes etc. – though important, are not as vital as one measure the city still has not taken: to substantially reduce speed limits and PROVIDE POLICE OVERVIEW.

Every day, as a walker and cyclist, I am nearly run down by speeders, zooming through yellow and even red lights, driving at incredible speeds to get past streetcars – and not just cars, but even more dangerously, trucks. I have never once seen any interference with blatant disregard for speeding laws – not a policeman, not radar, nothing. Drivers are careless because they have no reason not to be.

Except every so often, when one of them kills someone. They will continue to do so until they are forced to slow down, and the only way that will happen is by reduction of the speed limit and reinforcement of the laws. This will grow more acute a problem as construction is forcing delays on nearly every street in the city – and motorists are growing increasingly angry and impatient. More deaths to come, guaranteed.

Please let me know where I should address my concerns.
Yours,
Beth Kaplan

    Thanks for sharing this. It energizes me to write a letter of my own. I believe the more he hears about it, the more chances we have that something happens.

During my visit in may in Toronto I tried to bike, but only shortly, because it felt very dangerous. There is apparently so called speed spilling effect, where very high speed of cars is spilling over, not to other cars on other roads only, but also to bikers on bikelanes. Nowhere I have seen so fast speeding and aggressive bikers than in Toronto. You have very serious traffic safety problem in Toronto. You should force slower speed all over Gardiner, Lake Shore, etc., control much more *police and radar*, use roundabouts, stop hazardous left turns, add safety marginals to red lights, give people much more time to cross the streets etc.

    Yes I know the spilling phenomena and your suggestions are all important. Yesterday when I was interviewed by CBC I mentioned that reducing the speed limit is the one single most important act that will save countless of lives and improve quality of life in the city.

    By the way our Trans Europa trip this year begins in Helsinki on July 8th.

Thanks for writing this. Having lived in four Canadian cities and two in Asia-Pacific, I agree completely. Torontonians (and Canadians in general) don’t really seem to have a lot of foreign exposure, so in this matter it’s important to expose just how much Toronto is settling for not good enough.

People in this city routinely respond like I’m insane when I tell them I commute daily for 23km on these streets for 9-10 months of the year. I can’t blame them. It was my own dismay at what I found in Toronto after riding to work for five years in Tokyo that caused me to become active on some issue for the first time in my life. A link in my Councillor’s newsletter led me to Cycle Toronto, a non-profit with the mission to “advocate for a safe, healthy and vibrant cycling city for all”.

Last night, Cycle Toronto members gathered to mark their ten year anniversary. There were certainly some achievements to celebrate, but the dismal state of affairs in the city was hard to miss. The organization’s first executive director spoke on the exhausting nature of fighting the same fight for ten years with the same obstacles and similar outcomes. The current ED then also spoke on similar themes. The death this week in the Dundas cycle lane came up.

We’ve certainly got a long way to go. To me, it seems activism is the only response. Hopefully, we can make street safety an issue in this election, and then keep it on the agenda for the years to come.

Again, thanks for writing. TDA’s tours look like life-changing experiences.

    I agree activism is the way to go, the more the better. I also think it would be great if Toronto would have a sort of Five Borough type of a ride.
    And yes TDA rides have changed lives of many. Certainly changed my life.

I ride the Adelaide and Richmond bike lanes every day, and every day I find cars, trucks and taxis stopped in the bike lane. Even worse are the TTC buses that swing in and out of the bike lane, making the commute much more dangerous. The only way to improve cycling safety in this city is to have truly separated bike lanes, PHYSICALLY SEPARATED like the brief stretches where there are flower pots, or the very short stretch of Wellesley where there is a concrete barrier. Painting them green is obviously not enough. I too have had numerous close calls from ridiculously aggressive cyclists, but a collision with one of them will not necessarily mean death.

Yes, what most drivers seems to love to ignore is that they are driving weapons that kill and use these weapons irresponsibly.

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