In the battle for the streets, road rage goes both ways
Aaron S. Bayley
An incident occurred today in downtown Toronto that demonstrates the urgent need for the city to build infrastructure which properly and efficiently streamlines the traffic flow of automobiles, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
I was driving east along Queen Street with my fiance. Due to streetscaping construction between Bathurst and Spadina, the eastbound lanes have been reduced to one lane since late June. As a result, traffic was creeping a little faster than a snail's pace. At around 2:20 pm, about a couple blocks west of Spadina, a young male cyclist who appeared to be in his early twenties suddenly appeared alongside the right side of my car. I turned to my fiance, said something to the effect that I wish he hadn't squeezed in between the space between my vehicle and the sidewalk curb (there is no bike lane), and inched over to the left side of my lane to create space.
With a TTC bus in front of me, I continued eastbound, cognizant of the cyclist who had annoyingly and irresponsibly positioned himself in the same lane as me and to the right of my front right tire. As I kept an eye on both the bus and the bicyclist, I noticed that the latter did not look completely at ease, and was probably surprised at the sight of a set of orange pylons placed on the side of the road near the curb. At this point, I noticed him struggling on his bike and yelling profanities before kicking the right front side of my car, claiming I had hit him. I turned to my fiance and we both agreed that I definitely did not hit him; although I was angry as well as a little confused about what did actually happen. It could be that he lost control of his bike when he saw the pylons and rode into my front right tire, blaming me out of anger and embarrassment. At any rate, we exchanged profanities, then he took out his smartphone and took pics of my license plate and of me through the front windshield. He rode ahead and got off his bike in front of Steve's Music Store. As I drove by, I slowed down and asked my fiance to take a pic of him with her own smartphone. He waved and said, "Fucking asshole, you hit a biker." I am no anti-bicycle zealot, and I thought the late Mayor Rob Ford's dismissive and even hateful attitude toward cyclists was dangerous and counterproductive. The war against the car is a myth perpetrated by pampered suburbanites in gas-guzzling SUVs who thinks that everyone who rides a bicycle is either an arrogant road warrior or a tree-hugging hippie that they, by definition, must hate. But as someone who obeys the rules of the road, never drives at dangerously high speeds, has never been in a car accident, and received his first speeding ticket at 40-years-old (doing 53 km in a 40 km zone!), this cyclist pissed me off. This idiot, by his own actions, put himself in danger by illegally squeezing himself and his bike into the thin corridor between my vehicle and the curb. I don't know if he's a hothead (judging someone's temperament when they are extremely agitated isn't exactly fair) but I do know he is one of many cyclists who regularly engage in reckless behaviour on the streets of Toronto. It happens all the time. To cyclists, traffic lights and lanes are suggestions, and pedestrians are annoying obstacles. I understand that the cycling community--though they're not a homogeneous group by any means--feels that they are being targeted by motorists. But exhibiting aggressive, reckless, and vigilante-style behaviour on the streets is not the answer; in fact, it's plain stupid. Cyclists need to understand that they are much more vulnerable on their bicycles than people driving thousand-pound machines. Riding recklessly and getting into shouting matches with drivers is a reckless and risky proposition. In fact, the cyclist who kicked my car is lucky; someone else might have gotten out of their car to confront him. Drivers need a license to operate a car; a license should be required for bicycle riders, too. The city is going through a transformation in urban design; as a result, drivers of automobiles and bicyclists are doing a poor--and dangerous--job of negotiating the ambiguous space that comes with a city in transition. Hopefully when the transformation is complete, the end result will be one that is more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly but also acknowledges people's dependency on cars. Until then, motorists and cyclists have to be aware of each other and respectful of each other. That's easier said than done. Because when it comes to road rage, cyclists need to take a good look in the mirror too.