Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The war on bikes

As the municipal election is approaching, seemingly mundane and inoffensive subjects get thrown in the electoral fight. Bicycling, a no-brainer to those who have one, is now an opportunity for mayoral candidates posturing.

Bike sharing BXI demo in Toronto Bicycle networks have sprung up in most major cities. From Copenhagen and Amsterdam, considered leaders, and to Denver, Mexico City, Paris and Toyama, many nations have implemented long time ago separate bike lanes and even special traffic lights for them. Back in the 90s when I traveled extensively through Europe I had seen such marks of urbanite intelligence even in Slovenia.

Conservatives are on the attack, blasting plans to create bike lanes on University Ave, vowing to outlaw such developments on major arterial roads. The liberals are on the defensive, offering most of the time no position on this issue, suggesting that they read public opinion as opposed to bikes.

Why would the public turn against bikes? As counterintuitive as it might be, people are fed up with gridlock. A recent study places Toronto at the bottom of the pile among 19 developed cities in terms of gridlock, behind even famously congested Los Angeles. The congestion costs the city over 5 billion yearly in OECD’s estimate. Writes Toronto Life:

Average Daily Commutes table The study comes in the wake of Dalton McGuinty’s decision to delay $4 billion in transit improvements and David Miller explicitly asking drivers to avoid “road repair rage”—all of which makes Toronto seem like a great place to work, if only one could get there.

There are also good news: the embarrassing score on traffic made Toronto the fourth-most prosperous city examined, ranking just under Boston, Dallas and Barcelona. Still, the study questions even the prosperity standings, suggesting that it should be higher, considering our ability to attract immigrants and educated people. Writes the National Post:

Toronto ranked second only to Barcelona in labour attractiveness, but sat at 11th place in terms of overall economy; the discrepancy is a "perplexing riddle" that must be addressed, Ms. Wilding said.
"Toronto's high ranking masks the troublesome weaknesses that will undermine our ability to maintain our position in future editions of this report," she warned. "Toronto's poor economic performance is threatening the very liveability that we are all so proud of."
The city earned high marks in areas such as affordability, diversity and strength of education, yet performed poorly on GDP growth, a key driver of future prosperity.
The city also fell short on access to venture capital and is "leagues away" from top-ranked Hong Kong in productivity growth, Ms. Wilding said.
"In one domain we're a world leader, but in the other domain we lag behind our competitors," she said, noting unless we improve on the economic side, we risk falling behind on our ability to draw top talent.
"This discrepancy between labour attractiveness and our economic performance is not just an idle curiosity," Ms. Wilding said. "It is a major and pressing public-policy and private-sector challenge."

About 70% of Torontonians drive to work and Toronto’s busiest roads record average speeds of 38 km/h, according to the Ministry of Transportation. It should come as no surprise then that the city, instead of encouraging bike use, prefers instead to hike public transportation fares – despite our system being the least subsidized in world-class cities. Short-sighted and rather dumb mayoral candidates speculate public discontent with daily commute to take on bikes, as if it is bicycles that cause the gridlock. There are even calls for bike licensing and taxes on bicycles.

Others point to poorly managed TTC with lazy, unruly and overpaid workers as being one of the biggest problems. Not long ago a TTC worker was fired after being repeatedly caught smoking weed while on duty. When a TTC fare collector was filmed asleep, the Union chastised passengers for being “uncaring”. On April 14, Bereket Hagos, 30, a TTC bus driver was charged with assault after dispute with passenger.

Toronto has the highest number of per capita car-bicycle collision of any major Canadian city. Many blame cyclists who are apparently undereducated and careless and use that as a motivation for licensing. Yet Copenhagen takes a radically different approach: even helmets are not compulsory there, as city officials feel that helmets rules might reduce ridership and overall have a negative effect on people’s livelihood.

There are also some good news for the left: a recent survey has found that there is a 50% drop in the number of people sleeping outdoors, though some critics attribute the drop in paying decoys to pose as homeless to answer survey questions. That report also shows that although the aboriginal population makes only 1% of the city, they represent 29% of the homeless. Finally, the shelter use has increased almost 10%, primarily due to refugees who tend to use shelters as a family. The increase from 2006 in families is from 3649 ppl / 785 fam / 29% ref to 3990 / 1093 / 39. It is not surprising that 80% of homeless are male.

In a city where the provincial Justice Czar cruelly murders a cyclist with his black Saab convertible, with his lawyer wife on his side, for not moving fast enough on a pedestrian crossing, the road to reconciliation is long, slow and congested.

Sources / More info: 10-bike-networks, t.o.-bike-sharing, mandatory-bicycle-licensing, ttc-collectors-100K, ttc-worst, np-gridlock, gm-gridlock, tl-gridlock, torsun-congestion, bot-report, np-urban-scrawl, ttc-bus-driver-charged, np-Univ-ave-bike-vote, bike-v-car, bike-collisions-map, homeless-report

this collector makes over 100K a year + O/T

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