Toronto of the Future?
A recent conversation on BikingToronto centered around what sorts of visibility gear people use took a turn (as the conversations on the site are wont to do) for the very insightful. In a thread hijacking of the very best kind, the topics shifted from asking what kind of gear to why so much gear. One comment, by James S. of The Urban Country (great blog, check out the most recent post) really grabbed me, so much so that I have reproduced it in it’s entirety below:
I wouldn’t feel comfortable riding at night on most outer-city roads either without making myself as visible as possible. The three primary streets I ride on are Dundas, Queen and King, so I always feel that I am visible even with the minimum number of lights on my bike.
For a bit more background on my opinion, I will share a hypothetical scenario which is somewhat more applicable now with the 14 pedestrian deaths.
Imagine a Toronto where pedestrians felt so unsafe from the media/police spokesman that they felt compelled to walk around with a flashing red light wrapped around each ankle, a light wrapped around their neck, a florescent reflective jacket and a helmet. Some pedestrians decide to buy all of this pedestrian gear, but many other pedestrians decide not to walk anymore because they perceive it to be too dangerous (or they don’t feel like carrying a duffel bag full of pedestrian gear everywhere they go). So they drive everywhere to protect themselves, and then eventually we’re left only a few pedestrians on our sidewalks. This results in making it more dangerous for the few pedestrians we are now left with because the less pedestrians you have, the less cautious drivers tend to be.
That’s what I feel that we have done with cycling. We have made people think it is so dangerous by bubble wrapping ourselves with all this gear and protection, so people stop cycling (or people don’t bother starting to cycle) because they either don’t want the hassle of carrying around all this gear, or because they feel it’s so unsafe that they would prefer to drive a car instead.
I am speaking from experience too. I moved to Toronto when I was 22 (7 years ago) and I have been cycling off and on since the day I moved here (between bikes getting stolen, etc). There was a time when I was a bit younger that people convinced me that it’s suicidal to ride on a bike on Toronto streets and that I needed a helmet, expensive safety gear, etc. etc. etc. Then when you actually look at the statistics, cycling is relatively safe here. You might even be safer on a bike downtown than as a pedestrian – though I haven’t seen a study that could back this up.
But the point is, the amount of protective gear people wear on bicycles doesn’t reflect the actual risk of riding a bike.
Not to say there is anything wrong with being extra cautious, but I just think that being overly cautious works against us by discouraging other people from hopping on a bike. And cycling has a calming effect on traffic, so the less people cycling means it’s less safe for everyone who does it.
James’ “slippery slope” argument is one that I have encountered much more frequently in the past couple of years. Cycling, especially commuter cycling in the city, has taken on aspects of a gladiator sport rather than a viable alternative form of transportation. Some mornings it seems like it takes me longer to strap on my various accessories than it does to ride to work. And as James points out, this can be a major deterrent.
This concept has been discussed elsewhere (this is a good place to start), but my own opinion is still divided. Right now I divide my time between gearing up for my work commute, which (logically or not) seems more dangerous, and going gear free (minus lights at night) for casual rides and bouncing around town.
On the whole I agree with James’ position. Perhaps we should stop the madness now before our bikes become rolling tanks?