This morning I read an emotional piece on the Toronto Psychogeography Society blog wherein Shawn, the writer, describes stumbling upon the scene of a gruesome bike accident and then discusses the larger problem of cyclists being ignored on the legislative and street level.
As my loyal readers know, I lived in Toronto this summer, but you may not know that I also learned how to ride a bike on the streets of Toronto this summer, and I agree with Shawn when he says, “Biking around the city seems normal and good and as safe as houses most of the time.” Even after a couple weeks of riding a bike, once I was comfortable venturing out onto the busier streets, I put my faith in the drivers of the vehicles whizzing by, knowing that they would be respectful of my right to a small piece of the street and that they would be conscientious about my safety. I think if you don’t have that faith then you would never get on a bike in any city. The sound of motors coming up behind you is enough to make you jump into the bushes unless you truly believe the approaching vehicle will make room for you and not clip or kill you.
When I returned to New York, a bike-enthusiast friend asked me why I left my bike in Toronto, and I told him that New York’s streets are too scary and that I think New York City drivers are less bike-conscious than those in Toronto. Gothamist has vigilantly reported several stories that support this claim, but maybe my New Yorker friend was right when he said it was all in my head. It’s true that there are fewer places to lock up a bike in New York, there are fewer bike lanes, and more cars, but it seems that riding a bike in any large city is taking your life into your own hands.
It’s enough to make me long for the back country roads of my youth in Vermont. Ironically, the reason I never learned to ride a bike until last summer is because when I was growing up, we lived on a busy road and my parents wouldn’t let me ride my bike anywhere except our gravel driveway, and I could never get my balance.