Second Class in Toronto
Downtown Toronto’s streets are very clearly not for people anymore. An afternoon trying out the bike share program quickly showed me that the streets are only for motor vehicles and law-abiding cyclists are not welcome. I was wishing I was back in Dallas–enjoying the far friendlier drivers and lack of life-threatening conflict.
Trying out Toronto’s new(ish) bike share program was simple enough. The bikes are easy to find, are well-maintained, and are easy to check out. However, the bikes do not have locking systems, so you have to find another bike share station to dock with when you want to stop. Finding a station seemed easy before I had the bike, but when I was at a destination I wanted to explore, none were to be found. I tried loading the website and map on my phone, but their website broke badly on my phone and I gave up. The station encourages you to wear a helmet, but of course I don’t pack a helmet in my luggage. The bikes are very heavy and slow (3 speeds), but do have a small luggage rack and integrated lighting.
But to the actual experience of cycling in downtown…. Wow. Hellish might be an appropriate word.
Motorists (especially taxi drivers) are very, very quick to let you know that you aren’t allowed in the travel lanes–no matter what. Want to avoid the door zone? Too bad. Honks for you. Want to avoid some construction? Too bad. Honks. Want to avoid getting right hooked? HONK. Want to avoid getting hit by a drive-out? HOOOOOONK.
Nearly every block has on-street parking, which leaves about 1-2 feet of space in the right lane. Knowing how dangerous door zones are, I was not about to ride in that space. My penalty for riding in the next available lane? You guessed it: honking and cussing. Constantly. On one short 2-way street, a taxi driver jumped in the path of oncoming traffic after laying on his horn at me. We met at the light (funny how that always seems to work), and he had some choice words for me.
For anyone who understands the deadly dangers of door zones, right hooks, left crosses, drive-outs, and other dangers of badly engineered bike lanes, Toronto motorists will let you know very quickly that your right to the road has been revoked. I have never been honked and cussed at so much for riding in traffic. It’s not like I was holding anyone up… I spent way more time waiting for construction and traffic at signals than anyone ever waited for me (see: Reality Check).
There’s a few bike lanes in the inner district. But they end suddenly with no thought or consideration to proper re-integration back into traffic. The lane is dashed at intersections, but I didn’t see anyone understanding that concept properly. In the span of 5 minutes watching one intersection I witnessed close calls for two right hooks (one with a bus!) and one drive-out.
Scofflaw cyclists are everywhere. Honestly, it’s not surprising. Cyclists are not welcome as part of traffic in Toronto anymore. Cyclists act like second class citizens (riding in the gutter, disregarding traffic laws, jumping queues, and cutting through traffic), and so they’ve lost the right to ever be first class again. Motorists keep cyclists in their place on the edge of the road, and the cyclists act as opportunistically as possible. A vicious cycle. Quite the opposite of a healthy, cyclist-friendly community.
There’s a couple of good things about riding in Toronto. First, there’s plenty of bike parking…if you have a lock. Which I didn’t.
Second, the drain grates are bike friendly. At least the gutter cyclists don’t have to worry about that.
After getting honked at as much as I did for driving my bike, I started considering finding a nice path somewhere instead. I’ll never ride a bike on the streets in Toronto again. Dallas is a much safer, friendlier place.