Listen up, my broke and miserly city: licensing cyclists is not the answer.
Licensing cyclists will not prevent the highly unfortunate accident that took place yesterday, in which a pedestrian was hit in Kensington Market and is now in critical condition. Why? Because the problem with that cyclist, among thousands and thousands of others, is with how they view cycling within the context of getting around in the city. A piece of paper that says I watched a safety video and paid the city $20 a year will not stop me, if I am so inclined, from running through intersections.
People who tout the benefits of cyclist licenses also assume that every cyclist would rush out and get one tomorrow. But they won’t, and that is a safe bet. Why? For starters, because the necessary police presence to enforce such a license would be expensive, and flouting the law by not possessing a license would be as easy then as it is not to disobey traffic signals. While I am in favour of the ‘Idaho Stop’ here in Toronto, since this is not law, it can only be used with extreme caution, which clearly was not the case in Kensington.
To be clear, I think a $400 fine for critically injuring a pedestrain because as a cyclist you were negligent and careless is too little: he should have been charged more, no doubt about it. And I will also agree with the Toronto Sun (all flippancy about the environment aside) that “sure, they don’t pollute the environment. Hip hip hurray. But that shouldn’t give cyclists a free pass to ignore traffic laws and put other people at risk.” Absolutely. But I truly do not believe that “a licence and the threat of demerit points will finally drive that point home.”
Another reason why is it a bad idea for the city to consider licensing cyclists now? Because in addition to not getting to the root of the problem, it is also so naked a cash grab that even the Toronto Sun didn’t refrain from calling it as such. “The city has looked at relicensing cyclists four times in the last three decades but it’s been turned down as too costly every time,” they write. “But think of the potential cash grab for our now money-strapped city.” You can hear them salivating through the screen.
So – what needs to change? Something far more difficult to alter than can be affected by licenses and fines. The problem, as I mentioned before, is that the way in which many cyclists (but not all, obviously) consider themselves within the context of getting around Toronto is problematic. There is an inbred sense of entitlement, also common to many, many vehicle drivers, that getting from A to B is paramount, and the way in which you do it is secondary. This is false. As false as the bullcrap rhetoric about the war on the car, or the war on the cyclist, argued against persuasively by Edward Keenan in The Grid.
This is a hearts and minds battle, which are tougher to win. And the false rhetoric coming from Rob and Doug at City Hall against cyclists does nothing but inflame the debate. Cars and bikes are not oil and water, and do not need to be separated. But people do need to calm down, and smarten up. Accidents happen, but the reaction should not do more damage.