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Environment, Toronto Politics

Licensing cyclists is not the answer

Image courtesy of BlogTO

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.

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


3 thoughts on “Licensing cyclists is not the answer

  1. I’d be curious to know what your proposed solution would be. I believe the issue may have a lot to do with most cyclists not really knowing what the laws of being motorists actually are, because they don’t drive and don’t have licenses. Perhaps they don’t know that cyclists are actually required to follow the same laws as motorists. But because they’ve never been formally trained, they don’t know what side of the street to be on. They don’t have a firm understanding that a red light actually will prevent them from getting hit, if it isn’t disregarded. They don’t know that stop signs are meant to control the order of traffic, and protect their lives as well. What I see every day are massive amounts of riders who fly through red lights and stop signs at full speed, without pause, without looking, without any regard for their life. What I fear is that if I actually were to go when it’s my turn, when my light turns green, or when I’ve come to a complete stop at a four-way stop intersection, and one of them flies over the hood of my car and ends up on life support… I will get sued. His family will say I was the one who ran the stop sign, red light, etc.

    One of the most common justifications of cyclists who ignore traffic laws is that “I’m not going to do any damage to you in a car… so you should watch out for me, instead of me watching out for you.” They seem to firmly believe that if they’re on a bike, and I’m in a car… and they get hit… disregarding the fact that the cyclists was doing something insane and unpredictable on the road, the person in the car is automatically at fault. I’d like to know where that school of thought comes from, exactly. I’m watching out for my bank account.

    What I’m a major advocate of now is having front and rear facing dash cams that will protect drivers from this kind of liability. What else can motorists do to protect themselves from the looming threat of false litigation?

    Posted by Noah Couchot | July 24, 2011, 5:56 pm
    • Thanks for your comments, Noah. I suppose my end goal would be not much different than yours, although we might want to achieve it in different ways. The recklessness you mention that you see from many cyclists annoys me just as much as a pedestrian, as a car driver, and as a cyclist in Toronto as it does you. There is little excuse from cyclists for running red lights or riding on the sidewalk: I don’t do it myself, and I dislike it immensely in other cyclists. I referred to the ‘Idaho Stop’ with regards to stop signs, and I stand by that.

      I can understand completely why you as a driver would want to protect yourself in case of an accident, but you have to admit: as much as any potential collision may not be your fault, the significant size differential between you in a car and a cyclist means there is just that much more onus on you to be vigilant.

      Is this fair? Probably not. And safety is everyone’s priority, or at least it should be. But until the culture changes so drivers are more respectful and willing to share, and cyclists more respectful of the rules and how their actions effect everyone, this will likely remain the case.

      But as I argued in the post, I still do not believe that a license is enough to change patterns of behaviour, especially when the stick is not being met with a carrot.

      Posted by awreeves | July 25, 2011, 10:19 am
  2. This surely makes great sense to me

    Posted by LRP | October 4, 2011, 12:46 am

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