BLOG #721: A city council committee has unanimously recommended London kids younger than 14 should be allowed to ride on the sidewalk. Others, though, don’t see the move as progress towards making cycling safer.
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 – London
You might have noticed the recent debate among educators and parent groups over whether we’re giving young people too much praise for relatively routine accomplishments. The concern is they aren’t learning to push themselves for success.
Something like that can happen to cities too. For example, last year London received a Bicycle Friendly Community Award bronze rating from the Share the Road Cycling Coalition.
“London is a bicycle friendly city,” Mayor Joe Fontana hooted at the time.
And so there were a few arms twisted awkwardly Monday night as some members of city council’s civic affairs committee patted themselves on the back for approving unanimously a recommendation that children under the age of 14 henceforth be allowed to cycle on the sidewalk.
This is seen as a boon to the safety of children.
“We have to find a balance between the safety of vulnerable users and encouraging children to cycle,” explained Aaron Rozentals, the city’s manager of development engineering.
More critical voices were raised in the audience, however, and it is theirs to which we should listen.
“I find it embarrassing we’re having this discussion,” said Gary Brown, a frequent cyclist and one-time Green Party candidate. “People should be riding in safe bike lanes, not on sidewalks. But the fact is cars don’t care about us on bikes.”
And Greg Fowler, also a bike rider although he is more widely known as an articulate spokesperson on behalf of pedestrians, added: “I ride a bike. I care about the safety of young children. The solution is not to put pedestrians at greater risk – as the population ages we will soon have more walkers – but to ensure the safety of cyclists.”
Even Mayor Jo, while not offering to give back our bronze medal, admits: “Motorists have to do a better job of respecting others on our roads. I cringe sometimes when I see a cyclist on the road at what could happen. We need responsible cyclists and responsible motorists sharing our roads and sharing our sidewalks.”
This latest change to city bylaws is unlikely to help us achieve that goal.
Instead, we’ve moved half the problem – young kids on bikes – onto the sidewalks of London where it will now be up to pedestrians to dodge them. Granted a young cyclist is likely to suffer less serious injuries hitting a pedestrian than a car, but the same can’t be said for those on foot, many of whom are elderly or mobility challenged.
Unfortunately, in reality all this law accomplishes is to no longer make reality a crime. And it’s not only kids illegally riding on the sidewalk; adults too, fearful as many are about riding on busy streets where there are no bicycle lanes.
Mr. Brown told the committee he has just returned from an extended stay in Waterloo, a bike friendly community many notches above us. There they even have separated bicycle pathways on busy streets.
“I hadn’t realized how far behind we were,” he said.
And that is the danger of giving cities awards they really don’t deserve. London does have a long way to go. And while the mayor says we’re getting there, we’re certainly not doing so very quickly.
John Lucas, the city’s manager of transportation engineering, said some of that distance will be made up when recommendations in the new transportation master plan are completed. But we still haven’t seen the detailed recommendations almost three months after the plan was given lukewarm support by council.
What is said to be a key recommendation – that funds be shifted from building roads to boosting other forms of transport, including cycling – has not been debated by a council that, in the past, has shown a decided preference for four-wheeled movement.
Part of Monday night’s recommendation is an extensive education program for young cyclists in hopes the need for caution on sidewalks and roadways can be engrained at an early age.
It’s a pity we can’t force motorists through something similar. Maybe then we’d be a city worthy of a bronze, and perhaps on our way towards something more meaningful.