BLOG #728: City council shouldn’t be patting itself for giving kids a free bike ride on the sidewalks; nobody should be riding there. Instead we should be following the trend of progressive cities and accepting bicycles as a legitimate form of transportation that deserves its own pathways to work and play.
Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012
With little fuss and even less fanfare, city council has approved a recommendation to allow London children under the age of 14 to legally ride bicycles on any public sidewalks.
In the process it has reinforced long-standing and much ignored rules that prohibit the rest of us from riding off the road for safety, subject to a $135 fine. As well, city staff has been asked to study whether the freedom given youngsters should also be extended to seniors.
“Seniors are looking for this security too, to be off the road,” says Paul Van Meerbergen, councillor for Ward 10. “For people over 65 I think it makes a lot of sense.”
One of the morning papers headlined the news, “Coming to a sidewalk near you: More bikes?” Even as a question it’s unlikely to be true. Most kids under 14 and many, many adults already ride on the sidewalks. Coupled with the bylaw change will be a push to have the cops crackdown on those who aren’t supposed to be sidewalk cyclers.
While there’s no question allowing younger children to legally ride where others shouldn’t makes life safer for them, council’s decision reinforces the attitude that bicycles are a recreational toy rather than a legitimate mode of transportation favoured by more and more people.
Look at where the city has put its money in the past decade – into the very fine Thames Valley Trail along the river branches and connecting routes. There are few more beautiful Sunday afternoon bicycle rides for the family anywhere in Canada.
But try riding your bicycle to work. It’s white knuckles all the way along busy motorways with no bike lanes or pathways. And while the city does proudly boast of its plan to create bikes lanes whenever a street undergoes renovation, the truth is that plan seems to get stretched farther and farther into the future every year.
Other cities do it better. Even in Toronto, which elected a mayor with seemingly a pathological hatred of anything on two wheels, there’s a plan for separated bike lanes. Currently they being constructed along Sherbourne St. in downtown Toronto from Lake Ontario to Bloor St. The picture at left is an example.
“Separated bike lanes have been implemented in Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver and are popular in hundreds of other cities around the world,” says an article from the City of Toronto’s website you'll find here. “Sherbourne is the first of a series of separated bike lanes approved by council to improve the cycling network in downtown Toronto.”
Why are they doing this?
Here’s a brief excerpt from another article: “(A) 2009 cycling study found that many people want to cycle in Toronto, but do not feel safe riding their bicycles when they have to mix with motor vehicle traffic. Helping more people get there by bicycle will improve Toronto's roads for all road users.”
Gee, doesn’t part of that sound familiar.
But while Toronto is moving into the realities of 21st century urbanity, London is content to pat itself for punting the kiddies to the curb and mostly ignoring the rest of us.
Here is one reality: Nobody, young or old or middle aged either, should be riding bicycles on the sidewalks. They should be reserved exclusively for that other legitimate form of transportation called walking.
Here is another reality: London wants to retain its smart, creative and well-educated young people, who in increasing numbers want to be able to walk or bicycle to work and shopping.
That’s why Toronto is building separated bike lanes. That’s what London should be pedaling hard to accomplish too.
Instead, we’re happy with a little feel good decision that costs us nothing – maybe even brings in some revenue, the mayor joked. That’s the kind of small town stuff a city council does with it becomes too focused on zero.
Real cities look to the future, spot the trends, prepare for them – and reap the benefits. Sadly that ain’t us.
My thanks to David Dauphine, a regular reader and former newspaper colleague, for the tip about Toronto.