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Toronto Cyclists Are Selfish And Rude? 55

TorontoCyclistsSelfishRude

Being considerate – whether on a bicycle, in a motor car, or on your feet – is important to improving conditions on our shared streets. Treat others as you would like to be treated. If we all lived by that golden rule, our streets would be a much more pleasant place to be.

Instead of promoting this golden rule, a subset of the cycling community and the mainstream media in Toronto has resorted to name calling and hyperbolic generalizations about Toronto cyclists in an effort to shame cyclists into blindly obeying laws that were designed primarily for motor vehicles.

The most recent fury started late last week when Toronto cyclist Emma Woolley wrote an expletive-laden open letter to other cyclists slamming them for not obeying traffic laws.

Woolley writes:

“By the time I get to work I am so incensed by the carelessness of others that my days are always off to a bad start. Why do cyclists feel that they’re above the law in almost every single situation? Why the sense of entitlement and “because I can?” There’s a widespread attitude that we don’t have to follow the rules simply because we’re not in a car. It’s unsafe and quite frankly, stupid.”

Woolley’s letter was followed by an angry Toronto Star article on Monday which painted the majority of cyclists as lawless, inconsiderate, dangerous renegades which terrorize our streets.

Cyclists in North America already get the short end of the stick and there is already enough animosity on our streets. Instead of writing articles that breed hatred towards cyclists while ignoring the fact that motor vehicles kill several dozens of people every year in Toronto alone, we should be using that energy to change our laws to make cycling more safe and comfortable so that cyclists aren’t tempted to bend the law to stay clear of danger.

A brilliant video that went viral this week by New  York cyclist Casey Neistat shows how nonsensical it is for the NYPD to ticket cyclists for not staying in the bike lane, when the bike lane is so often obstructed by motor vehicles and other obstacles.

This video brought great exposure to an issue that is prevalent here in Toronto too: we are spending so much energy chastising cyclists while we completely ignore the real danger on our streets: automobiles.

Instead of writing a long-winded article in protest against the hatred we are breeding, I decided to create a film on my 30-minute commute to highlight that the vast majority of cyclists here are considerate and courteous (even if we break the odd law to stay safe).

And here’s the follow up video I posted showing the full ride in high speed in case you thought I was “editing out” the bandits:

Sure, there’s the odd jerk-off cyclists who have no consideration for anybody but themselves. But these bandits are few and far between, and painting all cyclists with the same brush does no good for anybody.

Be considerate to others, stay safe, and enjoy your ride.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com.

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  • http://bicyclestc.blogspot.com/ Ryan

    Great video!

    Here in St. Catharines recently a “tour” type cyclist was struck by some loony toon who took off. This started a conversation on the radio about the great “cyclists VS motorists” debate.

    Every motorist who called in didn’t have any issue with the majority of (commuter) cyclists here. It was the motorists who said it’s an even split of bad cyclists and bad motorists.

    I seldom have issues here with motorists and I actually find most motorists quite friendly towards me.

    People who judge an entire group based on a few bad incidents is what’s truly selfish and stupid.

    There was never a ‘war’ between cyclists and motorists until the media tried to build it into one, IMO.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      Good points Ryan, wars sell ideologies (war on terrorism, war on drugs, etc). It’s unfortunate that we get caught in the middle of these fabricated “wars”.

  • http://thecitycyclist.blogspot.com/ Ryan

    Great video!

    Here in St. Catharines recently a “tour” type cyclist was struck by some loony toon who took off. This started a conversation on the radio about the great “cyclists VS motorists” debate.

    Every motorist who called in didn’t have any issue with the majority of (commuter) cyclists here. It was the motorists who said it’s an even split of bad cyclists and bad motorists.

    I seldom have issues here with motorists and I actually find most motorists quite friendly towards me.

    People who judge an entire group based on a few bad incidents is what’s truly selfish and stupid.

    There was never a ‘war’ between cyclists and motorists until the media tried to build it into one, IMO.

  • dr2chase

    Bicycle behavior critics are missing the forest for the trees, and prefer safety rituals to safety results. You want safety, you put people on bicycles, because they kill hardly anyone, even when ridden with flagrant disregard for laws designed to increase the safety of 2000+ lb 100+ horsepower hunks of machinery operated in public spaces. Count the pedestrians killed by cyclists per year (about 1), count the pedestrians killed by autos in a year (about 3000). There’s your results. Why should cyclists listen to critics, when they clearly know more about safety than drivers do (perhaps if you choose the safer vehicle, it doesn’t matter much how you operate it, hmmmmm?)

  • dr2chase

    Bicycle behavior critics are missing the forest for the trees, and prefer safety rituals to safety results. You want safety, you put people on bicycles, because they kill hardly anyone, even when ridden with flagrant disregard for laws designed to increase the safety of 2000+ lb 100+ horsepower hunks of machinery operated in public spaces. Count the pedestrians killed by cyclists per year (about 1), count the pedestrians killed by autos in a year (about 3000). There’s your results. Why should cyclists listen to critics, when they clearly know more about safety than drivers do (perhaps if you choose the safer vehicle, it doesn’t matter much you operate it, hmmmmm?)

  • http://situp-cycle.com Michael Rubbo

    You make your point well. Cyclists are clearly behaving as they should, even making hand signals. What struck me was the number of cyclists, and the bike share stand with on one bike remaining. I wish we had so much bike traffic here in Aust., because whatever the aggro in your papers, there is safety in numbers.

    I suspect too that TO motorists might be beginning to suffer withdrawal symptoms, withdrawal of exclusivity

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      Mike, it is a great sign that things are heading in a positive direction even despite our bike infrastructure falling behind the rest of the world. I strongly believe that in order to make real change, we need a really strong number of people on bicycles on our streets. Otherwise, governments will only build half-ass infrastructure to attempt to appease.

      You might find it interesting that I walked the streets of New York City for 3 days to get the footage for my 4 minute NYC bicycle video in March, whereas the footage for this video was all captured in 30 minutes at 9AM on a Thursday morning (of course it helps that the Toronto footage was filmed in June, but even in March there were a lot of cyclists in Toronto compared to what I saw in NYC).

      We have something special in Toronto that we need to build on.

  • http://situp-cycle.com/ Michael Rubbo

    You make your point well. Cyclists are clearly behaving as they should, even making hand signals. What struck me was the number of cyclists, and the bike share stand with on one bike remaining. I wish we had so much bike traffic here in Aust., because whatever the aggro in your papers, there is safety in numbers.

    I suspect too that TO motorists might be beginning to suffer withdrawal symptoms, withdrawal of exclusivity

  • Kam

    Generalisations always make me chuckle.

    I have a positive experience to report! I was driving west along Bloor a couple days ago. Between every few lights I would pass the same handful of cyclists, and meet them again at the next light. Somewhere around Dufferin I started hearing an odd scraping noise from under the car. Figured I caught some trash and was dragging it along. Before i could find a spot to pull over we came to another red light. Guy on a bike sets his kick-stand, walks over, rummages around my front right wheel and pulls out a little half-crushed plastic crate. “Fifty Points!” he yells – we high five, i thank him, he dumps the trophy in the garbage, the light goes green and we carry on.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      Lovely story Kam! We need more of these positive stories about people getting along on our streets instead of highlighting only the negative stories. That’s the same thing I tried to do with the video.

  • Kam

    Generalisations always make me chuckle.

    I have a positive experience to report! I was driving west along Bloor a couple days ago. Between every few lights I would pass the same handful of cyclists, and meet them again at the next light. Somewhere around Dufferin I started hearing an odd scraping noise from under the car. Figured I caught some trash and was dragging it along. Before i could find a spot to pull over we came to another red light. Guy on a bike sets his kick-stand, walks over, rummages around my front right wheel and pulls out a little half-crushed plastic crate. “Fifty Points!” he yells – we high five, i thank him, he dumps the trophy in the garbage, the light goes green and we carry on.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Lovely story Kam! We need more of these positive stories about people getting along on our streets instead of highlighting only the negative stories. That’s the same thing I tried to do with the video.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Mike, it is a great sign that things are heading in a positive direction even despite our bike infrastructure falling behind the rest of the world. I strongly believe that in order to make real change, we need a really strong number of people on bicycles on our streets. Otherwise, governments will only build half-ass infrastructure to attempt to appease.

    You might find it interesting that I walked the streets of New York City for 3 days to get the footage for my 4 minute NYC bicycle video in March, whereas the footage for this video was all captured in 30 minutes at 9AM on a Thursday morning (of course it helps that the Toronto footage was filmed in June, but even in March there were a lot of cyclists in Toronto compared to what I saw in NYC).

    We have something special in Toronto that we need to build on.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Good points Ryan, wars sell ideologies (war on terrorism, war on drugs, etc). It’s unfortunate that we get caught in the middle of these fabricated “wars”.

  • Cecily Walker

    What I find interesting is that for myself, I used to think that cyclists in Vancouver were rude and selfish before I started using my bike as my primary method of transportation. Once I started riding everywhere, on all sorts of streets, and under all conditions, my perspective changed drastically, and I am much more willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. By and large, Vancouver cyclists are law-abiding folks who are trying to make the best of an imperfect situation. I imagine Toronto cyclists are pretty much the same.

  • Cecily Walker

    What I find interesting is that for myself, I used to think that cyclists in Vancouver were rude and selfish before I started using my bike as my primary method of transportation. Once I started riding everywhere, on all sorts of streets, and under all conditions, my perspective changed drastically, and I am much more willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. By and large, Vancouver cyclists are law-abiding folks who are trying to make the best of an imperfect situation. I imagine Toronto cyclists are pretty much the same.

  • http://www.joyofbicyclecommuting.com Micheal Blue

    James, my experience is the same – most cyclists I see during my 19.5 km commute are considerate and don’t cause “traffic problems”. The only stupid cyclist behaviour I remember witnessing was a couple of bike messengers cutting off a bus on Front St. That was a dangerous situation.

  • http://www.joyofbicyclecommuting.com/ Micheal Blue

    James, my experience is the same – most cyclists I see during my 19.5 km commute are considerate and don’t cause “traffic problems”. The only stupid cyclist behaviour I remember witnessing was a couple of bike messengers cutting off a bus on Front St. That was a dangerous situation.

  • Sonikon

    One only needs to listen to the tone of Mrs. Woolley’s letter to understand that she has issues that go beyond the subject of cycling. It is quite unclear how she expects anyone to take any of her complaints seriously while being so aggressive to her fellow cyclists, all while totally ignoring the main problem, “the bull in the middle of the china shop”, i.e. lack of proper infrastructure and our unfortunate car centered culture.
    Anyone who has biked enough in town ends up understanding why certain “illegal” behaviours are adopted by cyclists, so she probably is some beginner, or some recreational/Sunday cyclist.
    Which leads to the issues of where/to whom do the newbies turn for information when they start on their practice. Diffculties are to be expected at the beginning of urban cycling, and if the only informational ressources, are police advice, official and governmental recommendations (that are often dangerous), all people who do not bike, then it is normal that unexperienced and newbies swallow that discourse and regurgitate it all wherever they go… until they have practiced enough that it opens their eyes.
    Maybe infrastructura advocates’ voices do not get across enough… Is filtered off by the media… or people are simply intellectually lazy and finger pointing is easier than analysing situations…

  • Sonikon

    One only needs to listen to the tone of Mrs. Woolley’s letter to understand that she has issues that go beyond the subject of cycling. It is quite unclear how she expects anyone to take any of her complaints seriously while being so aggressive to her fellow cyclists, all while totally ignoring the main problem, “the bull in the middle of the china shop”, i.e. lack of proper infrastructure and our unfortunate car centered culture.
    Anyone who has biked enough in town ends up understanding why certain “illegal” behaviours are adopted by cyclists, so she probably is some beginner, or some recreational/Sunday cyclist.
    Which leads to the issues of where/to whom do the newbies turn for information when they start on their practice. Diffculties are to be expected at the beginning of urban cycling, and if the only informational ressources, are police advice, official and governmental recommendations (that are often dangerous), all people who do not bike, then it is normal that unexperienced and newbies swallow that discourse and regurgitate it all wherever they go… until they have practiced enough that it opens their eyes.
    Maybe infrastructura advocates’ voices do not get across enough… Is filtered off by the media… or people are simply intellectually lazy and finger pointing is easier than analysing situations…

  • http://www.t.isgood.ca TOisGood

    I applaud the concept but I’m not sure how much the video will do to convince people on the other side.

    I wondering if an uncut video of a commute with the boring bits sped up and the dangers/good behaviour highlighted or a more systematic documentation of some of the frequent high risk situations that come up could get the message across better….Even then I’m not sure how much that will change driver culture so maybe with some tips for how cyclists should deal with the dangerous situations created by motorists…You’ve left me inspired to do some video production!

  • http://www.t.isgood.ca/ TOisGood

    I applaud the concept but I’m not sure how much the video will do to convince people on the other side.

    I wondering if an uncut video of a commute with the boring bits sped up and the dangers/good behaviour highlighted or a more systematic documentation of some of the frequent high risk situations that come up could get the message across better….Even then I’m not sure how much that will change driver culture so maybe with some tips for how cyclists should deal with the dangerous situations created by motorists…You’ve left me inspired to do some video production!

  • dr2chase

    Finally read the article, that woman has issues and so do some of the commenters. It’s gratifying to know that such tightly-wound people are so easy to annoy. I quit caring, shortly after the second time I chased down a red-light runner to harass them, stumbled across the pedestrians-killed statistics (mentioned earlier), and realized that it was utterly pointless (I carefully obeyed the laws for about 30 years, and even perfected such moves as the foot-down-for-Palo-Alto-cops-with-minimum-stop — because they used to look for that, for bicycles, but not cars). It’s not about safety, it’s about taboos. Drivers don’t care if you are safe (look how so many of them drive), they don’t care about actually obeying traffic laws (look at how many of them speed etc) but they DO care about not breaking taboos. Running a red light (except one that was very recently yellow!) is taboo.

    Once you realize this, in Boston, it’s actually easy to “run” red lights w/o annoying drivers. Step one, right turn on red after “stop” (ha!). I.e., just a plain old right turn. Step two, u-turn, which is legal if safe, unless prohibited by sign. Step three, one more right turn after yet another “stop”, and you’re on your way. Since no step is taboo, no problems.

  • dr2chase

    Finally read the article, that woman has issues and so do some of the commenters. It’s gratifying to know that such tightly-people are so easy to annoy. I quit caring, shortly after the second time I chased down a red-light runner to harass them, stumbled across the pedestrians-killed statistics (mentioned earlier), and realized that it was utterly pointless (I carefully obeyed the laws for about 30 years, and even perfected such moves as the foot-down-for-Palo-Alto-cops-with-minimum-stop — because they used to look for that, for bicycles, but not cars). It’s not about safety, it’s about taboos. Drivers don’t care if you are safe (look how so many of them drive), they don’t care about actually obeying traffic laws (look at how many of them speed etc) but they DO care about not breaking taboos. Running a red light (except one that was very recently yellow!) is taboo.

    Once you realzie this, in Boston, it’s actually easy to “run” red lights w/o annoying drivers. Step one, right turn on red after “stop” (ha!). I.e., just a plain old right turn. Step two, u-turn, which is legal if safe, unless prohibited by sign. Step three, one more right turn after yet another “stop”, and you’re on your way. Since no step is taboo, no problems.

  • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/ Mr.S.

    I know I am a broken record, but the obvious defence of cyclists bears repeating: we ride the way we have to, and it endangers no one else.

    I said much the same at my own blog. In Tokyo bicycles are unpoliced, cyclists ride all over roads and sidewalks, and take traffic signals only under advisement, yet they have far fewer cycling, pedestrian and automobile accidents. In fact, per-capita traffic carnage is a fraction what it is in N.America (in which Toronto is one of the worse medium to large cities). Note that it is the rare Tokyo road that has a bike lane, and the roads are far busier. The differences? A critical mass of cyclists, and the policing and courts focus harshly on automobile drivers. It works. Imagine that.

    Link has a bare backside: be warned.
    http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/2011/05/universal-cycling-rules.html

  • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/ Mr.S.

    I know I am a broken record, but the obvious defence of cyclists bears repeating: we ride the way we have to, and it endangers no one else.

    I said much the same at my own blog. In Tokyo bicycles are unpoliced, cyclists ride all over roads and sidewalks, and take traffic signals only under advisement, yet they have far fewer cycling, pedestrian and automobile accidents. In fact, per-capita traffic carnage is a fraction what it is in N.America (in which Toronto is one of the worse medium to large cities). Note that it is the rare Tokyo road that has a bike lane, and the roads are far busier. The differences? A critical mass of cyclists, and the policing and courts focus harshly on automobile drivers. It works. Imagine that.

    Link has a bare backside: be warned.
    http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/2011/05/universal-cycling-rules.html

  • http://www.t.isgood.ca/ TOisGood

    Just discovered this vid on bike lane hazards in NYC. http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-buzz/york-city-cyclist-demonstrates-dangers-bike-lanes-152317339.html

    Maybe taking it a bit far but I like the idea but the entertainment value is high.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    I guess you didn’t read my post :P Because I linked to that NYC video in the body ;)

    I’m glad he took it this far, because it exposed the issue to 2 million+ people.

  • lukev

    James, please make more videos like this. They’re great to watch and they show the city at it’s best.

    They also show just how popular cycling is becoming here.

  • lukev

    James, please make more videos like this. They’re great to watch and they show the city at it’s best.

    They also show just how popular cycling is becoming here.

  • Chris

    you should try walking or driving along Lakeshore Rd. or any of the side streets in south Etobicoke. I too am a cyclist and I am totally pissed with the attitude of the cylcist that run the red lights and stop signs or just hold up traffic driving down the middle of the lane.

  • Chris

    you should try walking or driving along Lakeshore Rd. or any of the side streets in south Etobicoke. I too am a cyclist and I am totally pissed with the attitude of the cylcist that run the red lights and stop signs or just hold up traffic driving down the middle of the lane.

  • http://twitter.com/christineestima Christine Estima

    i know emma wooley. i can’t say we’re friends, i just kinda know her as we run in the same circles. i’m surprised she’d write something like that, it’s upsetting for us considerate cyclists.

  • http://twitter.com/christineestima Christine Estima

    i know emma wooley. i can’t say we’re friends, i just kinda know her as we run in the same circles. i’m surprised she’d write something like that, it’s upsetting for us considerate cyclists.

  • Gclarke

    Where cyclists rule…
    By Mark Price on Tue, 9 Aug 2011

    “But, Copenhagen demonstrated to my wife and I that if you take hardened, impatient commuters from behind the wheels of their cars and put them on bicycles, then they are likely to be just as hardened and impatient.
    Copenhagen bicycle commuters gave off an unspoken but simple message: Get out of my way! “

    http://www.odt.co.nz/lifestyle/travel/172623/where-cyclists-rule

  • Gclarke

    Where cyclists rule…
    By Mark Price on Tue, 9 Aug 2011

    “But, Copenhagen demonstrated to my wife and I that if you take hardened, impatient commuters from behind the wheels of their cars and put them on bicycles, then they are likely to be just as hardened and impatient.
    Copenhagen bicycle commuters gave off an unspoken but simple message: Get out of my way! “

    http://www.odt.co.nz/lifestyle/travel/172623/where-cyclists-rule

  • Duane Lambe

    the problem is with awareness and education on both sides, and a lot less stupid on the roads. anyone who thinks bending the traffic laws to acquire safety on a bike is a good idea, needs to go punch, very lightly, the front bumper of a car. now imagine that hitting you on your bike at a mere 20km an hour. you need to follow the laws, because a lot of people behind the wheels of their cars in TO are also fucking morons, myself probably included. i’ve been driving here for 15 years, and i’ve seen it go from bad to worse every single year. i have no idea why exactly – i have theories – but the change is pretty obvious.

    anyway, you’re arguing entitlement against entitlement in your post, not law vs law, or sense vs sense, and it’s not helping anyone reach any conclusions, you’re just irresponsibly inciting and rewarding shallow opinions.

    from my viewpoint – a car – i see retards every single time i go to the city, there’s always SOMEone at some light on some bike breaking the law, pedaling through a crosswalk on a red light being the most common offense, morphing from vehicle to pedestrian, just by location, apparently. this is wrong enough for me to know it’s wrong. but, i’m in a car, and i go faster than a bike, so i probably cover more area than you do in my driving session, than you would on a bike, so i see more shit. bicyclists might not see it as often, but they ride slower, sometimes have specific routes they stick to, or may be confined to particular bike paths and lanes. we both have different perspectives, is the point.

    for instance, from your perspective, on a 100lb bike, i could ruin you like gallagher being hit by a wrecking ball, so you’re trying to protect you’re well-being, and, often, your entitled rights, ego, all that other shit we carry with us.

    from my perspective, in the same situation, i /know/ i can ruin you like ditto, and i also would rather not go to jail for vehicular manslaughter, because you felt like being a pedestrian just then when you bounced off my bumper because i was going to turn because no one was coming but you felt like being a goddamn pedestrian and now i have to watch for shivs. great.

    just because you can write about something, doesn’t mean you should. doing is often the more effective action. get off your fucking soapboxes, and go storm the governments for not properly disseminating information, blame the system for being weak, blame TO for not having enough bike lanes, and you can blame everyone – including myself, i’m sure – who hasn’t read and understood the current bike laws in their updated entirety, yet feel that they have an educated opinion on the matter.

    stop being bitchy, entitled, finger-pointing babies, and go find a way to fix it. it’s a broader problem than you’re giving it credit for, and the original author should really consider a revision… if they actually care about what they write, and how it affects others, that is.

    anyone can point out stuff when it’s obvious and wrong. few people fix anything, even if they have their own two good arms. pointing out shit and whining about it is the prison system’s equivalent of a snitch, and no one likes a snitch.

    act.

    (man, two prison references in one post, i’m feeling good.)

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