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Lawyer On a Bike: Interview with Ian Flett 52

Lawyer Ian Flett on his Pashley bicycle

Photo of Ian Flett courtesy of Yvonne Bambrick for The Urban Country

Half a world away lies a land where troves of business men and ladies gracefully pedal their way to and fro their places of business. In business attire, they dress for the destination, not for the ride. But this isn’t Amsterdam or Copenhagen. This is car-country Canada, where only 1.4% of the population commutes by bicycle.

Although it is becoming more common to see citizens in regular clothes using bicycles for their daily transportation here in Toronto, it is still the norm for most citizens to drive cars, take taxis or ride public transit to work.

Lawyer Ian Flett represents a growing faction of urban professionals who choose to ride bicycles to the office each morning without dressing in “cycle gear” and without requiring a shower at the office.

Ian has his own law practice which focuses on municipal, criminal law and mediation. His interest in municipal law is rooted in his interest in “cities and urban design”. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Ian was a reporter/videojournalist/producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for 9 years.

We interviewed Ian to highlight his experiences bicycling around Toronto and perhaps inspire other urban professionals to consider choosing the most convenient, elegant and fun mode of transportation: the trusty commuter bicycle.

Lawyer Ian Flett on his Pashley bicycle

Photo of Ian Flett courtesy of Yvonne Bambrick for The Urban Country

How long have you been using a bicycle for transportation in Toronto?

I’ve been riding bikes for transport since I was 12; I’m 36, so 24 years. I’ve used my bicycles in every city I’ve lived in: Paris, London, New York, Saskatoon, Ottawa and Montreal. The one exception is when I lived in Brandon, Manitoba: that was truck country and I was unashamed to drive one there. I moved to Toronto in 2009 and I’ve only used bicycles to get around here.

What are your earliest memories of bicycling?

I grew up in Winnipeg where there are two beautiful rivers flowing through the city. I used to ride my bike along the monkey trails throughout the forests along those rivers and explore from dawn to dusk. I have always associated cycling with freedom, it gave value to the independence I had as a boy. I feel the same excitement today getting on my bike to go anywhere.

Do you ride year round?

I’ve ridden throughout treacherous winters in Saskatoon and Winnipeg, so winter riding in Toronto is a breeze!  I always argue the real challenge with winter riding is staying cool and being very visible, motorists don’t always expect to see us in the winter.

Lawyer Ian Flett on his Pashley bicycle

Photo of Ian Flett courtesy of Yvonne Bambrick for The Urban Country

What does your typical cycling attire consist of?

I live and work downtown, I’m a ten minute bike ride from 7 courthouses, the OMB and City Hall. This means I have the luxury of riding my bike to courts and tribunals. So, I’m very often riding my beautiful Pashley Roadster in my suit.

If I’m appearing at the Superior Court I ride to court in my fancy court shirt and vest. Regrettably, it’s not appropriate to wear our legal robes on the street, but I’ll admit I’ve often imagined robes flowing in the wind behind me would look awesome.

Why do you choose to ride without a helmet? Are you criticized for this decision?

My friends and family certainly challenge my decision not to wear a helmet. And I am strangely most frightened of the consequences of a minor concussion or brain injury. I may reconsider if I become a father, especially when the statistics indicate how important it is to use helmets.

However, I believe my riding habits are defensive enough to keep me safe from most collisions, so I think of it as a calculated risk. My head is strangely shaped and I find helmets uncomfortable to wear. From a public policy point of view, I’ve now experienced more cyclists make safer roads. So, I fear mandatory helmet use would discourage many riders and lead to an overall decrease in cyclist safety. Ultimately, helmet use is a personal choice. People are smart, they can make up their own minds.

What does your daily commute look like?

I feel very lucky to live in an old art deco apartment building near Bay and Bloor. My commute is never longer than 20 minutes, and that’s only if I’m meeting a client someplace at the edge of the downtown core. I appear a lot at Old City Hall, so I usually bomb down Bay Street quite comfortably without building a sweat and then jump into court with all those wonderful biking endorphins coursing through me.

Lawyer Ian Flett on his Pashley bicycle

Photo of Ian Flett courtesy of Yvonne Bambrick for The Urban Country

Do you feel there is a lot of animosity on the streets in Toronto?

When I first arrived in 2009 I found motorists and cyclists were very aggressive towards each other. I think this was the beginning of the destructive “war on the car” rhetoric and using the road felt like defending territory. I’d get honked at for taking my lane, other motorists would cut me off and squeeze me. It was frustrating and it seemed that every week I was involved in some sort of dispute with a motorist (I’m a very defensive rider and I don’t hesitate to assert myself).

I believe the war rhetoric played a big part in the belligerence that caused Allan Sheppard’s death. I didn’t understand how two road users, who in any other circumstance would likely act with courtesy and civility towards each other, should approach sharing the road with such hostility. The whole episode caused me grief and I thought about how my actions on the road could either contribute to that hostility or defuse it.

In the summer of 2010 I began to find motorists gave me much more respect and courtesy which I then extended in turn. Toronto cycling guru Yvonne Bambrick suggested this was due to more cyclists on the streets and motorists adapting to us, another friend suggested my riding style probably adapted. I agree with both and find I very rarely encounter hostility now.

More often I ask fellow cyclists not to go through red lights and ignore traffic rules. Riding recklessly really undermines our legitimacy and gives motorists a reason to question our claim to the streets.

What advice would you have for somebody who is thinking about using a bicycle for transportation in Toronto?

The other day I was sitting at a cafe and watching bicycles go by. I realized that from the point of view of a pedestrian or driver bicycling looks really precarious! This is especially true on roads like Bloor or Bay.

First I would say it is not as intimidating as it looks. If concern for safety is an obstacle, stick to routes where there are many cyclists. Be visible by taking your lane, signal your intentions. I think it’s important to pedal consistently; I think this sends some sort of subconscious signal to motorists that makes them respect you more. Get the most comfortable bike you can find. Take the Can-Bike course to become familiar with some simple strategies that make all the difference in the world.

Lawyer Ian Flett on his Pashley bicycle

Photo of Ian Flett courtesy of Yvonne Bambrick for The Urban Country

What are the top improvements that you think Toronto could make to make bicycling better in the city?

Despite the glacial pace of bicycle lane construction in this city, it is actually a great bicycling city. It’s reasonably flat, there’s lots of room to lock bikes (most of the time) and I believe Torontonians, whether on bikes or in cars, really want to co-operate and share the roads.

But separated bike lanes would help alleviate some of the fear people who hesitate to ride might have. They would also make life a lot easier for those who wish to continue motoring.

The other big issue for me is connecting existing bicycling infrastructure. One of our city councillors said bicycle lanes should only be built if they go to specific destinations; I can’t agree with this. Road-users on bikes need to feel free to plan routes that offer safety and consistency. He ignored a basic principle: We’re all entitled to feel safe navigating our city’s streets.

Lawyer Ian Flett on his Pashley bicycle

Photo of Ian Flett courtesy of Yvonne Bambrick for The Urban Country

Thanks Ian for sharing your experiences and insight with The Urban Country, and thanks Yvonne for taking the wonderful photos. To view the entire photo shoot, go to Yvonne’s Flickr set.

Would you like to be interviewed to share your experiences as a bicycle commuter? Send an email to contact@theurbancountry.com and tell us a bit about yourself.

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

i share the road

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  • john redekop

    You are the best dressed cyclist I think I’ve ever see. Nobody comes close in Winnipeg. Certainly not the 40 lbs. overwieght spandex wearing seniors. Raise the bar. John

  • john redekop

    You are the best dressed cyclist I think I’ve ever see. Nobody comes close in Winnipeg. Certainly not the 40 lbs. overwieght spandex wearing seniors. Raise the bar. John

  • GoJetsGo

    I think I remember you from Winnipeg. You unbuttoned your shirt too far and your chest hair was exposed.

    • Ian Flett

      Yes, that was me in my second TV story ever…just a little embarrassed!

  • GoJetsGo

    I think I remember you from Winnipeg. You unbuttoned your shirt too far and your chest hair was exposed.

  • http://www.cyclelicio.us/ Cyclelicious

    I go helmetless for the same reasons Flett does, but I have talked to a few personal injury cycling attorneys in California who won’t take a case of the cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet. In their experience and opinion, they say the helmet can have a significant effect on the settlement.

  • http://www.cyclelicio.us/ Cyclelicious

    I go helmetless for the same reasons Flett does, but I have talked to a few personal injury cycling attorneys in California who won’t take a case of the cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet. In their experience and opinion, they say the helmet can have a significant effect on the settlement.

  • http://www.fullfat.ca Octavian

    Good stuff. I’m glad to see that my impressions about the change in the attitudes of drivers are not unfounded.

  • http://www.fullfat.ca/ Octavian

    Good stuff. I’m glad to see that my impressions about the change in the attitudes of drivers are not unfounded.

  • John__Henry

    The Brandon comment cracked me up. God, I hate that place.

    • Ian Flett

      It’s in a beautiful part of the province and the people are very nice.

  • John__Henry

    The Brandon comment cracked me up. God, I hate that place.

  • http://rolandtanglao.com roland

    Hi ian:
    what do you wear when it’s raining or snowing? an overcoat? or something hi-tech and rainproof but stylish like the arc’teryx veilance or the brompton coat? or do you revert to “effective but not so stylish” :-) gortex?
    …Roland in Vancouver “who’s in search of stylish rain gear for commuting in the 9 month vancouver rainy season” Tanglao

    • Ian Flett

      I’m still working on that one. MEC just released a big poncho that goes over you and the handle bars. Up to now, I sacrifice “the look” and wear my swoosh and hope for the best under the belt. If the weather is really terrible I take the subway.

  • http://rolandtanglao.com/ roland

    Hi ian:
    what do you wear when it’s raining or snowing? an overcoat? or something hi-tech and rainproof but stylish like the arc’teryx veilance or the brompton coat? or do you revert to “effective but not so stylish” :-) gortex?
    …Roland in Vancouver “who’s in search of stylish rain gear for commuting in the 9 month vancouver rainy season” Tanglao

  • Ian Flett

    I’m still working on that one. MEC just released a big poncho that goes over you and the handle bars. Up to now, I sacrifice “the look” and wear my swoosh and hope for the best under the belt. If the weather is really terrible I take the subway.

  • Ian Flett

    It’s in a beautiful part of the province and the people are very nice.

  • Ian Flett

    Yes, that was me in my second TV story ever…just a little embarrassed!

  • Kevin Love

    That’s my bike! I too ride a Pashley Roadster Sovereign with the same Basil panniers.

    Only difference is mine is the big frame with double top tubes. Here’s a photo of me on my Pashley:

    http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/719263–jane-s-ride-shows-cyclists-the-links-and-holes-in-burlington-s-network

  • Kevin Love

    That’s my bike! I too ride a Pashley Roadster Sovereign with the same Basil panniers.

    Only difference is mine is the big frame with double top tubes. Here’s a photo of me on my Pashley:

    http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/719263–jane-s-ride-shows-cyclists-the-links-and-holes-in-burlington-s-network

  • webby

    That was a great interview and some good insight from Ian. Im curius Ian as to what your thoughts are on vihicular cycling which seems to be a movement that is gaining momentum.

  • webby

    That was a great interview and some good insight from Ian. Im curius Ian as to what your thoughts are on vihicular cycling which seems to be a movement that is gaining momentum.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_O4G2QBIS7IP3R5RDIDVTMJJASI Mark

    Ian, you’re lucky to not be chasing ambulances as an injury lawyer or journalist! The former would also ride with videocams as are more cyclists.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_O4G2QBIS7IP3R5RDIDVTMJJASI Mark

    Ian, you’re lucky to not be chasing ambulances as an injury lawyer or journalist! The former would also ride with videocams as are more cyclists.

  • Steve Parker

    If all us will be using bicycle as a mean of transportation, I guess the number of road or motor accident will be lessen. Just like my truck accident lawyer, using of bicycle rather than his expensive car is his own choice.

  • Steve Parker

    If all us will be using bicycle as a mean of transportation, I guess the number of road or motor accident will be lessen. Just like my truck accident lawyer, using of bicycle rather than his expensive car is his own choice.

  • ThomasStrome

    It’s been 2 years now since I focus myself on biking in and out of town. Even though I don’t make it my usual transportation going to work, it still is nothing compared to injury lawyer Suffolk county that I know or even for Mr. Flett.

  • ThomasStrome

    It’s been 2 years now since I focus myself on biking in and out of town. Even though I don’t make it my usual transportation going to work, it still is nothing compared to injury lawyer Suffolk county that I know or even for Mr. Flett.

  • 3M respirators

    The other big problem for me is linking current biking facilities. One of our town councillors said bike paths should only be designed if they go to particular destinations; I can’t consent with this. Road-users on motorbikes need to you can strategy tracks that provide protection and reliability.

  • 3M respirators

    The other big problem for me is linking current biking facilities. One of our town councillors said bike paths should only be designed if they go to particular destinations; I can’t consent with this. Road-users on motorbikes need to you can strategy tracks that provide protection and reliability.

  • http://www.wtjohnson.com/ lawyer Dallas

    really it’s fantastic & I appreciate it….!

  • http://www.wtjohnson.com/ lawyer Dallas

    really it’s fantastic & I appreciate it….!

  • https://twitter.com/aDDSstudent nbde part 1

    This article inspires me to ride on cycle.Really im impressed by the interview taken in a different way.

  • https://twitter.com/aDDSstudent nbde part 1

    This article inspires me to ride on cycle.Really im impressed by the interview taken in a different way.

  • Kimberly Mullin

    I also do have a razor spark scooter which I certainly prefer over those cars. Its a lot healthier and you could also feel the fresh breeze of the air right through your skin. Though I’m hoping that the government provide better cycling system and rules on the road to give protection.

  • Kimberly Mullin

    I also do have a razor spark scooter which I certainly prefer over those cars. Its a lot healthier and you could also feel the fresh breeze of the air right through your skin. Though I’m hoping that the government provide better cycling system and rules on the road to give protection.

  • Milly Thorne

    I believe cycling is the best preworkout there is. You can exercise on your way to work and feeling the morning air on your face is really incomparable.

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  • roger emilie

    I remember you from Montreal 1997. At the time, you were singing “I like sandwiches, I eat them all the time…” ! Emilie from France

  • Jayden Eden

    I really respect him for riding that bike around everywhere. I think it would be awesome if more people chose to ride bikes instead of driving. It would clear up traffic and help people stay active.
    Jayden Eden | http://www.rellapaolini.com/icbc_claims_and_personal_injury.html