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Tabloid Columnist Calls For Bicycle Ban in Toronto 20

Amsterdam Cycle Chic

Amsterdam Cycle Chic – Photo by Mikael Colville-Andersen

In a series of columns in a Toronto tabloid, columnist Mike Strobel has called for a ban on bicycling in the city in order to address traffic congestion, comparing bicyclists to psychos in his anti-bicycling rant that spans three articles.

Strobel’s outrageous nonsensical articles reveal more than just his fear of progress, or anything that challenges his outdated thinking. It reveals the success and growth that bicycling in Toronto has seen. He notes, “They (bicyclists) are everywhere, like earwigs in your garden”.

Strobel is so concerned about the increasing number of bicyclists in Toronto that he has resorted to inciting hatred towards anyone who rides a bicycle in the city, in the hopes of scaring them off our streets.

Strobel seems to be stuck in the 1970’s. We are all guilty of living in the past sometimes, but there is little excuse for the myths and contradictions that he propagates in his writings.

We will address some of the myths here:

Myth #1 : Banning bicycles would improve traffic congestion

“Well, maybe if you quit clogging the lane and got out of the DAMN WAY!”

“I guarantee if we ban bicycles except on paths and erase all bike lanes, driving will get much easier. “

“A bicycle ban will free up lanes and make turns safer”

“Many motorists have had it to the teeth with militant cyclists and with being scrunched into single file by, for instance, the silly Bike Lane to Nowhere on Eastern Ave.”

In the quotes above, Strobel makes the case to ban bicycles to improve traffic congestion, implying that bicycles cause traffic congestion.

He then highlights two cities that have less traffic congestion than Toronto: New York City and Minneapolis:

“For starters, you’ll notice we’re far worse off than New York City, which improved from 8th to 14th of 26 cities studied by TomTom. Manhattan?! How can that be?”

“Or let’s do whatever Minneapolis is doing, since it is least gridlocked of the 26 cities.”

Funny that Strobel should mention New York and Minneapolis: two cities that have invested significantly in bicycle infrastructure over the past 5 years. New York has added 350km of bike lanes in 4 years starting in 2008 and doubled the number of bicycle commuters in that timeframe.

Minneapolis has invested heavily in bicycle infrastructure, doubling its number of bike lanes on city streets from 2011 to 2012. It too has seen a steady increase in bicycle traffic.

Traffic congestion is not caused by bicycles. It is caused by having too many cars, and too few alternatives to cars. Investing in bicycle infrastructure is indeed part of the solution to addressing gridlock. Strobel is stuck in 1970.

If the 19,000+ people who ride bicycles into downtown every day were driving cars instead, Mr. Strobel might re-think his position that it is bicycles that cause congestion.

Myth #2: Banning Bicycles Would Increase Safety on our streets

“Mackinac island bans cars. Funny thing, though: The island police report up to 30 bicycle injury accidents each summer. Hmmm. So our car drivers are the safety problem?”

Toronto has its own car-free neighbourhood. One that lacks traffic signals, features thousands of bicyclists, and has zero traffic fatalities.

In 2009, a 15-year-old bicyclist struck and killed a woman on the sidewalk after the woman fell and hit her head. This is the last known incident where a bicyclist has caused a death in Toronto. During the same timeframe, more than 200 pedestrians and more than 20 bicyclists in Toronto had been killed by motor vehicles. Furthermore, there are about 2,300 pedestrians injured each year by motor vehicles in Toronto – that is 6 per day.

Just tonight, a 37-year-old bicyclist was tragically killed by an allegedly intoxicated man driving a Dodge Durango. The bicyclist “was thrown anywhere from 30 to 40 metres through the intersection.”

And bicycles are the safety problem?

Myth #3: Cars will never go “dinosaur”

“Cars are common sense. They are our era’s horses. They’re also vastly greener and safer than your dad’s Buick. They will never go dinosaur, despite the bike cult’s best efforts.”

Strobel contradicts himself here. First he says “cars are our era’s horses” (a mode of transportation that did in fact go extinct), and in the same paragraph he goes on to say that cars “will never go dinosaur”.

Strobel is like a horse walking along with blinders on; he clearly lacks any vision. Had Strobel lived in the early 20th century, he surely would have predicted that horses would never “go dinosaur” as a viable mode of transportation.

Myth #4: Bicyclists don’t pay their fair share

“So we could build a version of Minneapolis’s new seven-kilometre “bicycle freeway” to downtown, which I’m sure our own cyclists would be happy to fund.

No? Well, fair’s fair. User pays.”

Most people who ride bicycles in the city would be happy to pay for proper bicycle infrastructure, especially if it meant we no longer had to pay for car infrastructure that we may or may not use.

Currently, people who don’t drive cars pay disproportionately more for motor vehicle infrastructure through property taxes (via home ownership or rent), and through general taxes, than the motorists who use those roads. Thus, people who primarily walk or bike are subsidizing the roads for motorists.

In fact, motor vehicles are the most highly subsidized mode of transportation. Bring on user fees for drivers and bicyclists alike.

Myth #5: Bicycles are a slow mode of transportation

“If we all rode bikes — see utopia reference above — but we’d also all have callouses, stopped backs and we’d take days to get anywhere.”

Bicycles are often the fastest and most reliable way to get around the city – especially at rush hour when walking downtown is faster than sitting in a car.

Myth #6: Bicyclists don’t drive cars

“Disciples of Toronto’s bicy-cult, in their blind hate of cars, forget there are far more drivers, just trying to get to work or pick up the kids. “

Here Strobel is trying to perpetuate the myth that bicyclists and drivers are enemies. In reality, many bicyclists are drivers too (myself included).

Many of us who ride bicycles in the city also have valid driver’s licenses and periodically or regularly drive cars in the city. Some own their own cars, while others use car sharing services and rental cars.

There is no war between drivers and bicyclists. We are all citizens trying to get from point A to point B.

Myth #6: Bicyclists don’t follow any rules

“I hate bikes,” writes Janette. “No one has a clue as to their rules. I see them taking up a whole lane and cars having to get around them.”

Janette doesn’t represent the motorist camp very well, because she clearly has no clue as to what the rules are. Bicyclists are indeed allowed by law to take up an entire car lane when required.

If we want to talk about obeying laws, I was walking my dog this morning and I saw a police officer parked near the road on Lakeshore Blvd. He didn’t have his radar out, but virtually every car slammed on their brakes to slow down as they approached the officer.

I was also driving on the Gardiner expressway this afternoon, and while I was driving 90km/h (the speed limit), every single other car on that road sped past me well over the speed limit.

There are few drivers I’ve ever met who are in any position to preach to bicyclists about obeying the law.

I also created a video a while back to show that most bicyclists do indeed obey the law most of the time anyway, especially on roads with bike infrastructure.

Myth #7: Bicycles are only viable in the summer

“The nitty-gritty: Streets are designed for cars, not bikes. Especially in winter, which is most of the time.”

In Toronto’s fair climate, bicycles are a viable mode of transportation for the vast majority of the year. Aside from the odd snowfall day, bicycling in the winter is not a difficult task in Toronto, and pedaling in the winter is a great way to warm up.

On average, Toronto gets just 7.2 days of snowfall each year exceeding 5cm. January has the most snowfall days with just 2 days of snowfall that exceeds 5cm.


Strobel’s articles only serve to create more rage and hatred towards people who use bicycles to get around the city. Next time an angry driver runs us off the road, or passes us too closely, or worse yet, hits us, we have Strobel to thank for perpetuating unnecessary hatred towards us and dividing citizens who are all just trying to live their lives.

James D. Schwartz is the Editor of The Urban Country and is based in Toronto, Canada. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/har.3036 Har Davids

    This car-bike feud is a bit like some religious people complainig about ‘extremist’ secularists. Like car-drivers, they have had it their way for a very long time, they can’t handle the change, and now they feel persecuted. Today there’s a marathon being run in the centre of Rotterdam, where I live, and down-town is definitely not the place to be while driving a car. People still try, of course, in spite of time and money wasted. As far as I’m concerned, Mike Strobel represents these kind of people. The evidence that using a car is not always the smartest thing to do, goes way over their head, but they still cling to their precious vehicle. is it okay to call these people stupid?

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

    I don’t know if I’d bring his age in the discussion. Here in St. Catharines there are plenty of people who ride bikes (everyday, year round) who are in their 60′s, 70′s and 80′s.

    With regards to myth 6 (there are two myth 6′s :p)…So what if a cyclists doesn’t own a car? I never bothered to get my license as I have zero need for it. The only thing I would have needed it for would be for ID purposes, but now we (Ontario) have a provincial ID card.

    When he says “picking up the kids”. He should realize this alone attributes to congestion in Canadian cities. I dread riding by schools during drop off and pick up hours, as cars park any and everywhere, creating headaches and congestion.
    If you are not within walking/cycling distance to schools, buses are provided. There is absolutely zero need to be dropped off or picked up everyday.

    As for freeing up space on the road by banning bikes. I wonder if he has seen the 6-8 lane highways in the GTA, clogged at most hours. Last time I checked only cars (trucks etc) were allowed on them.
    I get a kick out of watching CP24 and seeing the highway times in red, indicating upwards to 80-90 minutes delay. Can’t blame bikes, pedestrians or transit on the highways.

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

      Hey Ryan, nothing at all wrong with not driving. The point here was that there is no ‘war’ between drivers and bicyclists, because many bicyclists are drivers too, and vice versa. The age reference was reflective of his 40-year-old thinking, not his ability to ride a bicycle :-)

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

        Hi James, that was my fault, I was in a bit of a rush when I wrote that. I meant to indicate also that many older people (at least here) are supportive of “modern” transportation planning. Of course St. Catharines does have one of the ‘oldest’ populations in the country, so I suspect it’s a given that you will have a number of older people in support of newer transportation planning.

        This of course isn’t to say you don’t get a fair number of older people completely against bike infrastructure also.

        I understand what you mean also when it comes to no war because many cyclists are drivers. However as someone who doesn’t drive, my only “war” is with bad road users period. Bike, car, foot or whatever.

        I get along quite well with the majority of motorists here, mainly because as you indicated; “We are all citizens trying to get from point A to point B.” and most realize that.

    • TKeen

      It’s a good idea to have a driver’s license even if you don’t own a car – it’s still an important skill to have. When cycling, I can put myself in the motorists’ shoes more easily. Plus, I have an AutoShare membership for those rare trips where I have to carry too much cargo for a bike, like golf clubs, lumber, or large potted plants, or if I want to travel out of town in a rental.

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

        I disagree.

        1. Having a drivers license doesn’t have anything to do with having an important skill. Far too many people with a license and that drive daily, are utterly clueless on the road.

        2. You don’t have to have a license, nor even drive to put yourself in a drivers shoes.
        If this was the case, then when applying for a drivers license, everyone should be made to cycle for a month to put themselves in a cyclists shoes. Hell even transit users or pedestrians.

        3. You don’t need a license to carry larger objects either. Golf clubs (my thoughts on golf aside), I have been able to carry without issue on my bike.
        Many (and more) stores offer shipping. Whether it’s free or for a fee (which is usually no more then $20). Much cheaper then paying for a licence or even a car share.
        Anyways, most car share programs I see offer small cars, usually smartcars only. A smartcar doesn’t seem practical to carry larger items either.
        This is also putting aside the fact cargo bikes are available (all be it in larger cities right now) AND the ability to attach a trailer. $100 for one of those ‘kids trailers’ which can hold a fair amount of weight, however there is also a company (or use to be) in Guelph that made trailers suited to your needs.

        4. Travelling. I usually prefer ‘staycations’, touring the region by bike. If I do want to travel elsewhere I can get on a bus (would prefer train, but the Feds cut funding, and we’re left without a passenger rail service).

  • TKeen

    Maybe Sue-Ann Levy got bored with trashing cyclists and now it’s Strobel’s shift.

    I commented on this article right on the page, and lots of other pro-cycling people do, too. (So far, my reply was upvoted 7 times and downvoted twice) But the Sun is Rob Ford’s biggest cheerleader – casinos, bike lanes, jets on the Island Airport, they’ll echo whatever he says and oppose whatever he opposes.

    We should at least put the bed the ridiculous idea of licensing cyclists by informing everyone that the City tried doing that in the fifties and repealed it. Plus, licensing any vehicle is up to the province, not the City. Tim Hudak’s come out against mandatory helmet laws -Tories tend to oppose nanny-state regulations – so it’s unlikely they’d be in favour of bike licensing. But the angry Tea Party morons who read the Sun haven’t realized this yet.

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

      Agreed, it did read like a Sue-Ann Levy article :-)

  • http://twitter.com/sexifybicycles Adam G Jones

    Re myth 1, next time someone informs you they ‘got stuck in traffic’ (in an urban area), ask why they don’t therefore ride a bike, as then they could easily slide past all the private cars that are causing the traffic… Such fun.

  • http://www.jnsadventures.com/ Jeff and Sandie

    Wow…comments closed on his article after just a few days. Sad to say, but we’ll never have Toronto on our list of places to visit before we (or Strobel or Levy) pass away. And we’ll never encourage our friends to go.

    It’s too bad there’s so many people who think like this. Soon enough Strobel will be a “dinosaur” and these people will be extinct. Then the young generation (who hates driving and owning cars) will rule…seeds of the revolution! Haha!

    We’re so much happier biking to places and not having to worry about paying for gas, paying for parking, etc. Our local businesses love us for spending tons of money at their businesses!

    Oh…we save a TON of money on car insurance by not owning a car! ;-)

  • http://treehugger.com Lloyd Alter

    I took a poll on facebook to determine if we should even bother feeding this troll and decided against it; then the Guardian covered it and he felt it necessary to even do a repeat of it. You are giving him what he wants.

    And what’s with the ageist “It would be hard to fault Strobel – a man in his mid-50’s – for having 40-year-old thinking.” It is easy to fault him. I am older than he is and that is no excuse for anything.

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

      It’s always a difficult decision on whether to feed the troll or not. Two years ago I wrote an open letter to “The Fixer”[1] after an anti-cyclist piece he wrote. At the time I felt that to a certain extent I was “feeding the troll”. But that exchange resulted in a bike ride with Jack Lakey and I showed him a different perspective about people who ride bicycles in the city[2]. He hasn’t written an anti-cyclist piece since.

      In this case, I decided to comment on Strobel’s nonsense, but I also made a decision not to link to his article, because the Sun will credit him for the number of page views he receives (of which will be high because of the absurdity and the coverage by the Guardian and other outlets).

      I invited Mr. Strobel to take a bike ride with me in the city so we can focus on what we have in common rather than our differences. I could care less if he continues writing absurd columns to get high ratings, but I would prefer it if those absurd columns didn’t make it more dangerous for me to ride my bike in the city, so I will try my best to get through to him.

      Regarding the age thing, I apologize for the poor wording. It has now been updated to better reflect what I was trying to say:

      “As a man in his mid-50’s, Strobel seems to be stuck in the 1970’s. We are all guilty of living in the past sometimes, but there is little excuse for the myths and contradictions that he propagates in his writings.”

      [1] http://www.theurbancountry.com/2011/07/fixer-not-fixing-anything.html
      [2] http://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/the_fixer/2011/10/26/the_fixer_cycling_a_better_way_to_get_around_than_it_looks.html

  • Wanderer

    So in order to critique Strobel’s silliness, you have to insult his age? Do you think that everybody over 50 is car-besotted? Do you want people to think that bikes are just for the young? Plenty of good criticisms of some of the common anti-bike shibboleths, but not a good start

  • RLD

    From the pages of the Stunned… go figure

  • grrlyrida

    When our LA Times needs more viewership, they always do an anti bike screed column. It boosts up their numbers to their advertisers. After a while many people who ride bikes refuse to take the bait. It gets tiring trotting out the same stats every quarter.

  • Mark W

    Well maybe he has a point, Let’s close the city for cyclists for a week and tell everybody to take the car. Then he will see just how much ‘improvement’ that gives. I can tell ahead that it will be permanent gridlock. The man who wrote that collumn is a complete retard who has lost his ability to think.

  • OldManStuckinthe70s

    As a man in MY mid-50s, I stopped reading after the gratuitous and stupid way you equate me with some nut job columnist. Good grief man, is this your idea of how to influence people?

  • http://ikecube.com/?utm_source=Disqus%2BProfile&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=WebLinks IkeCube

    Overall, I agree with the position that more people and communities should better incentivize alternative forms of transportation. However, this article insinuates some prejudice and narrow minded thinking more typically attributed to conservatives than “progressive” liberals.

    Holding up the word “Progress” as if it is something holy, un-stainable by any type of subversion, unquestionably prioritized over every other aspect of civilization, is as folly as any modus operandi of any totalitarian political ideology we’ve ever seen.

    I think this article also has a bit of prejudice by claiming that the “anti-bicycle” opinion is equivalent to being anti-”progress”.

    “Strobel’s outrageous nonsensical articles reveal more than just his fear of progress, or anything that challenges his outdated thinking.”

    This statement makes it sound like Strobel is an out-spoken political nazi, right? Well, turns out he is just a guy with an opinion about bicycles.

    Nowhere in the article leading up to this point is there factual evidence that Strobel is afraid, fears, or is otherwise worried about anything to do with “Progress”. What exactly is the “Progress” that Strobel is allegedly afraid of anyway? Why is Strobel’s opinion outdated? Couldn’t it just be his opinion? Even if an opinion is old, why does that make it bad?

    The author of this article who criticizes Strobel is just as guilty as some people who are anti-”progress” for jumping to conclusions about the nature of others, and seems to be confusing an opinion with a political ideology. If being “Progressive” is a virtue, then shouldn’t we progress beyond prejudice?

    Kudos for passionately defending what you believe in, though. I agree that we Stobel’s opinion is short-sighted and old fashioned, but those things aren’t what make his opinion bad. Those opinions don’t even qualify as anti-”progress”. Those are just opinions whose merits need to be evaluated (and you do so very well following your prejudice rant).

    If reasoned argument isn’t the purpose of this site, and blind ranting is the intent, then I apologize and I will just see myself off of your lawn.

  • Teri

    Regarding #1. I think sometimes a person driving a car may forget that they are like the fat kid in the hallway getting mad at the skinny little guy walking by who is “getting in their way!” It’s not the bicyclist’s fault that cars (the ones being operated, the ones parked, and their infrastructure) take up too much space.

    By the way I am not trying to indicate that all car drivers are fat, just illustrating that a car by virtue of being a car, takes up a whole lotta space.

  • He who knows

    There is allready a permanent ban on bicycles in New York City. It just appears few people are enforcing it yet.