Why bike lanes are good for drivers — and everyone else
For many people who live in Toronto, myself included, cycling isn’t a fair-weather activity, it’s a transportation necessity.
I’ve been a cyclist in the city for as long as I’ve lived here, but I also use a car, taxis, Uber, the TTC or a combination of those to get around. As a driver, I’m in favour of more bike lanes. In my extensive travels throughout my career as a professional athlete, I’ve had the opportunity to visit dozens of cities around the world. In fact, I stayed in six of the Economist’s Top10 “most livable cities” in 2016 alone. It actually wasn’t that hard, given that three of them are in Canada.
Myriad factors contribute to livability, but I can tell you from experience one of the things that makes a city great is the ability to get around without driving. Walking streets, promenades, bike paths and great public transportation create a healthier, more active, more affordable and environmentally friendly city for everyone.
In cities such as Adelaide, Copenhagen and Amsterdam a focus on providing safer and more efficient solutions for pedestrians and cyclists has lead to their cities being heralded for happiness and quality of life.
Another reason I’m a fan of bike lanes as a driver is because I’m afraid of hitting a cyclist, and bike lanes provide a clear boundary between where my car should be, and where my friends on two wheels should be.
I’ve been on the receiving end of a bike-on-car collision enough times to know that the bike never wins.
I’ve been side-swiped twice by taxi cabs pulling a quick U-turn to grab a fare across the street. Once I made it up onto the curb but the other time I ended up on the ground. Luckily, neither resulted in any more than a scratch.
The worst I’ve experienced was at the cruelty of an opening truck door. The truck was actually in reverse. As the driver angled into his parking spot, I rode by slowly, only to receive his door, which he opened while in motion to check how much room he had. I thought that’s what the mirror was for.
I took the top corner of the door on my clavicle, went over the handlebars and ended up in a tangled mess in the traffic lane. Thankfully, I didn’t get run over. An ambulance whisked me off to the same hospital where I was born for stitches and X-rays. Nothing was broken, and I raced at the world championships in Moscow just three weeks later while still scraped and bruised.
I look for signs of drivers in every car as I ride past, in anticipation of an opening door, but sometimes they come out of nowhere, while the car is in motion.
I have a strategy that I use, when I’m parking my own car, that’s easy enough for everyone to employ and becomes habit in no time.
Once you’ve parked your car, and you still have your seat belt on, crack the door a bit. As you gather your things, turn off your car and undo your seat belt, that slightly ajar door has alerted cyclists that you’re about to get out. Now check your mirror and over your shoulder as you open the door into the danger zone. If you see someone on a bike, just wait a second, they have the right of way.
If you’re a driver frustrated by cyclists or bike lanes, try seeing them each as another car or taxi on the road you’re driving on. They’re taking up less space than you, and no parking spots at your destination.
Recently I encountered an angry driver who told me I don’t even pay taxes. Well, yes I do. As a driver and a resident in the city of Toronto. We all pay for what we use collectively, and that’s why we get to live in one of the greatest cities in the world.
In closing, I have a personal invitation to extend. During the last mayoral election, I asked now Mayor John Tory what his policy on bike lanes would be. He said he was in favour of good bike infrastructure, and I thanked him for that. So, Mayor Tory, I’d like to invite you for a coffee on Bloor St. Let’s get on our bikes at city hall and ride in the bike lanes for a coffee.
Adam van Koeverden is a four-time Olympian in sprint kayaking and world and Olympic champion in K1 1000-metre and 500-metre. He also is an ambassador for organizations such as Right To Play, the David Suzuki Foundation and WaterAID. He lives in downtown Toronto with his Egyptian street dog, Cairo.
Adam van Koeverden writes that one reason he’s a big fan of bike lanes is that he’s afraid of hitting a cyclist.