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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The bicycle versus car war – again.

I was listening to AM640 Bill Carol's show promo in which Bill complained about the sneaky way bicycle riders behave in traffic, switching from being  "pedestrians" to "vehicles" and vice versa whenever they see fit. They ride on sidewalks, ignore stop signs, ride the wrong way on one-way streets, etc. Bill insisted that they should choose to be one or the other, since they can’t be both.

I did a lot of riding a long time ago (I was a bicycle courier for a couple of years in Toronto) and I did all these illegal activities and more (including riding in the middle of the street between the opposing lanes of traffic) all the time. Why?

For starters in most situations it’s just plain safer for a bicycle rider to behave that way. A rider is very vulnerable on most roads. It is not a nice place to be between a high curb and a loaded dump truck just a few inches away. The truth is, our roads and streets accommodate bicycle riders very poorly and asking them to behave like car drivers is asking too much.

Ignoring stop signs is a perfect example. Our traffic control systems are not designed for smooth flow of traffic for the most part. Stop signs and traffic lights are everywhere and rarely are those lights coordinated or the stop signs really needed.

Our traffic control systems are very inefficient. How inefficient are they? Think about it for a minute. If you drive a car on flat straight road at 50 km/h and then at 100 km/h, which trip would be more fuel efficient? The slower trip, of course. So why is city fuel efficiency worse than highway efficiency in cars even though the speeds in the city are much slower? Because we force cars to stop and accelerate all the time. But because all it takes is a small movement of our foot to stop and accelerate our cars, we don't notice the terrible inefficiency of the ordeal.

Well, on a bicycle we feel it and pay for the wasted energy immediately. That's why riders are hesitant to stop when it's evident that it's not needed. And at most stop-sign intersections in our North American cities, it's NOT necessary to stop. At most intersections it is more than enough to maintain an appropriate speed, scan for traffic and proceed if safe. Only when visibility is limited, or some other hard to foresee circumstances are present, it is necessary to stop.

Yield signs would do very nicely at most intersections, but somehow our love for making people stop unnecessarily in the name of "safety" negates the inefficiency and lack of common sense of such a barbaric process.

Bicycle riders are just trying to be efficient, something we fail at miserably when it comes to traffic control.

The environmental cost of making tens of millions of cars stop for no reason on daily basis is huge. This is common knowledge in most developed countries, but our backwardness (when it comes to traffic control) in North America wins over and traffic enforcement methods don't help.

I'm perplexed why, in our brave new "green" world, we fail to notice that, yet we send out squads of hungry cops to nab those "dangerous" cyclists and drivers who fail to make full stops at stop signs on side streets with little traffic.

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