By Christopher Hume.
When it comes to cycling, Quebec leaves Ontario in the dust. While we spin our wheels arguing over whether bikes belong on the streets, la belle province has turned pedal power into a transit and tourism phenomenon.
If you haven’t been to Quebec in a while, prepare to share the roads — and even more amazingly, the highways — with the two-wheeled. Everywhere you turn now, bicycles are part of the traffic mix. In addition to separated lanes in Montreal, highways are marked and divided into bike lanes and vehicular lanes. Even routes that aren’t marked have signs that make it clear the two — bikes and cars — must share the road.
In Toronto, by contrast, bikes have become a cause for panic, a wedge issue exploited by elected leaders for their own benefit. It is a topic on which municipal elections can be won or lost, at least in part. That’s not entirely new, of course, but it is another indication of how the politics of Ontario — and Toronto — are becoming sclerotic. So frightened are we of change that we buy into the promise that the province’s glorious yesterday will never end.
It already has.
Who could forget Mayor Rob Ford’s first utterance upon being elected last November? “The war on the car,” he said, “is over.”
Such silliness. Regardless of what His Worship may think, the war of the car has only just begun. Whether or not Torontonians realize it, we will be seeing many more bikes on the streets here and around the world.
This isn’t a matter of right or left, but of right and wrong. Due to circumstances well beyond the city’s control, this is the direction we are headed. For any number of reasons — climate change, fuel costs, congestion and diminished resources — the heyday of the car is over and alternatives are needed.
Unlike Ontario, Quebec has embraced change, and turned it to its own advantage. Anyone traveling through rural Quebec will find the roads alive with cyclists. Look in the parking lots of the auberges, hotels and inns; they are full of bikes.
The Route Verte, which cuts through Quebec from east to west, now extends more than 4,000 kilometres. This makes it one of the most comprehensive bike systems in the world.
Meanwhile, back here in little old Hogtown, we’re still bickering about a few blocks of bike lanes on Jarvis St.
Toronto and Ontario’s unwillingness to take the bicycle seriously is a sign of culture grown tired, irritable and brittle. Whether it’s wind turbines, road tolls or bike lanes, we’re unable to keep up. Provincial Conservative leader Tim Hudak has made it clear clean energy and the environment have no place in his party’s platform.
Same thing with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s regime, which announced recently it plans to lay off 700 staff at the federal environment ministry, a shocking display of contempt.
The fact remains, however, that cyclists are generally unwelcome on the streets of Toronto, let alone Ontario. We’re not talking here about bike lanes on the 401, but many other provincial thoroughfares where there’s room.
Speaking as someone who was yesterday signaling to turn left and had an irate woman in a car behind me shout "Make up your mind!" I know fully well that Toronto drivers don't consider bicycles to be real road vehicles. They just see us as a nuisance because they're so stuck in their mentality that cars rule the road.
But here's a tip: Bicycles have been on the roads longer than cars and while cars dwindle in popularity bicycles will still be here when society has moved en masse towards mass transit using subways and street cars.
In the future cars will be a luxury in the city. Bicycles and a TTC pass is all you really need.