When I was 8 years old, I’d spend countless hours after school with the neighbourhood kids mucking-about in the ravine behind my family’s home. We built forts out of moss-covered logs, experimented with how far we could hit golfballs with an aluminum baseball bat (conclusion: they go very, very far), and “play-hunted” birds using pebbles and a slingshot (we immediately stopped out of guilt when we actually hit something – a Canadian Goose, which seemed unharmed as it flew away). Taking our bikes with us on these adventures made perfect sense. We could explore more of the Dundas, Ontario “wilderness” before dinnertime drew each daily expedition to a close. Eventually, we figured-out how to ride along those moss-covered logs and surf our rear-wheel down those steep ravine slopes. That’s how I got into mountain biking. In my teens, using my bike to get to and from soccer practice meant that I didn’t need to depend on Mom for a ride. Plus, the more I rode, the higher likelihood a girl might approach me and ask if those are “shocks” on my bike (this happened once in Grade 10 and it was without doubt the most transformative moment of my life so far). During university I began training and racing for fun. Come to think of it, my hardest intervals might have actually been accomplished on a rusty CCM clunker while I rushed across McMaster campus to get to lecture on time. Nowadays, I enjoy getting my “pain face” on at races, hanging out with my friends at club rides, and I also find that riding a bicycle is the most efficient way to get around downtown Toronto.
I’ve often wondered why it is that as a cyclist, I’m considered a minority on the road. If riding bikes is so great, then why don’t more people do it? Wouldn’t popularizing cycling as a transportation method also grow interest in the sport and therefore, make life a little easier for training on the road or getting to our local trailheads? On the flip side, I must admit that as a driver, it certainly is frustrating when a cyclist unpredictably dodges through rush-hour traffic or cuts front of me at high speed as I try to make a right turn. In this episode of HTWPA, we attempt to explore some of these problems and show support for a scientifically proven solution. Yes, it’s a lofty goal for a 10-minute video. So, we hope that you will continue the discussion by participating in our short survey (please click on link at the end of the episode).
If the link to the survey at the end of the video didn’t work, you can find it here. We’d really appreciate your input 🙂
Here is more of our interview with Dr. Chris Cavacuiti – some of which even the most seasoned cyclists or die-hard motorists would find surprising:
HTWPA: You mentioned that in a study, a road that has a separated bike lane will reduce car-bike collisions by about 90%, compared to the average road. 90%… that’s a huge improvement in injury risk. There are other North American cities that seem to successfully change their infrastructure to welcome cycling. For example, what is Portland doing so well that we could learn from?
Dr. C: I think there are many interesting cases around North America of cities that have really embraced cycling as a fiscally sound way of making their cities more livable and improving their economies. This isn’t an issue that only matters to young, granola-eating hippies. This really is an issue that can be embraced across the political spectrum. Cities like Portland for example, have recognized that cycling is a way to keep more dollars in their community. Instead of paying for gas and gas-related taxes, if people in that community can save some money by riding their bikes and for example, riding to the coffee shops and spending money there, then that’s money that will stay in their community. Interestingly, when you look at cities which faired the best during the most recent economic downturn in the United States, a lot of the cities that did the best were actually the ones which have been recognized for investing in less expensive forms of transportation. A car driven by one individual is a very, very expensive way of moving people around a city. The smart cities are the ones that are recognizing the need to find cheaper alternatives to that.
HTWPA: It seems like it’s a mix of economic drive and political drive to popularize cycling. What can we do in Ontario? What is relevant to what our system is like here?
Dr. C: I think there are a number of arguments that would be compelling for people to know. Firstly, the evidence is already there. We already know what to do to keep cyclists safer and that is to build infrastructure. When you think about the health benefits of active transportation and the injury prevention of having proper infrastructure, then really, anyone who cares about the health of Ontarians should be supporting this. There is also a very strong economic argument for investing in cycling infrastructure. Studies have actually estimated that for every 1 dollar that is spent on cycling infrastructure, 6 or more dollars are recouped in terms of healthcare costs or increased productivity of people who are keeping themselves fitter and healthier. There are all kinds of benefits that would derive from improving the ability of people to actively move around cities on a daily basis. So, there are all sorts of good reasons to do this. We just need to get it to a point where politicians are no longer afraid that if they endorse this, they’re going to be voted out of the office.
HTWPA: And how to we get to that point?
Dr. C: I think we need to change the argument. We need to change the language and the conversation. Far too often right now, this is an issue that the media has an agenda to try and paint in the most adversarial terms that they can. The media has an interest in portraying this as a “war on cars” or “war on bikes” mentality. Controversy is what sells newspapers. So, it doesn’t make sense to write a story about how cars and bikes can better cooperate. As everyday people, we have to try and challenge that mentality. We also have to challenge politicians who find this an easy area to score political points. It’s much easier to create a soundbite saying, “all we need to do is give cyclists more helmets” compared to a more comprehensive strategy and in-depth discussion to address the infrastructure issue. Politicians are very much about finding the low-hanging fruit where they aren’t going to alienate voters and where they don’t have to spend a lot of money. A lot of the solutions that they are currently looking at meet those criteria. Unfortunately, those things might help a little bit, but they’re not the big things that are going to make cycling safer in the long-run. At this point, I think it’s worth mentioning that I am in no way, shape, or form “anti-car”. I own a car, I drive it, and I want to be able to continue to enjoy using my car. Investing in cycling infrastructure is really not an “either/or” scenario.
HTWPA: Would you say that separating bikes from cars on the road would benefit both drivers and cyclists?
Dr. C: Yeah. There’s really good evidence that the cities that have done that actually have improved satisfaction with their commuting experience on both sides. It’s not just cyclists who say “Yeah, this is so much better than it used to be.” Actually, car drivers feel the same way. They feel a lot safer and a lot happier with their drives if they’re not worried about hitting a cyclist all the time. The other really interesting thing which doesn’t get mentioned nearly as much as it should is that there’s this perception that investing in cycling infrastructure will only make traffic jams and commuting times worse. But in fact, the evidence suggests the exact opposite because frankly, you can fit way more people into a given area of road on bicycles and on sidewalks than you can in cars. Cars take-up a lot of real estate. So, if you can give-up a little bit of that “car” real estate for a form of transportation that allows a lot more people to travel on it, you can actually improve congestion. And that’s what cities which have invested in this have found – that commuting times haven’t gone up. They have actually gone down.
HTWPA: It would also save you a lot on parking as well… [Laughs]
Links to episodes:
How To Win Paris-Ancaster: “Teaser”
How To Win Paris-Ancaster: Episode 1 – “Beginnings”
How To Win Paris-Ancaster: Episode 2 – “Skills”
How To Win Paris-Ancaster: Episode 3 – “Guidance”
How To Win Paris-Ancaster: Episode 4 – “Pressure”
How To Win Paris-Ancaster: Episode 5 – “Fuel”
How To Win Paris-Ancaster: Episode 6 – “Work”
How To Win Paris-Ancaster: Episode 7 – “Future”
How To Win Paris-Ancaster: Episode 8 – “Balance”
How To Win Paris-Ancaster: Episode 9 – “Feedback”