Opinion

National Post Lobs More Hyperbole Across Manufactured Car/Bicycle Divide

Should the blatant and unapologetic opposition to cycling initiatives in Toronto make us thankful for our own media's apathetic feigned concern?

By Jonathan Dalton
Published September 30, 2009

I was flipping through a discarded copy of the National Post on the ride home from work yesterday. Normally I fall asleep somewhere around Aldershot, but just as I was nodding off, this piece caught my attention.

Entitled "Time to Stop Giving Cyclists a Free Ride", it makes a case for bike licensing as proposed by Toronto Councillor Michael Walker, and then some. The online version is strangely anonymous, while the print edition appears in the Toronto section under columnist Terence Corcoran.

At first I expected the usual moral grandstanding from another law-abiding, gas-tax-paying Toronto driver, frustrated by not only paying the highest insurance rates in North America but also because his fundamental right to mobiliy by single occupancy vehicle through Canada's largest urban centre was being further eroded by recent initiatives to improve cycling infrastructure.

As it turned out, it wasn't that simple:

When car drivers cruise Yonge Street on Saturday night, their metabolisms are more or less flat-lined. They just sit there, burning up little energy personally but paying for the cost of their automobile's carbon footprint via taxes and fees.

Bike riders grinding up the same route burn up a lot more carbohydrates, which their bodies convert into carbon dioxide and exhale, adding to their carbon footprint. The volumes are small, but it all adds up, and bicyclists don't pay.

Wait, this is a joke, right?

Bicycling has gained much of its popularity in recent years because bike riders are free-riding on services and infrastructure that they don't have to pay for. Maybe a licence and tax system would be too costly to administer, but in principle it's the right thing to do.

Or is it?

Paying the full cost of biking is more important than a rules test to get a licence to ride. Many bike rules are dangerous. There's nothing scarier than an amateur bicyclist making a left turn at an intersection across multiple traffic lanes diligently following the rule with one hand steering the handlebar and the other stuck in the air signalling a turn.

Councillor Walker has half an idea. Licensing is a waste without a tax to the social and environmental costs of biking. Would $100 a year do it?

I really can't tell. But it got me to wondering: should the blatant and unapologetic opposition to cycling initiatives in Toronto make us thankful for our own media's apathetic feigned concern?

Is reactionary extremism more or less harmful than pseudo-supportive defeatism to the activist's cause? But I feel that to even begin to formulate an argument would be to miss the point. The point was to lob another hand grenade full of ill-concieved hyperbole across the car/bicycle divide in the media-fabricated 'war on cars.'

Who will make these miscreants pay for the burden they place on society? (RTH file photo)
Who will make these miscreants pay for the burden they place on society? (RTH file photo)

But if I were to argue, here is where I would start:

  1. Gas taxes and automobile licensing and registration fees do not cover the full cost of automotive infrastructure.

  2. Cyclists pay for municipally funded cycling infrastracture through property tax.

  3. The cost of cycling infrastructure is negligible in the context of any city's annual roads budget.

  4. Cyclists and motorists are not two mutually exclusive subsets of the general population - thus, it is irrational to suggest that one group pays for the other.

Jonathan Dalton runs a small music shop on a two way street in downtown Hamilton. He is a board member of the Durand Neighbourhood Association, and volunteers with Transportation for Livable Communities.

22 Comments

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By urban (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 09:23:09

I thought that column was satire on the first read-through, but now I am not so sure.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 09:36:03

LOL. There's nothing to say to stuff like this.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 09:36:29

Terence Corcoran is a far right blowhard of long standing. No surprises here.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 10:39:58

I don't know what is going on but I am increasingly convinced this is a propaganda effort due to the widespread pattern here. The power of the media to do good and educate in earnest is being wasted to substitute ... this.

Our economy is so automobile dependant, the powers that be know that a shift will gain momentum. Because it can, it does gain momentum. The car industries are one of the few things left to support this dying system. That is why they are being defended with the importance of Spice.

There are probably interests that are terrified of a 10% cycling rate, then 20%, factories closing, mass layoffs ... insane isn't it? Even the possibility must be suppressed. So these retarded arguments and false dichotomies are constructed to manipulate minds. Unfortunately we are in a system that currently cannot mitigate special interest manipulation and this is at a very high cost to all of us and our health. Everyone loses regardless of situation or transportation because the attitude running things is evil and thus things suck on purpose.

Pieces like this may be deliberate propaganda, or they may be honest rantings of an individual not thinking clearly, but regardless it is a symptom of that which is keeping us stuck in a dying imperial system.

What solution (to end on a positive note)? The only thing we can do for sure is to be the change we want to see. The increase in riders this year is noticeable. Change is already occurring, articles like this are evidence of this.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 10:51:45

One more thing ... I'll put my breath through an emissions test anyday and compare results :)

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By JonC (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 11:06:46

I think this article best sums up his world view

http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/...

The short version is that monetary gains are the be all and end all of life.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 11:09:39

"Pieces like this may be deliberate propaganda, or they may be honest rantings of an individual not thinking clearly"

It's both. People that believe ridiculous ideologies and are willing to spew nonsense to support them get to have a loud voice because the propagandists select them for it. Terence Corcoran probably has total free reign to write about whatever he wants in his column because he's already proven he will tow the right wing party line if left to his own devices.

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By Dave Reed (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 12:25:04

It's all a cash grab. They see cycling building popularity, and rather than embrace it for the social and environmental concerns, they spin it in a way that demonizes it, hoping for a financial gain on a "market". There's no scientific support behind his claims.

But what else would you expect from the National Post?

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 13:28:59

From the article JonC linked to : "The way forward for Suzuki is to step back into the crude, simple and impoverished world of centuries past."

That is an example of exactly the kind of mind manipulating false dichotomy I'm talking about!

We can't clean up because it means reverting to donkeys with pots clanging off the side? What nonsense. ... some of our most advanced technologies could be so much improved with little else than an ATTITUDE change which would instantly reflect in how we build things.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 13:39:59

"Bike riders grinding up the same route burn up a lot more carbohydrates, which their bodies convert into carbon dioxide and exhale, adding to their carbon footprint"

Is this not the most ridiculous argument yet? Maybe if they quit cutting down the trees which take carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen, maybe the environment would heal itself.

Pretty soon, to breathe will be taxed, what have we become!

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By national post (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 16:48:31

What we really need is a breathing tax. Every exhale is additional carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. The only way to avoid this tax is to stop breathing.

Don't forget to read National Post: Canada's voice of reason.

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By Hugh Betcha (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 17:43:14

Yeah, but guess who will be first in line to COLLECT the tax?

Say, weren't they the guys who wanted less government involvement in daily life?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 22:13:11

"Say, weren't they the guys who wanted less government involvement in daily life?"

Just less government involvement in THEIR daily life. More government involvement in YOUR daily life is not so much of a problem.....

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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 22:26:07

Here we go again with the right wing bashing... *YAWN*

I don't think there needs to be a licensing fee or tax for cyclists. I do however believe that the Police should start enforcing and ticketing cyclists who don't obey the rules of the road. Not only are they putting themselves at risk, but innocent pedestrians and drivers.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 07:05:40

They should try that for cars as well.

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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 11:09:33

JonC, they do ... they're called red light cameras, speed traps, RIDE, random traffic stops, etc. I have only seen a cyclist make a complete stop twice in all my years of driving. It happens all the time infront of the Police and they do nothing!

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 11:38:12

Hey sign, look at all these cars making complete stops at stop signs:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=182F3KnT9Z4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5d24EaUzj... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_v4TdLFDV...

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 11:38:43

Oh crap, I just fed the troll! :-(

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By JonC (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 12:07:21

Cars roll through stop signs all the time. But don't take my word for it, pick a spot, sit down and watch. More importantly, all those things exist for bikes as well. As for the police, if you see a law being broken and the cop isn't doing anything, it probably isn't serious, just like the car driver doing the same thing. But if you are actually concerned as the exclamation point above would imply, you should mention it to the cop next time, to figure out why they aren't doing their job. Take badge numbers, report them to their superiors, whatever. But you don't, and you're not going to the next time it happens, and neither is anyone else, and it's because the vast majority of cyclists rolling through a stop sign are a) paying attention, b) able to stop on a dime, and c) will if they need to yield.

I've seen bad behaviour from bikes myself, most recently, passing me in the bike lane, while I was stopped waiting for a pedestrian to clear my lane. But, in general, most cyclists have it together, just like most car drivers. I would suggest, that in observing casually from your car, you only notice what you want to notice. But I could be wrong, which would explain the millions of bicycle accidents reported daily.

For reference, I made at least a half dozen full stops on a 15 minute ride home yesterday (and about the same number rolling).

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 12:27:26

We've seen many times on RTH and elsewhere that the argument about who breaks the traffic laws most frequently is not helpful (especially as it is usually backed up only by anecdotal evidence).

Everyone should be able to agree that cyclists, pedestrians and motorists will flout laws or good practice when it feels safe and convenient, although which laws are flouted most often differs (e.g. motorists tend to exceed the posted speed limit, especially on freeways, and cyclists disobey stop signs).

Instead, we should focus on reducing the violations likely to cause the most harm.

It should be obvious that when a motorist flouts the law (especially by speeding, which drastically increases the risk of death and injury), this is far more likely to cause death or injury than when a cyclists doesn't stop at a stop sign.

The fact is that "From 2000 through 2004, 14,082 people died in a motor vehicle accident in Canada" http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien...

In 2003 there were 2,778 deaths and 222,260 injuries due to motor vehicle collisions (including 378 pedestrians and 45 cyclists). About 35% of drivers involved in fatal crashes had been drinking. From http://www.ccmta.ca/english/pdf/collisio...

So clearly, we should be concentrating on serious violations like speeding and drunk driving which have been shown to actually cause death and injury.

While we can argue about which road users are most law abiding, we already know that motorists do in fact cause thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries in Canada each year. This is where we should be focusing our efforts in enforcement and improved road design (to encourage lower speeds).

At the same time, we should also encourage cyclists to ride safely and improve infrastructure (e.g. by building cycling lanes) to reduce conflicts between motorists and cyclists. However, ticketing or licensing cyclists would not be a good use of limited resources if the goal is to reduce death and injury on the roads.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 12:37:43

Further to my previous post, it turns out that we also don't need to guess about who is at fault in bicycle/motor vehicle collisions. At least in Toronto, in about 90% of cases the motorist is at fault.

Clearly, trying to get cyclists to obey the laws is not going to have much effect if the vast majority of cycle/car collisions are the fault of motorists!

This data comes from Toronto Police reports analysis by University of Toronto professor Dr. Chris Cavacuiti http://www.research.utoronto.ca/behind_t...

"While there is a public perception that cyclists are usually the cause of accidents between cars and bikes, an analysis of Toronto police collision reports shows otherwise: The most common type of crash in this study involved a motorist entering an intersection and either failing to stop properly or proceeding before it was safe to do so. The second most common crash type involved a motorist overtaking unsafely. The third involved a motorist opening a door onto an oncoming cyclist. The study concluded that cyclists are the cause of less than 10 per cent of bike-car accidents in this study.

The available evidence suggests that collisions have far more to do with aggressive driving than aggressive cycling."

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2009 at 20:23:39

Licencing cyclists...what's next? Chainsaws? Drinking? Potato chips? Electric wheelchairs? Or perhaps, finally, breathing?

I do remember reading a statistic years back though, couldn't source it now but you should be able to google it, that compared the "gas-milage" of vegetarian and carnivorous cyclists. Because of the massive amount of petrochemicals involved in conventional farming, and because of the massive loss of nutrition and calories which takes place when grain, corn and soy are turned into cattle, the pamphlet argued that while a vegetarian cyclist had a reletively impressive number of "miles to the gallon", the cyclist working off the caloric energy found in the average hamburger was getting about the equivalent "milage" to a Honda Civic. No idea if it's true, but interesting food for thought.

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