Here's what I don't understand about Open Streets Toronto.
Maybe I should set the stage first. I wasn't on board originally. As an ex-car owner, my knee-jerk is "What, another reason to close streets downtown?". There are so many parades, and marathons, and 10Ks, and street festivals, and, and... in Toronto that it sometimes feels like there's scarcely a weekend that some chunk of the city isn't inaccessible by car.
But then I remind myself that I'm no longer auto-enabled. And that, generally speaking, I can work around most weekend road closures using the TTC. So I warmed up to the idea.
And then, when I heard that the 'open' part of Open Streets TO included keeping intersections open to cross-traffic? Slap a big old sold sign on it, 'cause I'm bought in.
As I was saying to someone earlier today, that decision is the key to converting the soft skeptics. See, the frustration when major streets are closed isn't really about the closure itself. If Yonge is closed, there's always Bay, Church, or Jarvis to get north/ south in the core. If Bloor's closed, there's College or Dupont. No, the frustration comes when a closure cuts the city in half. If you're at Church and College, and you have to go all the way down to the Gardiner or all the way up to Eglinton just to get to Spadina and College, that's not cool. Yes, I exaggerate, but only slightly. Try getting by car from Wellington and Scott to Yonge and Eglinton even five hours before the start of the Santa Claus Parade. It's a lovely chance to see what Port Credit's like in the fall.
Sorry; I digress. As I was saying, keeping major intersections open for through traffic is a nice plus. Certainly, keep open streets carrying TTC vehicles, at least. I'd argue you don't need both Ted Rogers Way and Church open when you have Sherbourne, but this was the kick-off. They'll figure it out.
But here's what I don't understand. As far as I know, the point is to open the streets up to uses normally excluded from them. So, walking, jogging, and running? Absolutely. Dog walking? Sure. Rollerblading and skateboarding? Why not. Street yoga? Yeah, you don't get to see that everyday. Chalk art? Go for it.
But why bicycles? While they're unquestionably treated like second-class citizens, bicycles do get to use the roads day in/day out. And when you look at all the activities that could be happening, it's the one that sticks out. It's also the least safe to mix into a crowd.
We're at a really delicate point in getting mainstream support for cycling and cycling infrastructure in Toronto right now. Again, it's those soft skeptics who I think we need to convert. And key to that conversion? Bicycles are vehicles and need to be treated like them.
So, please, let's build bike lanes on major streets and include physical separation to keep it safe for everyone. But at the same time, where there aren't separate lanes, cyclists need to take a lane. And stay in it, unless they signal otherwise. No riding up the curb when traffic's stopped, or in between lanes of traffic. Yes, riders deserve to expect cars to be watching for them so the driver doesn't turn in front of them or door them. And, in turn, cyclists have an obligation to not blow through stop signs and traffic lights, forcing pedestrians to scatter in their path. And everyone - cars and bikes alike - needs to keep the heck off the sidewalks. Not for you.
Bicycles are vehicles and need to be treated like them. Bicycles are vehicles and deserve to be treated like them. Bicycles are vehicles and need to act like them.
And so, when we closed the streets to vehicles today, and opened them up for people to use in unconventional ways, I don't understand why bicycles weren't verboten too. If we want people to believe in cycling as a mainstream usage of the roads, we might want to stop treating it like it's an alternative one.