Put the brakes on lawless bike riders, particularly couriers

Banning the use of multi-speed racing bikes from city streets will encourage courteous, mature riding

TORONTO, Ont. July 17, 2016/ Troy Media/ – If I’d known Michelle Daley and Chris Rissel a few years back, I could have saved them some time and money.

They studied whether images of cycling promoted or discouraged cycling.

They must have stopped the presses at the journal Transport Policy, in which the researchers wrote that bicycle “couriers were viewed least favourably.” Moreover, considering that only single digits of the population ride regularly to work or on errands, it’s not surprising that biking is considered a “non-mainstream” activity done by “‘fringe’ individuals.”

Cyclists were viewed as a “nuisance” when “riding in the middle of the lane holding up traffic” or “going up a one way street the wrong way.”

The researchers used focus groups to gather information. In other words, they assembled a few dozen people in a room behind two-way mirrors and watched while a focus group leader asked the chosen few what they thought. In this methodology, the chosen few are often students, shut-ins, poor or lonely who are attracted by the honourarium, free food or attention. Focus groups were invented by a brilliant sociologist, Robert K. Merton – so brilliant that he denounced them a few years after their invention. Merton was also the brains behind the oft-quoted phrases “self-fulfilling prophesy” and “role-model,” but I digress.

This cycling research was conducted in Sydney, Australia, and is entirely valid, if obvious. Bike couriers are an aggressive lot, often seen as unsavoury with strong substance abuse predilections. Cyclists who you see riding towards you on a one-way street with either a maniacal look on the face or no expression at all are indeed a nuisance. So are those who take up a whole lane if you’re in the car behind.

The problem is that “contra-flow,” or riding the wrong way on a one-way street, is encouraged and legal in some jurisdictions. Taking up a whole lane and flowing with traffic is considered the safest approach by some. Bike lanes are on the side or in the middle of the road (for turning) or separated from the road – again depending on the city. We have no uniform or even generally accepted rules or ideas about how to integrate bikes into the transport system.

Here’s a start. It’s pretty obvious that one rides a multi-speed racing bike differently than a Raleigh Tourist or a Peugeot like young women in the French resistance rode in the movies with the baguette in the basket. Sitting upright with three gears encourages courteous, mature riding, as anyone who has been to Amsterdam has seen. Or Beijing, with many times the bicyclists.

What you can do in your city is lobby for a bylaw to require bike couriers to use European-style “cargo-bikes” with a low platform between the rider and the front wheel. You can’t drive this kind of bike as if you were a pinball and the bumpers are the crosswalks, cars, sidewalks and pedestrians you encounter. The bylaw could state that all commerce done using a bike must be done on the kind of bike described. This could be enforced by the same people who police taxis in most cities.

Then we could encourage grocery, drug and convenience stores to use a pool of delivery bikes called upon via smart phones in the same way many urbanites can call up a limo through the Uber system. The bike arrives, picks up the order and delivers it to its destination.

Combine this with a uniform policy on bike lanes and the increased population of bicyclists who are riding like normal people would encourage others to do so – instead of riding as if they were on their first bike on Christmas morning, or being chased out of the hobs of Hell by Lucifer.

Troy Media columnist Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted on some of the major planning and public policy issues of our time on five continents over 25 years. He loves cities and his next book will be titled Safer Cities. Allan is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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