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We’re all in this together

If Halifax makes it easier and safer to bike, everyone benefits

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Ryan Van Horne is a Halifax journalist, playwright and documentary film director. His work has appeared in magazines and newspapers from coast to coast and on his blog at Follow him on Twitter at @RyanVanHorne.

Ryan Van Horne is a Halifax journalist, playwright and documentary film director. His work has appeared in magazines and newspapers from coast to coast and on his blog at Follow him on Twitter at @RyanVanHorne.

It befuddles me why motorists in Halifax look down on cyclists with such disdain, especially when you consider that one more bike on the road means one less car.

Smart motorists should see that.

There is one problem with this principle, however. By the time all the altruistic, environmentally conscious, civic-minded people have stopped driving cars, there will only be the self-centred lazy jerks driving on near-empty roads. You can picture them behind the wheel of their fancy car or their giant SUV smiling away and thinking, “Look at all those suckers waiting for the bus in the rain.”

Sorry, that was cynical.

It would never be that way. Any able-bodied person who could leave their car at home and bike, walk or take the bus would do it and only the people who really need the convenience of a car would drive.

Anyone who rides a bike on Halifax streets deserves a medal for bravery. They should also be commended for reducing pollution, reducing wear and tear on roads, and improving their physical fitness, which will reduce their need for publicly funded health care.

Add that trifecta to the one that motorists actually care about (reducing traffic congestion) and you’ve got a great case for any cyclist to be Citizen of the Year.

So why do motorists have such hate for cyclists?

Is it the tight pants? Are they jealous when cyclists slip by on the right-hand side while cars are stuck in traffic? Motorists would never admit to that, but they will point to the minority of cyclists who don’t follow the rules of the road. Those guys are the worst because they’re so influential and make all cyclists break the rules.

So while some drivers break traffic laws and some pedestrians jaywalk, all cyclists are the same.

Sound like a double standard? Of course it is. The city’s attitude toward cyclists is reflected in the reaction to Councillor David Hendsbee’s comment in September that cyclists should pay a toll to cross the Macdonald Bridge to help pay for the ramp the city is building for cyclists to access the bridge.

Hendsbee thinks there should be more cycling infrastructure and if the city is looking for a way to fund it, getting people who use it to pay for it only makes sense.

If you think that’s a great idea, you should know that the city can’t charge a toll on the bridge because it’s not HRM’s jurisdiction. Years ago, It also scrapped a bike registration system because the bureaucracy to run it was costing the city money. Councillor Waye Mason said the city would have to charge about $200 to make money on a bike registration system and he says that’s not going to happen.

Blair Barrington, a board member at the Halifax Cycling Coalition, says the bridge has come up as the number-one barrier keeping more residents from cycling. “We have said as a city that we want to double the amount of people cycling,” Barrington says. “It’s about removing barriers, not adding more.”

Cyclists are also renters or property owners and they already pay taxes, just like motorists. I know what you’re thinking, motorists: “I pay a tax on my gas to pay for roads.”

Yes, you do, but that goes to the province for the roads it builds. It doesn’t pay for city streets, which come out of the municipal budget, Mason says.

The user-pay model is popular with some people, but it’s not how society should always work. There are some things that make society better like playgrounds, libraries, schools. We aren’t going to start charging people to use those.

Mason cites the city’s manifesto, set down in the Regional Plan, as a reason why cycling infrastructure should not follow a user-pay model: “Our number-one goal is to implement a sustainable transportation strategy by providing a choice of integrated travel modes emphasizing public transit, active transportation, car-pooling and other viable alternatives to the single-occupant vehicle.”

“That’s the law,” Mason says. “Take that, San Francisco.”

The city is slowly building an infrastructure and soon a network of trails will be connected that will make people feel safer. Then, you’ll see more people cycling so get ready for it, fossil fuel luddites, it’s coming.

If we need to find some money for this infrastructure, we should divert some of the money we spend on roads, which just keeps us on the treadmill of pollution. To wean us off cars, some of those taxes should pay for cycling infrastructure and better public transit to reduce the number of cars in the city.

We need to reduce the amount of carbon we put out. We need to reign in health-care costs. Some people have realized that having more cyclists directly supports both of these efforts.

Not enough have, though.


Halifax Magazine invites reader comments and encourages respectful discussion; we reserve the right to remove spam and libellous or abusive comments.

  • David G

    I find that Halifax is being merely politically correct when it comes to bicycles. HRM places bicycle lanes on roads that are just too narrow and those narrow roads CAN’T be fixed! There is (duh) no way to make Brunswick Street wider but there’s a bike path that starts and ends mysteriously. I think that it’s HRM’s way to punch a ticket that says “See what we’ve done.” while placing the burden of any disaster that occurs on the shoulders of car drivers.

    As for the MINORITY of bike riders breaking the rules of the road I will debate that. I watched a twenty something – with no helmet – cross Robie St. at Cunard though six lanes of traffic IN THE CROSSWALK against a red light. Had he been hit the narrative would be “Bike rider hit in crosswalk.” not “Idiot breaks about three laws and gets killed.” Ride though Halifax today and I bet you can find at least one bicyclist doing something stupid. Yes car drivers break the law, but rarely do bicyclist or pedestrians get charged as driver’s do. They are motor vehicles when they want (turning left from the middle of the lane); bicyclists when they want (driving along safely in the bike lane) and pedestrians when they want (hop onto the sidewalk, then turn 90 degrees into a crosswalk at 15km an hour to cross another road); and they do all of that in five seconds!

    So for their protection: 1) large fines for driving without a helmet and trendy toques don’t count 2) they are treated exactly like motor vehicle operators and are fined accordingly for trashing laws.

    Finally they should know that it’s on them to be safe if for no other reason that it’s their unprotected body taking all of those chances. I got a gig that required safety boots and the client apologized for the expense. I pointed out that at the end of the day those were MY feet in those boots, and not to worry about it. Bicyclists: Wear a helmet, assume that no one can see you, and every time you feel entitled as someone who is saving the environment that it’s your body on the bike and the car that hits you always wins.

  • Keith P.

    There is no need for the city to pay for a multi-million dollar ramp at the end of the bridge for a handful of cycling zealots. A crosswalk signal timed every few minutes should suffice.

  • Ryan Van Horne

    Cycling zealots, nice. So what do we call the people who insist on driving cars? Lazy, polluting zealots?

  • Ryan Van Horne

    I am all for cyclists respecting the rules and would never justify breaking the rules. But I think that motorists and pedestrians must also follow the rules of the road. As someone who has done all three, I see the discussion from various perspectives. As a cyclist and a pedestrian, I’m aware of the laws of physics that favours motor vehicles and being right doesn’t protect me from those. When I go on the sidewalk, I am a pedestrian and get off my bike and walk it. However, I have been forced up on the sidewalk by motorists who have cut me off by putting their tires up against the curb instead of leaving space for me to get by on the right. Not wanting to swerve to the left because it would be more dangerous, I’ve gone up on the sidewalk to get around. Most motorists don’t think they have to leave space between them and the curb for cyclists to get by. They think that cyclists should be forced to wait in traffic behind a long-lineup of cars. These same people think that slower-moving cyclists should move over on roads when it’s not busy. Well, folks, that’s not how give-and-take works. Like the headline says, we’re in this together. I strongly encourage anyone who has not cycled in this city to get out and try it. See things from the perspective of a cyclist and keep an open mind.

  • Keith P.

    No, we call them normal people who know that it is lunacy to be on a bicycle in the rain, snow, dark, and cold jousting with 2-ton metal machines in traffic. Trying to position cyclists as the only virtuous people on the roads as you have done really does not help your cause any.


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