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Drive bye

As Canada's auto industry crumbles, HRM Bike Week soars. But you already know that, right?

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Pardon? I'm sorry. Did I hear right?

Did David Paterson from General Motors just explain away with a whisk of his hand the imminent closing of a truck assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario, because his company just figured out---no, really, only just---that people are buying fewer large trucks and SUVs? GM just---how did he put it?---"got the numbers."

By god, I believe he did.

This man---vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs for General Motors of Canada---must be searching the depths of his soul for some other argument out of this nasty business and the thousand-odd union jobs he's sending to the guillotine (plus jobs at the three other plants GM will close next year), because he's gotta know the argument he's gushing has less currency than a token on the Macdonald Bridge.

Two weeks ago, when GM ratified a collective agreement with the Canadian Auto Workers, the company apparently didn't know about the price of gas and its projected leap to the buck-and-a-half range by mid-summer. They apparently didn't realize people want smaller cars that get better mileage. They didn't have a clue about the growing push on both sides of the border for a national four-day work week to cut down on commuting and the gas it guzzles.

With his best earnestness, Paterson told CBC Radio's Carol Off: "We haven't seen a trend like this in living memory."

In whose living memory?

I mean, hasn't Paterson been out on the streets? Hasn't he seen the bikes? The people walking? The scooters?ßßThe skateboards?

Has this guy been manning the pulleys and cables of the largest auto manufacturer in Canada from some underground cavern in the Canadian Shield with piped-in sunshine and a film loop playing outside a fake window, where all that passes by are Chevrolet Avalanches and GMC Sierras and the occasional Impala just for, you know, a little balance?

So how about this number? Three hundred.

That's the number of people who were out at the latest Critical Mass event---a bike rally that happens in Halifax and around the world on the last Friday of every month---which puts the spotlight on urban biking and helps bring awareness to the problems bikers face (abundant here in Halifax) while letting cyclists engage in a celebratory en masse ride. The biggest ever Critical Mass before that, says regular participant David Bethune, numbered 100.

How about another number? Two thousand. That's how many people participated in events that were a part of HRM Bike Week, which ended Monday. There were tours, an auction, a pancake breakfast and hundreds of school kids doing Bike to School Day. The year before, says Hanita Koblents, transportation demand management coordinator for HRM, 1,300 people took part.

But forget numbers for a moment. (I'm sure those about-to-get-the-boot GM employees would prefer to.) Because numbers or not, there's something happening here. It's an everyday critical mass. There are more bikers out on the street. "I've never seen as many people out on bikes in my whole life," says Bethune.

While Halifax hasn't done an official bike count "in a while" says Koblents, who comes to work on the dark-blue Miata touring bike she got in high school.

"It just seems like there's more people out."

Some aren't happy about that. Bicyclists take up public road space that many drivers believe they own exclusively because of the gas tax that gets wrenched out of their pockets at the pumps. Bicyclists slow traffic (especially hauling a trailer with two kids and all their junk, which is my sin. And it's also my right).

All the fist-shaking and horn-honking is fine for now. But it would seem that bikes will soon, if not take over the roads, take up more of the roads. And car drivers will simply have to put up with us.

David Peterson boasts that GM is putting out nine hybrid vehicles next year, and is working on an electric car---the Volt---scheduled to hit the roads in 2010. And that? Well, that's nice. I guess. Because part of the solution to the kettle of environmental problems we're stewing in is to figure out cleaner ways to drive. But a bigger way out of our troubles is to drive less and to find wholly different ways to get ourselves from hither to yon.

But, of course, more of you than ever before already know that.

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