I trace my lust for breaking rules on my bike to my elementary school principal. When I was nine or 10 my parents invited my school principal over for dinner. She showed up on her bike and she wasn’t wearing her helmet. My mom, half-joking, scorned her for it. She told my mom she loved the feeling of the wind in her hair. For her, it was worth the risk. I thought that was pretty cool.
I like living in Canada. I like that we pay taxes in exchange for roads and libraries. I like that I can (mostly) say and do what I want. But, I don’t like our approach to riding bikes. This is especially true in Nova Scotia, and what Gloria McCluskey said the other day about licensing pedal bikes was typical of prevailing attitudes in Halifax.
The bike license story appeared on the CBC website and the comments (I know, I looked at the comments) actually contained good points for and against this proposal. The only voice missing from the conversation are these bad cyclists everyone hates.
I’ll speak on their behalf. I probably fit the description put forward by those cranks who say cyclists are yahoo lunatics with no regard for the rules and possibly life itself. I don’t do anything that crazy, but if I can cut a corner, I will. If I’m at a red light and there’s a break in traffic, I’ll dart across. If using a chunk of the sidewalk will get me somewhere quicker, I’ll use it—IF it’s empty. Drivers give me angry looks through their windshield. I respond with a shake of my head and an animated mouthing of “I don’t care.”
I justify this by believing there should be some bonus for being out there on your bike. It’s undeniably the best and most responsible thing to do for ourselves and our cities. It takes a car off the road and is a healthier choice physically. I also deny any creeping guilt by using that ancient good citizen test question; “if everyone else did this, would it still be ok?” Yes, it would, if all cyclists took these tantalizing shortcuts, we’d be fine.
There is a caveat—if everyone started riding bikes, I would adjust my felonious tendencies. If I didn’t follow rules, it would be a disservice to my fellow riders. Right now we’re too few, our numbers make these offences the work of a madman who acted alone rather than the one in the group who can’t conform.
Finally, the streets here are pretty much designed to kill us. The high number of crosswalks and buzzers and doodads give people a false sense of security. Our roads are dangerous by nature, and I ride my bike as a product of my environment. There have been successful examples of places in England and the Netherlands where cities have lowered speed limits and removed all street signs, a move that has eased congestion and reduced accidents. They’re called “naked streets.” Maybe we should give that a try, on the peninsula anyway. Until then, the supple beauty of the bike should be used to its full potential on the mean streets of Halifax.
Before Aaron wrecked his bike last year, the police had given him two no-helmet warnings. He now has one jay-walking warning.