Opinion: Cycling safety in Saskatoon is only controversial to a few

A retired Saskatoon man responds to a column on the conflict between cyclists and others in the city that has focused on bike lanes.

Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Published Dec 27, 2023

Phil Tank’s “Deaths cast dark shadow on Saskatoon’s new bike lane battle” (SP, Dec. 12, 2023) is provocative. In framing bike lanes and speed limits as “two of the city’s most controversial issues”, he grabs the attention of readers who have followed the evolution of cycling safety in Saskatoon since Cathy Watts first donned a feathered helmet, and perpetuates the orthodoxy that there exists a great divide between cyclists and motorists.

It seems odd that we are still drawn to this tired, antagonistic narrative surrounding active transportation infrastructure. Conflict sells papers, and rage farming seems to be the single most effective growth industry in the world these days, but it still seems jarring to hear Mr. Tank suggest (perhaps accurately?) that safer streets would be seen as a “Christmas present from city hall” for cyclists but through implication not necessarily for the community at large. As if protecting the flocks of people who cycle through the city every day wouldn’t be seen as a gift for everyone.

It’s hard to know why the story gets told this way. Cyclists vs. motorists. Pedestrians vs. cyclists. Motorists vs. pedestrians. There’s a rush to label everyone, but at our core, are there any worthwhile differences?

If you ask people where they stand on the safety and protection of their family, they will tell you that nothing is more important. Many might even suggest that they would gladly give up their own lives if it meant saving their loved ones. It doesn’t matter what mode of transportation they choose, they want their family to be safe. 

Talk to anybody about their own neighborhood and ask them if they approve of people “going the speed limit” right past the driveway where their kids play. I’m willing to bet a set of truck nuts that the majority would prefer you slow down and be respectful, regardless of what the posted limit is.

Ask someone who’s lost a loved one to an impaired driver and they will tell you to spend all the money in the world to bring every program, policy, technology, or enforcement tool to bear to make sure it never happens to anyone else. The victim’s mode of transportation is not relevant to anyone.

Also, I’ve never met anyone who was enthusiastic about wasting taxpayer money. We all invest in our community through taxes, whether you ride a bike, drive a car, walk, roll, or wheel, and those who care about building a city worth living in will tell you that nothing good comes for free. Maybe it’s an overpass, or replacing lead pipes, or a new bridge: in the real world, we all ultimately want the best for our civic infrastructure.

So, what does this have to do with a narrative of controversy?

Well, when I ride a bike, the vast majority of motorists are respectful of my legal right to be on the road and show caution when passing me. There are always a loud, angry few who demonstrate open hostility, presumably because they think I belong elsewhere. They are anomalies.

When I drive a car, I’ll occasionally see someone riding a bike on the wrong side of the street or on a sidewalk, presumably to feel safer. They are anomalies. 

And when I hear about someone who claims to care about the safety of others, but is unwilling or unprepared to spend any money or offer any constructive solutions to achieve said safety, I have to assume they are also anomalies.

I choose to believe that most people in Saskatoon genuinely care about their community, and are willing to invest wisely in it. If only a handful of anomalies disagree with that, can it still be called controversial?

Jason Hanson is a semi-retired operations manager who resides in Saskatoon and enjoys a thoughtful discussion.

Link to original publication here.

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