Tag Archives: cars

GTFO of your car

10 Apr
manif contre les coups

Saturday’s rally before it reached rue Charest

Last Saturday, I was at a rally against planned cuts to social services announced by Agnès Maltais (my MNA) and the PQ government.

The rally walked down rue Charest and up to rue Saint-Joseph, but stopped in a street linking the two. The crowd was large enough to block two of three (or four) exits for a parking lot where a Metro and a Chez Ashton is located.

We stayed there for long enough that the people in cars trying to leave the parking lot started to drive around to the other side to leave, or laid on their horns in an attempt to get us to move. As there were speeches being made, no one paid much attention to the annoying, car-alarm-ish honking.

I leaned over to my partner and predicted what would happen next. “See that car there? He wants to leave this parking lot. What he should do is get out of his car, talk with the folks standing around the exit and ask if they can move to the side so he can get his car out of the lot.”

We agreed.

We also agreed that that wasn’t likely going to happen. As militant cyclists, we’re deeply aware of the power trip that normally accompanies frustrated people are behind a wheel.

Sure enough, the car deliberately rolled forward into a crowd of protesters. There were at least 20 people in front of his car, and another 40 blocking his access to the street. He was either 1. demonstrating that he’s a dick, 2. serious about either injuring or killing people just to get out of the lot, 3. hoping to scare the hell out of people who would then get out of his way and beg for forgiveness, 4. all of the above.

The group crowded around the car and, rightfully, started yelling at the driver. The police (and journalists) ran to the scene. I didn’t see anything happen after, no one arrested, no cop asking the driver to come with him to learn about why driving your car into a crowd of people is a bad idea.

What is with people in cars?

The experience of being in a car is a strange combination of being in your living room, controlling a really fast robot and operating a weapon. It’s so mundane that we never think of what it does to our sense of ourselves or our environment. We sit in traffic, we hurry about our day driving from one soul-sucking box mall to another. We listen to the radio.

And, when we have to communicate with others, we let the robot do our work for us: we honk, we yell things as if the car will react to our demands, we operate a series of levers that sometimes put the lives of others in danger.

With a society that is as car-obsessed as ours, it’s no surprise that we seem to have had a collective surgery that has removed our sense of community. It’s broken our relationships with each other, especially the relationships we’re supposed to have with people we have never met.

We don’t normally act like this in real life.

When we’re walking on the street, if we take much notice of the people around us, you might find yourself actually smiling at someone. Ever spend time with strangers in a stuck elevator? People talk to each other. Even after a several-hours delay on a tarmac in a cramped and fart-filled airplane, people, through frustrated, tend to remain friendly. At the very least, I’ve never witnessed anyone run up and down the aisles as fast as they can giving the finger to everyone when the airplane’s door finally opens. This stands in total contrast to how people react in traffic, you know, the person who aggressively accelerates towards an off ramp during rush hour across the 401 over top of Toronto.

Next time you’re in a grocery store, imagine operating your car the way you’re operating your cart: oops, someone accidentally took your cart? No matter, ask for it back. Did you bump into someone? Apologize. Is someone blocking you way? Either wait patiently or ask them to move. Mostly, our grocery store etiquette is humane and kind.

Cars should not give people a free pass to be an asshole. We can do all of these things in our cars too; we can be nice, we can talk to each other. We can, as we all heard in Grade 1 use our words. Sometimes, this means that we just have to exit our cars.

Toronto’s respect deficit for cyclists

23 Nov

There’s something about the cyclist-driver debate that makes people go nuts.

From the cyclists’ side, I know what it is. When we see someone killed, we know it could have been us. We think of hundreds of “close calls” where, had we been riding a bit faster, a bit slower, a bit further right or in another lane, we would have died.

When we see someone killed, we think of all the times we haven’t heard from someone when we should have, and we’ve imagined our lovers or friends dead from their daily commute.

When we see the vile responses online, we see the (few) callous drivers who have intentionally tried to injure or kill us. Yes, that happens on Toronto’s roads. Yes, I’ve had drivers intentionally steer toward me.

Under these conditions, it’s sometimes hard to engage in a rational or productive debate.

From the drivers’ side though, I don’t know what it is. I have no idea why drivers get so defensive and angry in debates about sharing the road.

In a collision with another driver, your risk of death is pretty high. In a collision with a cyclist or a pedestrian, though, your risk of death (or even injury) is low. But rather than raging against each other, it’s more often the case that (some) drivers rage against cyclists.

When I’m driving and have a close call with another car, it’s usually corrected pretty quickly. I think, “good, denting this thing would have been annoying.”

But when I’m on my bike and I have a close call, my heart falls out of my chest. It scares the hell out of me. It’s also way more frequent to have a “close call” on my bike than in my car.

It’s clear to me that the biggest threat to drivers is other drivers. Not cyclists. Not pedestrians. When I’m driving, I take extra care when I can. I give cyclists a lot of space. I’m patient. I refuse to be gripped by anger.

Toronto needs better bike infrastructure. Encouraging more people to bike reduces traffic for cars and drivers with half a brain should be able to understand how this benefits them. But better bike infrastructure isn’t enough.

Torontonians have a serious respect deficit for cyclists.

Ignore the fact that we should be celebrated for choosing to risk our lives for the environment and that we represent one fewer car on the road, or that we’ll hopefully cost the health system less. No, celebration (while welcomed) is not what cyclists need. All we need is respect.

Anti-cyclist rhetoric is really dangerous. It devalues our lives. Add that to drivers who (due to a variety of factors like road conditions, congestion, long commutes, broken relationships, terrible jobs etc. etc) are really angry AND encased in a metal shield, the combination leads to cyclist deaths and hit-and-runs.

The last time I was hit by a car, it was along Davenport at George Brown College. I was hit by a social work instructor. He jumped out of his car and was extremely helpful and apologetic. He told me he was a cyclist too. This demonstrated an important level of respect, which went a long way for both of us.

Compare that to the woman who once aimed for me and floored her pedal as we sat at a red light, also along Davenport. I had to jump out of the way to avoid certain injury/possible death.

If you spend a lot of time cycling, it’s easy to go crazy. This means that it’s easy to look crazy to drivers when we respond to being us off, your erratic driving us or dangerous lane changes. But drivers need to know that most cyclists feel like they’re always a second away from death.

The same force that may dent your car could take my life.

That reality is at the heart of this debate.

I’m sure that nearly all drivers don’t want to hit cyclists and I know that no cyclist wants to be hit. So how do we make our streets more safe?

Here’s a list. While mostly obvious, obeying these points would go a long way to help keep roads safer.

  • Don’t drive like an asshole: Be aware of what’s around you and signal. Don’t change lanes dangerously. Don’t drive drunk.
  • Don’t drive and text. In Toronto I saw people do this daily. It’s so dangerous and stupid and there’s no situation where this is necessary.
  • Don’t drive up to a cyclist and yell something at them for fun. Or for sexism. Or for any reason.
  • Assume that a cyclist is relying on your good driving to make judgements about how to avoid being hit. Know that when you don’t signal, you make the road more dangerous for cyclists. Also know that while cyclists should always signal, sometimes it’s not safe to (like when you have to break and steer in an intersection while avoiding wet streetcar tracks…doing this with one hand is sometimes too dangerous).
  • Don’t honk at a cyclist who’s taking a lane or obeying a traffic signal. If you lay your horn on a cyclist hoping that this will convince them to change their minds, you are an asshole and you should look into anger management classes.
  • Don’t blame cyclists for being hit/injured/etc.
  • While there many terrible cyclists out there, nearly no mistake made by a cyclist equals the force of a mistake made by a car. There’s a reason why children can ride bikes and not drive cars. Acknowledge the power imbalance and act responsibly and accordingly.
  • Understand that while you may be the perfect driver, sometimes cyclists have just passed a scene where another driver has scared the hell out of them and they may project some of their sentiments upon you. Yes, most drivers aren’t total assholes, but the effect of the ones who are influences how we interact with cars.
  • If you feel that you are raging, pull over (safely) and chill the fuck out. There’s no simpler or softer way that I can say that. Road rage is really dangerous. Cyclists on the receiving end of road rage risk being killed. Cyclists get road rage too but their weapon, a bike, doesn’t produce the force possible when your car is your weapon.

Remember that there’s a world beyond your windshield and radio station. It’s filled with humans who are, in many ways, just like you. Imagine your interactions on the road as if you were together in that real world, without your cup holder, car seats or dashboard. Treat people on the road the way you treat people in real life. I’m sure that many of the dangers faced by cyclists would be avoided.

Unless, of course, you’re just an asshole. Then your license should be suspended until you can be deprogrammed.

**This morning a 35-year-old elementary school teacher was killed in Toronto on Davenport at Lansdowne. No one should die as they commute to work. The driver who hit him fled the scene.

No justice, no peace

29 Sep

Me in Maclean’s during the weekend of the G20 in Toronto. Yeah, they misspelled my name.

On Friday, George Horton became the only person convicted of assaulting an officer during the chaotic weekend of the G20 in Toronto.

A judge determined that he should spend 10 months in jail.

The victim? A police cruiser’s door.

While the cruiser was unable to deliver a victim impact statement, an officer who was inside of the car said he felt his life was in danger. He had been hit on the head, through Horton was not accused of that attack.

Full disclosure 1: I have, a few times, kicked the door of a car. While never a police car’s door, there have been a few instances in Toronto where a car has come close enough to taking my life that my only reaction is to scream and let my foot loose upon a car door. One time in particular I believe I used my foot to close someone’s door as I was biking past it along University Avenue. While I don’t advise people to kick other peoples’ car doors, I don’t think it’s a crime that warrants jail time.

Full disclosure 2: a police officer knocked me to the ground about two hours before Horton kicked the door of a cruiser. He raised his shield upon my arm while I was cowering in a corner of a window at Queen and John Sts. and he hit me repeatedly until I collapsed. Despite being able to say exactly where the officer was in the police line, at what intersection, at what time exactly, the OIPRD said that I didn’t have enough evidence to be able to ID him.
“What did he look like?”
“A ‘roid-raging meat head. White. Frightening.”
“No, you’ll have to be more specific. What kind of uniform did he have?”
“Well, I thought it was kind of weird to see someone wearing a vintage Princess Patricias Light Infantry Military uniform decorated with rainbows and Banksy images, but I’m pretty sure that. Or, what all the other cops wearing.”
“Sorry, we can’t help you. For all we know, the hospital records of your bruises could have been caused by your friends when they pulled you out of the crowd.”
“I don’t bruise easily”
“Yes, but we don’t know that”
*Nora walks out, kicks police station door.*

The hypocrisy is astounding.

Forget the fact that the policies promoted by the leaders of the G20 nations wreak havoc on people around the world and can be tied both directly and indirectly to the deaths of many, many people.

Forget the fact that the police that weekend beat, assaulted, harassed, intimidated, arrested, detained, starved, kettled and pissed off thousands of Torontonians and our friends who came in solidarity.

Forget the fact that no one has been held accountable for what happened that weekend.

Forget the fact that the $1 billion spent on that weekend could have quadrupled the money available for First Nations higher education through the post-secondary student support program, for example.

Forget the fact that organizers remain in jail for organizing for that weekend.

Forget the fact that police stood back while businesses had windows smashed to justify a campaign of mass arrest the day after.

Forget the fact that KICKING A CAR ISN’T AN INDICTABLE OFFENSE.

Forget all of that. Because, when the world’s most powerful and rich men come to town, logic and reason are thrown under a bus. Repression and injustice comes out in force. You will lose your rights. You will lose your freedoms and civil liberties.

I don’t know Horton. Unlike some of the others who have done/are doing jail time who I’ve had the opportunity to organize with, I’ve never met Horton.

But if the G20 taught me anything, its that state injustice radicalizes people.

A population of people radicalized through experiencing direct state injustice isn’t going to be good for the powers who seek to oppress us.

Indeed, as I’ve written previously, no justice, no peace actually means something.

I’m struggling to pull together something to say about this that isn’t totally hopeless because, I admit, this has deeply depressed me.

So, here it goes: Don’t kick cars.

Our organizing and our movements have to be more sophisticated than that if we’re going to be the force that creates change.