Quebec has just instituted some really regressive and hostile bike laws (unsurprisingly, the trolls at CAA are cheering them on). Granted, Ontario and other jurisdictions have similar laws, but they’re often, rightfully, ignored. Quebec is diving headfirst into this antagonistic stupidity. They’ve already rolled out some enforcement goons, giving a guy hundreds of dollars in fines for not having reflectors during the day.
I mean, I get it. How the fuck could a driver see you in broad daylight.
(Ottawa cops once had a similarly dumb “safety campaign” when they did some daytime harassment of bicyclists who didn’t have lights…even though they didn’t have to law. The law was sensible. OPS were just thoughtless goons.)
Like many (most? all?) laws regulating bicycling, these are never about road safety. All the advice the authorities hand out (make eye contact! wear a helmet!) are complete and utter bullshit. There’s never any evidence backing them up…and, in fact, the evidence tends to contradict the messaging.
So why do we have these? Aside from the cynical posturing of politicians trying to buy votes from the car-loving demographic, there’s only one real reason, for the benefit of drivers.
We don’t demand bicyclists put hi-viz striping all over their bikes and themselves because there’s any reason to think it’ll help. The highest-viz equipment in the world is the goddamned sun and people still get run down in broad daylight all the fucking time (like, multiple times a day). So, no, this isn’t safety.
It’s an out. It’s permission and absolution for dangerous drivers. Basically no one is going to follow all the inscrutable and illogical laws applied to bicycling. Hell, even our cops don’t know the laws. So if we make it next-to-impossible to comply with the law–if we make every thoughtful, safe and considerate bicyclist a scofflaw cyclist–then whenever someone is smeared across the street, we can tut-tut about shared responsibility.
Politicians and driving advocates use these laws an excuse not build safe infrastructure. Why should we build a bike lane when bicyclists refuse to affix 17 reflective decals and lights to their bike and never ride in the exact spot we want them to (regardless of the law or signage).
If people really cared about safe bicycling, there are a whole lot quick fixes that could actually save lives–bike lanes, bollards, road diets, slower speeds, no right turns on red, idaho stops, using pedestrian advances, etc.
We could also make cars safer. We could install speed-limiting devices. We could mandate stopping-assistance technology. We could lower cars and make them less deadly when they do hit a pedestrian. Fucking side-guards.
But that doesn’t happen. Instead we create laws that target rather than protect. And there’s another reason why the authorities do this.
They want bicycling to be as miserable as driving.
Look, I know, North America has been sold this Easy Rider-esque idea that driving is freedom. That it’s glorious. That it is the purest most wondrous form of existence.
But city driving sucks.
You’re stuck at lights. You’re stuck in lines. You exist in traffic. You’re unable to take advantage short-cuts and alleys. You’re big and clumsy. You can’t do what bicyclists do and you can’t go where bicyclists go. And you don’t get the enjoyment and benefits bicyclists get.
So you want them to be miserable, too.
That’s why we’re so insistent that everyone has to abide by The Rules–except for cars, sometimes. We make the rules for driving. We make the infrastructure for driving. We make the environment for driving. And then the only leeway we give is to drivers.
And this isn’t just about bicyclists, we want to immiserate pedestrians, as well. We’ve outlawed “Jaywalking”. We demand two-stage crossing to get diagonally across an intersection (which we do not demand of cars and only sometimes demand of bikes). We give them beg buttons, and dangerous curb cuts for driveways and parking lots. We let puddles form on lowered intersections. And we give extra lights to drivers.
When you’re walking or biking, you don’t need follow all these rules. They don’t help you. They’re there for drivers, because drivers can’t function at the speeds and volumes they want without them.
So bicyclists and pedestrians are made to suffer for the past generation of bad decisions.
This is how it is for just about every “safety campaign” and every new law to come out of any level of government. Driving sucks–it’s an antiquated form of transportation that really doesn’t work in cities anymore (at the level we do it)–and since it sucks, we have to punish everyone else.
So I’m going to avoid biking in Quebec from now on. They seem even more car-sick than Ottawa.