Oblivious But Interested, Entry One
Bike Lanes: The Ultimate Divider
Graham Chittenden takes on one of Brantford's hot button issues: bike lanes.
Graham Chittenden, February 24, 2023 // Brantford, OntarioAcclaimed comedian and Brantford-born Graham Chittenden. Photo credit Photohouse Studio.
Let’s talk about bike lanes. There aren’t a lot of them in Brantford, unless you ask that one person in your life who hates everything—as far as that person is concerned, they’re everywhere.
Pardon me if that was mean, because I think it would be nice to have a civil conversation about these lanes, which appear to separate drivers and cyclists more effectively on Facebook than on the pavement.
I’d love to have a real discussion about these lanes because I like riding bikes. I don’t often ride my bike to work but that’s only because I don’t have a real job. I did once ride to work from Brantford to St. Thomas, but that’s hardly sustainable. I just did it to see what’s possible on a bicycle. One possibility that excites me is the idea of a Brantford that is fully, safely, reasonably accessible on a velocipede. For that to happen, we need more of the unthinkable: The ever-controversial bicycle lane.
Winter riding round suburban Brantford. Photo credit Photohouse Studio.
To get to that reasonable conversation, let’s speed through the standard back-and-forth that occurs every time a bike lane is announced or mentioned online. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen anyone use them; people use them. I use them. User-generated heat maps collected by apps like Strava confirm that lots of people use them. Besides, I’ve never seen anyone use one of those tiny libraries, but it’s never occurred to me to tear them all down. It’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk, so stop suggesting it. Cyclists don’t always stop completely at stop signs, but observe a four-way stop only until the first motorist rolls through and you won’t be standing there long. And you’re right, that cyclist in the spandex isn’t riding in the Tour De France, but that guy watching football at Crabby Joe’s probably isn’t Aaron Rodgers—despite the jersey he put on just to eat wings. We can all do better.
We’ll quickly breeze past the “you can’t even ride a bike in the winter” argument because it always seems to be made by people who love ice fishing. I will, however, shine a spotlight on my favourite Facebook argument against bike lanes: “This isn’t Europe.” I love this one. It’s ridiculous and amazing. I think breakfast restaurant servers should use it. Someone orders french toast? “Nice try, pal. This ain’t Europe.” Everyone should have “This ain’t Europe” in their debate arsenal.
If you dislike bike lanes, I get it, I even respect your right to have that opinion, but for some of you my question is, Why do you hate them SO much? I’m genuinely assuming that it’s because you’ve never used them, and I’m sarcastically assuming that you’ve read Brantford’s Transportation Master Plan and notice a major flaw in their assessment, not because you miss the days when you could swerve between two lanes of traffic on North Park street, a three kilometre stretch of road that is mostly residential save for two school zones.
Avid cyclist Graham has a history of getting around. Photo credit Photohouse Studio.
This whole article which I’ve agreed to write for reasons I can’t quite remember has brought up even more questions that I’m not sure I have time to explore, but I think the whole bike lane problem stems from a huge issue with the role of cycling in the suburbs. Yikes. Maybe you should stop reading now.
Here’s my take on riding a bike in Brantford. It’s a hobby for people with too much money and a mode of transportation for people with not enough. Even the Brantford Cycling Club (of which I’m a member) has a bunch of members that will ride their bike in a 60km loop and then drive two kilometres to get groceries. It pains me to call out my fellow members, but that’s what they get for making fun of the basket on my bike. That’s right, I actually use my bike for errands.
I don’t judge people who drive everywhere. Habits are habits. Infrastructure reinforces those habits. Car rides are an amazing feat of modern luxury. You’re basically moving freely around town in a tiny living room, at least until some radical is piloting their bike down Clarence Street, demanding one of the lanes, and then, oh man, what a nightmare. Two lane changes and a delay of fifteen seconds. Life is hell.
As we all know from reading Brantford’s Transportation Master Plan, (Which version is your favourite? I’m a 2016 man myself) people really aren’t getting around by bike. It’s less than one percent of trips made in Brantford during the morning peak, and again - I blame no one. Riding a bike is very fun; it’s genuinely one of my greatest sources of joy, but on my lazy days the car is an instant go-to. Imagine you had to chain your car to the side of Food Basics every time you needed groceries? Pass. How often would you drive your car to Paris if the road alternated between asphalt and long sections of deep sand in random intervals? Because that’s currently the only dedicated way to Paris via bike.
Examples of popular cyclist road dividers. Stock photo.
Bike lanes offer a chance to have just enough of a grid, a few strategic north/south roads and east/west passages to make riding a bike a viable form of transportation. Give the bikes one third of North Park Street, and you can keep West Street and King George Road indefinitely.
If the bike lanes aren’t your thing, all I can suggest is to be patient. Let there be a complete bike lane network before we see how much it’s being used. I owned an Instant Pot for two years before I used it. Healthy lifestyle changes take time. Bike lanes are just that, an alternative to old habits. A bike lane is like the vegetable tray at a Super Bowl party—it’s not the most popular, but you have to at least offer a healthy option.
I like bike lanes; l don’t love them. In a perfect world, every destination I reached by bike would be at the other end of a forest trail, but having a few feet of separation from an F150 is a reasonable consolation. If you insist on hating them, all I ask is that you try them. Then you will have earned the right to complain. Until then, you’re no better than my friend who claims to hate seafood, but after follow-up questions will reveal that he’s never tried seafood but is pretty sure he’d hate it.
Graham out. Photo credit Photohouse Studio.
Brantford is getting busier. You might be one or two southbound trips on Brant Ave away from snapping and saying, “Screw this, I’m buying a bike.”. If you haven’t ridden a bike in years, or even decades, may I grace with you the wisdom a man named Tyler, the Creator shared on Youtube: “Get a bunch of bikes and ride them around with your friends. It’s the shit.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Graham Chittenden is a stand up comedian and award-winning television writer as well as a lifetime Brantfordian who enjoys hanging out with his dogs and wandering in the forest.
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I’m a big fan of this article! And of bike lanes, both personally and professionally.