This February city council will be making a decision on whether to go ahead with the first segregated bike lane through Ottawa's downtown core. These types of bike lanes are popping up in cities across North America, and Ottawa is quickly falling behind many other jurisdictions in developing such infrastructure for cycling.
Unfortunately, a small group of "Vehicular Cyclists" have launched a high profile campaign to kill the bike lane project for Laurier Avenue. What are Vehicular Cyclists? They are part of a movement that follows the teachings of John Forester, and they are adamantly opposed to bicycle paths and bicycle lanes. They believe that cyclists should negotiate heavy traffic and busy roads by simply thinking of themselves as vehicles. Although they claim to be cycling advocates, their approach leads to the exact situation which keeps large numbers of people away from cycling. As demonstrated on countless occasions, including a poll conducted by the Ottawa Citizen last summer, the main reason people don't cycle more is because they don’t feel safe riding on busy roads.
Members of the Vehicular Cyclist movement tend to be extremely vocal, and in public debates, make noise that is completely disproportionate to their numbers. They usually bill themselves as cycling experts, and often migrate to top levels of bicycle clubs or organizations as a way of promoting their views. They are very good at cherry-picking facts that can be used to support their arguments, while, at the same time, attacking facts and findings that run contrary to their philosophy.
In many cities, Vehicular Cyclists tend to be a fringe movement which can't do too much harm. However, in Ottawa, they are well organized. In the past, they have mounted a letter writing campaign to newspapers (and other forums) that helped kill Ottawa's attempt to establish a segregated bike lane on Somerset Street. Now they are pulling out all the stops to kill the proposed bike lane for Laurier Avenue. To this end, they recently created a website called "Responsible Cycling Coalition", started attacking the bike lane project in newspaper comments sections and other online forums, and even issued a news release supporting the Bank Street business association's opposition to the bike lane.
Like everyone else, Vehicular Cyclists are entitled to voice their opinions on the proposed bike lane. The danger is that journalists and politicians who are unfamiliar with the Vehicular Cyclist movement and their tactics may come to believe they are expounding a point of view that figures prominently in the minds of many Ottawa cyclists. There are already signs that this is starting to happen.
-- some links --
Read critiques of Vehicular Cyclist movement on the websites "Cycling Vision Ottawa
" and "Copenhagenize.com
Links to the Vehicular Cyclists' so called "Responsible Cycling Coalition
" web site, and their lame cartoon video production
that gives a mind numbing lecture on the evils of a segregated bike lane.
Click here for Randall Denley's column in the Ottawa Citizen
which has the effect of elevating the position held by Vehicular Cyclists as one of the prime points of view that should be taken into account when deciding the future of the Laurier Avenue bike lane project.